peteg's blog - noise - books - 2010 04 17 Burton AThousandNightsAndANight

Richard Burton: Tales from the Arabian Nights, selected from the book of the thousand nights and a night.

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I had intended to read at least this selection from cover to cover, but gave up after about 660 pages. Structurally the text is fantastic, stories-within-stories and so forth, but most of the time I'd have to say that Burton's commentary on the text outshines the text itself. It is a huge stylistic indulgence, flowery and archaic even by his times.

The framing story of Scheherazade and her murderous king is great, though I expected it to be returned to more often; in this text the King takes her maidenhead and 500 pages later she has had three children. The first 34 nights take about 350 pages. By the supplemental nights they're down to about a page each.

Plenty of the stories are farcical ala Monty Python, such as the occasionally hilarious The Hunchback's Tale. I also liked the mysticism of The Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdad.

The Wikipedia page provides a good account of how the various translations relate. Apparently a complete, unexpurgated version of Burton's text is available.