Naguib Mahfouz, an Egyptian Nobel Prize winner for literature, is the author of
“Arabian Nights and Days,” a sort of “sequel” to The Arabian Nights.
Much like the
original Arabian Nights, Mahfouz’s text is broken up into separate stories, though there is
more of a consistent plot line running through the entire book in Mahfouz’s case.
book begins where the Arabian Nights had left off: the morning after Shahrazad had told
her final story to Sultan Shahriyar.
Rather than kill Shahrazad as he had every previous
wife, the sultan decides to keep her alive.
Although the town temporarily rejoices that
the bloodshed has ended, Shahrazad still thinks of the sultan as an animal, and cannot
imagine loving him, saying that the king will never love her because “arrogance and love
do not come together in one heart.”
Meanwhile, many other town members remember all
too well the Sultan’s bloody past, leading to some resistance fighters.
Much like the
, the plot is very intricate, and often characters are only lightly
connected to one another.
Indeed, sometimes meetings and discussions at Café of the
Emirs (the gossip central of the story and meeting place for the “higher-class” as well as
“common folk”) is the only thing two characters have in common.
Although there are a number of changes that Mahfouz made in style, character
traits, and setting, the differences I intend to focus on concern the role of the Genie (or
Genies) in the two books.
In my opinion, the original Arabian Nights used the Genie
merely are a plot device.
The Genie was used to show a lesson and lead to the telling of
This was essentially all.
Mahfouz, however, went more in depth with the
His Genies are cynical and judgmental of humans, and may save or destroy
humans without any indication beforehand.
They also converse on deep philosophical
topics and are essential to the plot line.
First, though, it is necessary to understand two
major instances in which Mahfouz uses each of his Genies.
One central story within
Arabian Nights and Days
, for example, is the story of
Sanaan al-Gamali was essentially a very successful, but sleazy,
One night he had a nightmare in which a Genie told him that the governor had
been using black magic to control the Genie, and that Sanaan al-Gamali would have to
kill the governor so that the Genie could be free.
If Sanaan al-Gamali did not do this, the