Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights

Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights

by Marina Warner

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674055308
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 03/01/2012
Pages: 560
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.90(d)

About the Author

Marina Warner is Professor of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies at the University of Essex and a distinguished writer of fiction, criticism, and history.

Read an Excerpt

From Chapter Six: Magians and Dervishes



The Arabian Nights conjured an enchanted virtual world that could be safely entered and explored, accepted and naturalized by the Enlightenment and modern reader and writer precisely because they often unfold in an elsewhere that is different from the native habitat of Judaeo-Christian demons and eschatological visions. A homegrown practice of, and belief in, magic was set aside to be replaced by foreign magic – stranger magic, much easier to disown, or otherwise hold in intellectual and political quarantine.

The stories provide a stimulus to this legitimate – and hypocritical – pleasure. Powerful, fiendish enchanters appear in several of the tales to work their terrible will on their victims; in the book these characters are almost invariably magians, obdurate in their rejection of Islam. Their allegiance is to earlier gods, such as the Egyptian pantheon in half animal form, or Fire, as worshipped by the Zoroastrians from Persia. If ancient pagan Egypt with its Pharaonic mysteries and science throws a long shadow across the enchantments of the Nights, it is the magians of Persia who wield the most sinister and potent magic, as the romance of Hasan of Basra shows through the hero’s relations with the implacable Bahram.

‘The Tale of Hasan of Basra’ is a raveled tapestry of a story, frame within frame, border within border, with knots and clusters and repeats of motifs; a performance of ebullient story-spinning fancy, an endlessly mobile picaresque romance, which increasingly breaks out into outbursts of verse and song that echo the erotic lyricism of the Song of Songs from the Bible. The tale is technically shorter than a sira, or romance of chivalry, and longer than a khabar, the equivalent of a fairy or folk tale. It combines many other literary modes: the travel yarn, a moral lesson in the conduct of wives, a recognition tale about parents separated from beloved children, and a romance of initiation.

The story also presents strands which the more famous ‘Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp’ picks up and winds into a different overall pattern: the lazy, disobedient boy who brings nothing but grief to his widowed mother, and the stranger magician who uses the boy for his own purposes and abandons him to die when he does not comply. Interestingly, Borges, in one of his passionate essays about the Arabian Nights, recounts De Quincey writing that his favorite moment in the book took place in ‘Aladdin’, when the evil magician, looking for the boy who will help him obtain the lamp, puts his ear to the ground and hears, from the other side of the world in China, the footfalls of Aladdin and recognizes that he must be the one.

Borges, having looked in vain for this scene in ‘Aladdin’, takes it for a marvelous example of an ideal response to the Nights, in which the reader or listener’s fancy plays freely with the material. It is indeed an illustration of creative reading as advocated by Borges, but it does also suggest that De Quincey had read another story of fated pursuit from the Nights, for his memory echoes the scene when Bahram cries out to Hasan, ‘It’s been years that I’ve been looking for you and now I have you.’

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi

Acknowledgements xvii

Introduction 1

Part I Solomon the Wise King

Story 1 The Fisherman and the Genie 33

Chapter 1 Master of Jinn 36

Story 2 Tire City of Brass 54

Chapter 2 Riding the Wind: The Flying Carpet I 59

Story 3 Prince Ahmed and Fairy Peri Banou 71

Chapter 3 A Tapestry of Great Price: The Flying Carpet II 74

Part II Dark Arts; Strange Gods

Story 4 The Prince of the Black Islands 87

Chapter 4 The Worst Witch 91

Chapter 5 Egyptian Attitudes 97

Story 5 Hasan of Basra 117

Chapter 6 Magians and Dervishes 126

Story 6 A Fortune Regained 141

Chapter 7 Dream Knowledge 143

Part III Active Goods

Chapter 8 'Everything You Desire to Know about the East …' 163

Story 7 Tire Greek King and Doctor Douban 191

Chapter 9 The Thing-World of the Arabian Nights 195

Story 8 Abu Mohammed the Lazy 210

Chapter 10 The Word of the Talisman 215

Story 9 Marouf the Cobbler 234

Chapter 11 The Voice of the Toy 240

Chapter 12 Money Talks 252

Part IV Oriental Masquerades

Chapter 13 Magnificent Moustaches: Hamilton's Fooling, Voltaire's Impersonations 265

Story 10 Rosebud and Uns al-Wujud the Darling Boy 282

Story 11 The Jinniya and the Egyptian Prince 284

Chapter 14 'Symbols of Wonder': William Beckford's Arabesque 289

Chapter 15 Oriental Masquerade: Goethe's West-Eastern Divan 309

Part V Flights of Reason

Story 12 Camar al-Zaman and Princess Badoura 325

Chapter 16 Thought Experiments: Flight before Flight 330

Chapter 17 Why Aladdin? 357

Chapter 18 Machine Dreams 371

Story 13 The Ebony Horse 387

Chapter 19 The Shadows of Lotte Reiniger 390

Story 14 Aladdin of the Beautiful Moles 403

Chapter 20 The Couch: A Case1 History 405

Story 15 Prince Ardashir and Hayat al-Nufus 425

Conclusion: 'All the story of the night told over …' 429

Glossary 437

Abbreviations 439

The Stories 441

Notes 445

Bibliography 499

Index 517

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