This is by far the most exciting book buy in ages. It is a collection of the earliest known short Arabic stories to be translated into English for the first time. The stories introduced by Robert Irwin are according to an article he penned to the Independent, 'very old, more than 1,000 years old, yet most of them are quite new to us'.
According to Irwin, 'Tales of the Marvellous' includes tales of the supernatural, romances, comedy, Bedouin derring-do and one story dealing in apocalyptic prophecy. The contents page indicates that the complete manuscript contained 42 chapters, of which only 18 chapters containing 26 tales have survived. The handwriting of the manuscript suggests that the copy was made in the 14th century, but its contents indicate that the stories were compiled and in some cases composed in the 10th century in either Syria or Egypt. Read full article HERE.
Robert Irwin's books include 'For Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and Their Enemies', 'The Middle East in the Middle Ages', 'The Arabian Nights: A Companion' and (as editor) 'The Penguin Anthology of Classical Arabian Literature'. He also introduced and edited the Penguin Classics 'Arabian Nights'.
As I have read and reread these stories, I have slowly become convinced that the person who first wrote them down in the 10th century did not just collect them from other sources, but in some cases he or she actually composed them' - Robert Irwin for the Independent.
The Book Cover:
On the shrouded corpse hung a tablet of green topaz with the inscription: 'I am Shaddad the Great. I conquered a thousand cities; a thousand white elephants were collected for me; I lived for a thousand years and my kingdom covered both east and west, but when death came to me nothing of all that I had gathered was of any avail. You who see me take heed: for Time is not to be trusted.'
Dating from at least a millennium ago, these are the earliest known Arabic short stories, surviving in a single, ragged manuscript in a library in Istanbul. Some found their way into 'The Arabian Nights' but most have never been read in English before. 'Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange' has monsters, lost princes, jewels beyond price, a princess turned into a gazelle, sword-wielding statues and shocking reversals of fortune.
To read these stories today is an extraordinary experience - they were designed to enchant and delight a society almost fantastically distant from our own, and now, centuries later, they can be marvelled at in all their strangeness.
About the translator:
Malcolm C. Lyons is also the translator of the Penguin Classics edition of the complete 'Arabian Nights'. He was Sir Thomas Adam's Professor of Arabic at Cambridge University and is a life fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge. He is one of the world's leading experts on classical Arabic literature.
photo by JJ (perpetual_lemons)