Influences on Modern Day Society inspired by Tales from 1,001 Nights

_kai.l
5 min readNov 27, 2020

One Thousand and One Nights also known as The Arabian Nights is a “gem of world literature” which encompasses enthralling tales of folklore and literature, being immensely influential, evidently within the last few centuries. It revolves around a king, Shahryar marrying a new woman every day, only to kill her the next morning. However, Shahrazad devised a cunning plan to tell stories ceasing on a cliff hanger each evening, delaying her death for 1,001 nights. These tales have influenced the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, these tales include a series of mystical, magical and alluring fiction, capable of inspiring any audience with an infatuation for rich literature.

“Aladdin and Ali Baba provided an opportunity for spectacle on a lavish scale — transformation scenes, trapdoor appearances and disappearances, flying, explosions, vanishing in puffs of smoke”

Let me guess, when you hear the word ‘Aladdin’, you reminisce one of your favourite Disney movies or the 2019 film adaptation distinguished for its appealing magical charms and euphonious soundtracks. Having such luxurious settings each designed with unique characteristics is sure to have everlasting impressions on the audience, especially with the fan’s favourite, ‘the Jinn’. However, have you ever thought about the origin of Aladdin? How did it become so inspiring within both past and present generations?

The origin of Aladdin ramifies from Tales from 1,001 Nights, popularised during the 18th century during Galland’s translation. The tale also contains a myriad of tropes, giving the story the figurative perceptions that truly distinct Aladdin despite being ‘cliched’. Below are some common but judicious tropes that resonated with me throughout the film:

Standard Hero RewardAladdin perished the evil which resided in the Kingdom, what reward could he possibly be offered? A marriage to Princess Jasmine of course! This ‘standard hero reward’ is a recurring trope through various works of literature, which is often rewarded to the main protagonist that goes through great feats, sometimes life-endangering in the hopes of restoring justice and peace.

Daddy’s GirlJasmine is the epitome of this trope, her father, The Sultan, exhibiting overprotective characteristics, with a common goal — only to wish the best for his daughter without considering her feelings.

Non-Human Sidekick — Ever noticed how Jafar, Aladdin and Princess Jasmine all have an animal sidekick? Iago represents Jafar and his sarcastic advice eliciting the connotation of malice and greed for his prosperity. On the same vein, Aladdin depicts a cunning nature similar to Abu, while Princess Jasmine represents the form of Rajah, majestic and dignified.

Must Make Amends — “I made a mess of everything… somehow I got to go back and set things right” quotes Aladdin. This is often when the protagonist has made a poor decision leading to catastrophe, circumventing their way out of an almost impossible scenario (Deus ex Machina) just to make things right once again.

Marina Warner states that “the Disney version of the story is actually less vulgar than Gallad’s” and “less obsessed with opulence”, making me experience an epiphany of how these adaptations are cultivated mainly for children. Not just in the case of Aladdin was the violence and gore finetuned to foster children, but also Cinderella. In Cinderella, young women were inclined to sever their toes to fit the glass slipper, it evidently evinces that Disney had calibrated the finer details to make the rendition appropriate for children. Regarding Disney’s Aladdin and how it was “less obsessed with opulence”, this influences the audience’s perception that kings were permeated with treasure to an extent, they would sacrifice innocent lives to retain their wealth. ­­

With Tales from 1,001 Nights possessing engrossing chains of folk tales, not only has it influenced western society but also impacted Asian literature. In Japan, the compilation is classified as 物語 (Monogatari), a genre for literature that contains literature sagas. With the compelling stories being spread, it’s popularity increased overtime, affecting not only of those with a passion for reading but also the animation and manga industry. Works such as Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic and even the highly distinguished Pokémon series abstracted themes and elements from 1,001 Nights. This patently illustrates that despite the language barriers and complexity of literature, literature is expansive with readers culminating folk tales around the world scintillating their imagination. Moreover, several board games and video games orientalise from Tales from 1,001 Nights, such as the franchise Prince of Persia, Bookworm Adventures and Jaipur. Having personally played Jaipur, it truly evokes the historical aspect of how trading felt like in the middle east, with the role of a merchant and objective of trading goods such one would find while reading the 1,001 Nights such as spices, lamps and jewels.

Nimah Ismail Nawwab’s Arabian Nights is candidly a rare masterpiece as it encapsulates the “visions” and “memories” and reminisces aspects of daily life during the era.

“Flames flickering in the pit
Wood slowly consumed, sparks flying,
Dancing to the strain: dana, ya dan dan.”

This stanza demonstrates despite the harsh rulers and circumstances, people were still able to spark joy and enjoy their life, righteously capturing the moment. Stereotyping “young boys” as loud, competitive and lively as they “thump their feet to the wild desert drumbeat”, enlightening the atmosphere and capturing the rare sense of brotherhood. “To the dawn of a new century”, has the optimistic connotation that our pasts should not hinder who we are, but instead propel us forward — “blown away by the winds of change”.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to engross yourself to the Tales from 1,001 Nights, you are omitting an essential aspect of literature that’s truly one of its kind. Having influenced prominent writers, poets and even regions of the world, it truly has permeated into modern society and our perspectives.

Kai Henn Leong

Bibliography

Scottish Poetry Library. 2020. Arabian Nights By Nimah Ismail Nawwab | Scottish Poetry Library. [online] Available at: <https://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poem/arabian-nights/> [Accessed 15 November 2020].

2020. [online] Available at: <https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvckq3p5> [Accessed 15 November 2020].

TV Tropes. 2020. Must Make Amends — TV Tropes. [online] Available at: <https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MustMakeAmends> [Accessed 15 November 2020].

TV Tropes. 2020. Make A Wish — TV Tropes. [online] Available at: <https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MakeAWish> [Accessed 15 November 2020].

The National. 2020. How ‘The Thousand And One Nights’ Shaped The Novels Of The Modern Day. [online] Available at: <https://www.thenationalnews.com/arts-culture/books/how-the-thousand-and-one-nights-shaped-the-novels-of-the-modern-day-1.1015716> [Accessed 16 November 2020].

We Need to Talk About Books. 2020. The Arabian Nights [A Review]. [online] Available at: <https://weneedtotalkaboutbooks.com/2018/06/06/the-arabian-nights-a-review/> [Accessed 16 November 2020].

TV Tropes. 2020. Non-Human Sidekick — TV Tropes. [online] Available at: <https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/NonHumanSidekick> [Accessed 17 November 2020].

TV Tropes. 2020. Daddy’s Girl — TV Tropes. [online] Available at: <https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DaddysGirl> [Accessed 17 November 2020].

Pookpress.co.uk. 2020. The Original Aladdin Story — Its History And Origins. [online] Available at: <https://www.pookpress.co.uk/project/history-original-aladdin-story/#:~:text=The%20tale%20of%20Aladdin%20is,One%20Thousand%20and%20One%20Nights.&text=In%20fact%2C%20the%20story%20was,Voyages%20of%20Sinbad%20the%20Sailor'.> [Accessed 17 November 2020].

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