Weaving Webs: Fantastical and Concrete


Arabian Nights was not the set of tales I had expected at all. I thought of Aladdin and not much else and I was surprised by what I would find. It was instead a very fascinating but equally bizarre narrative with strange sex, murder, deceit, demons, women’s strength, and much more. Bringing it back to IS5, Ethan drew a connection to this story and that of Gilgamesh in the way the main character in both stories needed a distraction from very destructive behavior. Gilgamesh needed to be stopped from doing whatever he wanted, while the king in Arabian Nights needed to be stopped from a murder spree of women. I quickly learned during our discussion that there was significance to the tales in Arabian Nights as fables and folklore.  Women have a particularly interesting role in this book of tales as they take on a variety of symbols in what we have read so far that includes having agency. In this first protokoll, I would like to explore the structure of the narrative, the connection between demons within the stories and the actual kings, and the greater question which is: what is the woman’s end game with the king? (as Travis asked). Does she hope to save society with her cunning or is she just “kicking the cab down the road”, a theory we explored in class.

To summarize some points, the king’s deceitful wife caused him to believe no woman can be trusted and that is only highlighted when he visits his brother’s kingdom and finds more betrayal there. His brother also being betrayed ironically makes him feel better which adds some humor to this story. I questioned why such extreme measures were taken by the king to murder all the virgins the night after marrying them, but I wonder now about the greater meaning of the situation beyond that of the murders he commits. A very intelligent women, Shahrazad, volunteers to marry the king and she has a plan. She begins to tell a story and with her sister’s encouragement the story and more stories follow, which stop her death sentence at least for the time being. I just wonder as an aside, what happened to the second brother who was also deceived by his wife? After his part in the book, he is missing from the narrative. There is already so much going on in Arabian Nights that having another story line going would make it very difficult to follow along.

The structure of the narrative the class found reminiscent of Marie de France with its flow and the beginning of the tales being similar in terms of an “I cannot wait to tell you this story” sort of attitude. I, personally, found the romantic style to be present in both works. In Arabian Nights, there is much repetition of phrases and a lot strange fantasy elements in the way the tales are told. The way the stories are set up draws questions of how true the stories actually are historically (not actually due to the fantasy elements). The authenticity of the stories of both works was questioned by the class, but I think it is difficult to question such a story with so many years of alterations to the manuscripts as the introduction points out. Taking years and years of spoken word and putting it into stories is very difficult already.

Some of us also found the book hard to put down as the stories drew us in in a similar way that they drew the very crazy, unreasonable king, compelled to listen further night after night to a cunning woman. The tales were told in a way that made one want to read on, but also left one with many questions about clarity and plot. To answer some of these questions, Adam drew a diagram of the stories and sub stories on the board where we struggled to decide what part of the plot was resolved in which story. (I feel like I am describing a soap opera at this point.) Many questions came to the table but a significant one is, are these stories told by the woman close to authentic ones or was the woman tailoring these stories to serve her purpose? That idea that she had specific purpose in mind is debatable as well. What is the purpose? The class thought she could weave these stories to compel the king to spare her, and then the kingdom, and that they brought out parallels such as with the king and the demons found in her stories.

The connection between the kings and demons is really interesting because both the kings and demons can be reasoned with in unusual but similar ways. The demons and kings have a murderous, unforgiving nature that makes them very cold and harsh. One demon was released from a jar, but wanted to kill the man that released him and this seems really unfair to me. Both king and demon appear so powerful, but somehow using logic or trickery in the case of the fisherman, one can outsmart a demon. The deep question of whether a man or demon is superior came up in class and I pondered it but truly do not have an answer. Another huge parallel made is the woman that came out of the demon’s chest in one of the stories was there for the demon to keep chaste. This is like the king in the main story wanting his wife to stay faithful to him.

Women’s agency is captivating in this story because women are better story tellers, women cause deceit, and a woman takes it upon herself to control a dangerous situation and save society. Why doesn’t anyone kill the king or why don’t they all run away? Well, the class said that there wouldn’t be much of a story if everyone ran away. The greatest question is what is the end game for our female protagonist? There can be theories spawned from this question that only further reading can really answer. In my eyes, she is saving society temporarily, but can she really convince such a murderous, bitter man that wants to destroy all women that he should change his ways? Is her charm what will change his mind or will a moral in one of the stories warm his ice cold heart? We shall read on in the story and find out what she can achieve with her story telling. Can she save society? One other question to ponder is how will her story telling evolve? Will there be more parallels to real life and more demons that connect to the king? Will her agency shine and bring prosperity to the kingdom is what I really wonder.

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