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About These Tales

These few tales are based on Sir Richard Burton's version of Arabian Nights Entertainment, a sixteen-volumed set from the late 1880s. Arabian Nights is also called One Thousand and One Nights. It is a collection of Middle Eastern and South Asian stories and folk tales that were compiled in Arabic. The tales vary widely, and include comedies, animal fables, poems, burlesques and much else. In many stories there are magicians and killings.

The work as we have it today was collected over many centuries by various authors across the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa. The tales themselves trace their roots back to ancient and medieval Arabic, Persian, Indian, Turkish, Egyptian and Mesopotamian folklore and literature.

The established composition of the Arabian Nights consists of tales within tales within tales in a certain order - and all are contained inside the first tale. Those who have studied such ways of composing fairy tale collections, say it is typically Indian - it was a very popular way of composing fairy tale collections in ancient India. Granted that, the earliest tales are from India and Persia, and some scholars have seen an ultimate Indian origin for the works. Indian folklore is clearly represented by animal stories made like those in ancient Sanskrit fables. The influence of such as the Panchatantra is particularly notable. And old Buddhist tales, Jataka Tales are more or less copied in the Arabian Nights too.

Somewhere in the 900s CE, the brilliant Abu Abd-Allah Muhammed el-Gahsjgari formed the Arabian Nights. Since then the work has been vastly popular, first in the Orient, and since the beginning of the 1600s in France, Europe, and America too. There have been changes and additions to it. The most important one was done by the French orientalist Galland who inserted ten new stories. Among them were "Aladdin and the lamp" and "Ali Baba and the Forty Robbers": tales from the Middle East, but not of the Nights.

The famous frame story of Sjeherasad and her murderous husband existed in a Persian book already about 750 CE. There is little doubt that Arabs had translated that book already in the 9th century, says Waldemar Brøgger in the first volume of his translation [1.19].

Transplanted Tales Are Common

In the latest classification catalogue of international folktales, it stands out that many European folk tales stem from the Arabian Nights (cf. Uther 2004).

The following tales are in that transplanting tradition, but coherently, in that a set of tales are lifted over to European people and not single tales here and there.

Much of the action in these tales is placed in Europe and quite often centred on France in the 15-1600s: more specifically on the hunting lodge that was fashioned into the Versailles of King Louis XVI. Before he chose to make his father's hunting lodge twelve miles outside of Paris into the Versailles palace, Versailles had been a small town in a marshland filled with woods and game.

In this much adapted version are stories one by one and without intertwinings, much as the Norwegian translator and publisher Waldemar Brøgger (1911-91) did it in a readable, almost complete translation that was released in six volumes in 1950.

The way of presenting tales one by one in a row instead of intertwined in the manner of boxes within boxes is good for those who would like to read one story to the end without having to leaf through many other stories to find that ending.

To name some other changes: what are Swiss in this version, are Persians in the Arabian Nights; Cairo has become Florence; and the Infidels are the English. You may wonder why, but the British have a long history of warfare and territorial claims in what is now France, after the French William (Guillame) the Conqueror sailed across the British Channel in 1066 and took control over England, He had territories in France too, and marriages, claims and warfare followed.

Young ones may benefit better from fairy tales if the invented action is not placed so far away, and the animals and overall conditions resemble those of their own environment and history. Maybe. It depends on many other factors also. Still, tales could work better if animals in them are recognisable.

Be that as it may, it quite often happens that:

  • The names of people might be changed and even stylised.
  • Where the action first took place, mattered little: it all took place "long ago".
  • Names of people may be missing, but the main persons may have names.
  • The places don't get much specified.

For all that, the French Fun stories are mainly experimental, even though they are build on old lasts - ways and patterns of forming tales in the first place. And the result of the changes made? Agreeing that the tales aim at fun and entertainment in the first place and throughout, judge for yourself if you feel for it.

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French fun, old tales from far away in new garbs, Literature  

Uther, Hans-Jörg. The Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography Based on the System of Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson. Vols 1-3. FF Communications No. 284-86, Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 2004.

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