Arabian Nights

truth Scheherazade

truth Aladdin, or The Wonderful Lamp

truth Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves

truth Ali Cogia, A Merchant of Baghdad

truth Web Resources on the Arabian Nights


Use a brief telling of the frame story to introduce any tale from the Thousand and One Arabian Nights, or use it alone as the excellent story it is.

Scheherezade's story is intermingled with her storytelling nights in the many versions and translations of the Arabian Nights. This is my version prepared for the article "Scheherazade Was Right" for Storytelling Magazine, July 2005.

Shahryar was the angriest sultan west of the Indus. His queen had betrayed him, so he killed her and (there being no anger management classes available) turned to revenge. Each day he married a new maiden and, the next morning--shlk!--off with her head.

Now, Scheherazade and Dinrazade saw all this happening, for they lived in the palace with their father, the Sultan's vizier. Scheherazade, especially, was alarmed at the decimation of her sisters!

Now, I do not mean her sisters like Dinrazade. I mean all her sisters. All the women. If you have ever been in a mosque, you know exactly what I mean, for there is a palpable feeling of sisterhood in the women's room, an embrace that enfolds even a visitor such as me. Even now, thinking about it, I can almost feel that deep one-ness among the women as we press arms and elbows and hips, bowing in a line of prayer. Those are the "sisters" Scheherazade wanted to save.

And she knew exactly how to do it, but to get close enough to carry out her plan, she would have to marry Shahryar. Dinrazade grasped her scheme immediately and even agreed to help, but their father, one of whose duties was royal executioner, was not easy to convince. But at last, Scheherazade and Shahryar were married, and the next morning, for the first time in a long while, the sultan did not wake up and order his bride decapitated.

Why? Because she told him stories! All night long until the sun rose in the middle of one. She stopped. "To be continued," she said. Don't you hate that? Of course, Shahryar wanted to hear the end, so he postponed the daily execution. And thus it went for a while.

On the 145th night, Shahryar looked at Scheherazade tenderly. On the 270th night, he dismissed the suggestion of an adventure tale, saying "Tonight my mind is more inclined to higher things and would rather hear words of wisdom from you." And the rest is hist... er, legend.

The point is that slowly, very slowly, story by story, night after storied night, her tales softened his heart, dissolved his anger, and he was made whole. It took almost three years, but her plan worked. The king was transformed; her sisters were saved, and Scheherazade's world became safe and lovely.

1001 Years of 1001 NightsSee my CD, 1001 Years of 1001 Nights.


Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp

(Note: Scheherazade's story of Aladdin is set in China, though the language of it is Persian: sultan, genie, Grand Vizier, even his name, "Al-Addin.")

Aladdin was a street urchin whose lazy ways were the death of his father and the despair of his mother. One day an evil magician gave him a magic ring and attempted to deceive him into retrieving a magical lamp, but Aladdin foiled his trick, saved his own skin, and emerged with the lamp to boot, along with some jewels which he thought were fruit. When his mother polished the lamp, a hideous genie emerged. Aladdin asked him for food, which the genie delivered instantly on silver plates. Used to living from hand to mouth, Aladdin sold the plates one by one as they needed money, and thus they lived for several years.

One day Aladdin caught a glimpse of the princess and set his mother to ask for her hand. She took some of the jewel-fruits with her, and when the sultan saw them all a-glitter, he was inclined to agree, but his vizier, who wanted to give his own son a chance to compete, suggested a delay. The king told Aladdin's mother to come back in three months, but then, two months later, an announcement was made of the princess's marriage to the vizier's son. Thereupon, Aladdin called upon his genie to whisk away the wedding bed--bride, groom and all. The genie did that for three nights, returning it each morning, and the frightful trips convinced the groom to relinquish his hold on the princess.

The sultan demanded a high price which Aladdin was able to deliver with help from the genie, who carried him to court amidst great riches and built a grand house for the princess. Aladdin prospered, but--alas!-- his elaborate display caught the attention of the evil magician again.

While Aladdin was away from home, the magician disguised himself and walked by Aladdin's palace calling, "New lamps for old," and the princess willingly traded away Aladdin's old lamp. That night the magician used it to carry the palace, princess and all to Africa. Next day Aladdin was taken to the sultan and told to find the princess or lose his head. After three days of searching, he accidentally rubbed his magic ring, calling a genie who took him to Africa to the hideaway.

Together they devised a plot to poison the magician, then they stole back the lamp and returned home, where her father celebrated their return with feasting for ten days.

