What Makes One Thousand and One Nights a Classic?
One Thousand and One Nights (Arabic: al-ket al-yam wa-safara) is a reference to an old Persian poem written by the twelfth century BC poetical writer Nasias. The poem itself tells the story of a caravan following a river in heaven and a long and prosperous journey across to earth. One of the things that the poem remembers and celebrates is the long life span of animals. From fish to lions, they live a long and fruitful life, all thanks to their kind hospitality shown towards others. And this is what makes the tale of the One Thousand and One Nights a classic piece of Middle Eastern and Arabic literary fiction.
A unique monument to mankind’s creative ability to transmute the universe, the stories of One Thousand and One Nights are, for the modern era, something of a miracle. For centuries, the many tales of Arabian Nights have enthralled the imagination of generations and drawn the attention of countless individuals from around the world. Perhaps one of the oldest Arabic, Middle Eastern, or Islamic contributions to world literature, the so-called Arabian Nights actually began as a series of folk tales told by recounting the experiences of prophet Muhammad’s caravan after they passed through the powerful Arabian Desert. With their deep spiritual meaning and powerful magical enchantment, the Arabian Nights continue to enchant readers thousands of years later.
But the success of this long-time story was not without its own problems, to be sure. In addition to the difficulty of preserving the story for posterity, Nasias was forced to limit the number of characters in each tale, while also working under the constraints of Arabian law which forbade women from speaking out freely. This often meant that Nasias had to select only a selected few tales to be told in any particular order, or chose to tell only a few selected stories in any single evening. She also often had to wait several years between stories to ensure that she picked the right one.
However, in contrast with these challenges, the popularity of One Thousand and One Nights has remained consistently high throughout the centuries. Today, a number of different factors contribute to this popularity. Perhaps one of the primary reasons why the story is so popular comes from the sheer variety of stories it tells. In one evening alone, it tells a tale that spans a span of centuries and continents, and involves characters from places like Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Also, since the primary focus of this story is on the theme of transformation, many of its tales provide the opportunity for the story’s characters to go through similar changes over time. This gives the audience an opportunity to see how the story’s characters experience change, and how these changes affect them both individually and collectively.
Another one of the reasons why One Thousand and One Nights is so enduring comes from how easy the plot is to adapt to any number of different settings. Since the story is set in various locations across a number of time periods and continents, it is easy to see how the plot can be easily woven into a number of different dramas. Also, while each of these eras is distinctly different, they all share common themes in common, such as reincarnation and the struggle between good and evil. It is these themes and universal sentiments that make One Thousand and One Nights a classic of literature and of storytelling itself.
While it may be impossible to pinpoint exactly what makes a particular work of literature, there is no doubt that One Thousand and One Nights has been among the most popular stories told by people from all walks of life for decades. The appeal of this story comes not only from its plot, but also from the characters that tell it. With their ability to draw upon a variety of cultures and time periods, these tales are a delight for readers of all ages.