A Hundred and One Nights. Edited and translated by BRUCE FUDGE. Library of Arabic Literature. New York: NEW YORK UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2016. Pp. vii + 402. $35 (cloth), $15 (paper, translation only).
The 101 Nights have much in common with the 1001 Nights, but the differences from that much more famous work are what make it interesting. Bruce Fudge explains many of these differences in his introduction to his translation--for example, the 101 Nights lack much of the 1001 Nights' narrative and moral complexity; they do not use the story-within-a-story device to anywhere near the degree of the 1001 Nights, and Shahrazad, a much diminished heroine in the 101 Nights, tells tales only to save her own life, instead of the lives of all the women of the city. Fudge shows that the murky sources indicate that the 101 Nights may actually be older than the 1001 Nights (pp. xxi-xxiii), which suggests that the 1001 Nights developed its bafflingly intricate, masterpiece-level complexity from a simpler model such as the one we have before us. Overall, I agree with Fudge's assessment that the 101 Nights' "main virtue is its pursuit of pleasure through the telling of stories," and that the corpus has less to offer us in terms of "leading to any benefit or knowledge" (here Fudge quotes al-Tawhidi) (p. xxviii). When I say in my own words that what the 101 Nights offer is cheap thrills, I hope that Fudge and everyone else involved in the production of this volume can take that as a compliment.
For a scholar devoted to literature that has in the past been deemed unworthy of scholarly attention, this volume gave me plenty of food for thought about the place of scholarship in relation to "low" literature. Although the 1001 Nights were famously deemed to belong to this category because of their authorless Middle Arabic language and fantastical, fictional content, the work has now been the subject of enough serious scholarly attention that most can agree it is worthy of and well served by scholarship. But although I agree, of course, with Fudge that the 101 Nights "has much historical, linguistic, and literary value" (p. xxviii), I find myself wondering if, in this particular case, the scholarly presentation is ruining the fun.
With its sexy warrior women and magical demon landscapes, this is a fun translation to read. You could take it to the beach and flip through its pages while lying in the sun, though I would recommend that you purchase the translation-only...