But that happy ending was not to be. The genie's brother was more wicked than he! He went to China, killed a pious woman, Fatima, and disguised himself in her attire. He went to the palace where the people greeted him like Fatima, begging to be healed. The princess saw all this and sent for Fatima to come and cure her own ailments. It was then that the false Fatima told her that her beautiful palace lacked for one thing: a roc's egg hanging from the dome. When she asked Aladdin for one, he rubbed his lamp. The genie emerged, but called Aladdin a wretch for requesting his "master" be hanged in the midst of the palace, noting that such a request must have been a trick by the magician's evil brother. He then told Aladdin the brother was disguised as a holy woman, so Aladdin asked that Fatima be called to ease his headache, and when "she" arrived, he pierced her heart with his dagger. After this, Aladdin and the princess lived in happiness to the end of their days.
Cole, Joanna, Best Loved Folktales of the World (New York: Doubleday, 1983. p. 467 ff.).

A longer version, still concise, is in Lang, Andrew, The Blue Fairy Book (Longmans, Green, and Co., 1889; reprinted by Dover, 1965 p. 72 ff.).
Aladdin is included in all the translations and versions of the Arabian Nights, 1001 Nights, and similarly titled collections I've ever seen.


Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves

Ali Baba is the poor, kind brother who gains a fortune when he spies 40 thieves opening a secret door on the command "Open, Sesame." When they leave, he tries it himself, discovers their treasure and takes some home. To estimate their fortune before burying it, he and his wife borrow a measure from his wealthy (and nosey and greedy) brother and sister-in-law, who secretly place a pat of suet in the bottom to see what kind of grain Ali Baba needs to measure. When the cup is returned, it has a gold coin stuck to the suet, and Cassim demands to be let in on the secret, which Ali Baba gladly reveals. Cassim makes the trip to the secret door, opens it, and is dazzled into forgetting the magic word. The thieves return and kill him, hanging his quartered body inside the door. Ali Baba discovers the body, takes it home, and, as is the custom, offers to take care of his brother's wife by marrying her and sharing both their fortunes (with his wife and son, too). Ali Baba enlists her clever slave girl Morgiana to keep the thieves from killing him as well.

The next part of the story should be named "Morgiana the Clever," if you ask me, for Ali Baba fades into the background as Morgiana outwits everyone. She tricks a tailor and an apothecary into helping her give the appearance that Cassim has died of natural causes. When the thieves come after Ali Baba, having learned that he knows their secret cave, she pours boiling oil into the clay jars in which they had hidden and slays their king in a dance of daggers! Ali Baba sets Morgiana free, she and his son marry, Ali Baba shares the secret of the hidden treasure with them, and they live happily and in splendor to the end of their days.

An almost tellable length version of this tale may be found in Cole, Joanna, Best Loved Folktales of the World (New York: Doubleday, 1983. p. 478 ff.). Lang, Andrew, The Blue Fairy Book (Longmans, Green, and Co., 1889; reprinted by Dover, 1965. p. 242 ff.).


1001 Years of 1001 NightsSee my CD, 1001 Years of 1001 Nights.


Ali Cogia, Merchant of Baghdad

A merchant of Baghdad named Ali Cogia decided to make a hajj, a trip to Mecca, and he sold his business for a thousand pieces of gold. He took what he would need and left the rest with his neighbor for safekeeping, hiding his treasure in a great jar of olives. But his trip to Mecca became an extended journey. One day the neighbor's wife expressed a longing for olives, and her husband remembered Ali Cogia's olives hidden away and, clearly, by now forgotten. When he reached down to get a good olive, he found the gold!

Now, on that very day, seven years after he had left home, Ali Cogia decided to return. When he appeared in Baghdad and asked for his olives, they were returned to him--without the gold. Of course, he demanded it, the neighbor denied opening the jar, and the case was taken to the cadi, who agreed with the neighbor that the gold had never existed. Ali Cogia took his case to a higher court, the caliph.

Watching some children play, pretending to reenact the case, the caliph saw the child judge ask some olive experts how long olives could last--three years. The child judge ruled in favor of the pretend Ali Cogia. Next day in court, he reenacted the children's pretend court he had observed, admonishing all to learn from the wisdom of children and sending the child judge home with a reward.
Arabian Nights, Andrew Lang (New York: David McKay Company, 1898, reprinted 1967).


Whew! Only 998 more stories to go!

Web Resources on the Arabian Nights

Tale of the Day as described on

“View classic texts on Project Gutenberg by Richard Burton, E. Dixon, Andrew Lang, John Payne, or Jonathan Scott)”

Watch an excerpt about Ali Baba from A Thousand and One Nights Ballet by Eldar Aliev and Fikret Amirov

View Virginia Frances Sterrett’s beautiful watercolor images for Arabian Nights

In praise of the collection as a literary piece reflective of Arab heritage and culture, this Aramco World article

When Sheherazade's stories made postage stamps in the United Arab Emirates, Aramco World offered this sketch:

Aladdin: Central, fansite of the Disney movie

For more links to Arabian Nights sites, please see my Art and Web Links.

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