Drama on The High Seas
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away there lived a lovely Persian princess named Scheherazade. She had flowing black locks, skin as fair as porcelain, an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and the magical gift of storytelling. Scheherazade passed the warm evenings reciting poetry, debating philosophical points of view, musing on a host of topics, and matching wits with any man.
Yet it was a King Shahryar who proved to be her greatest challenge. It is said that his monarch “married” a virgin every day then had her beheaded the next morning to avenge his first wife’s betrayal. Some 3,000 women suffered this horrible fate before our lovely Scheherazade entered the scene. And, despite her father’s protests, Scheherazade plotted to spend one night with King Shahryar to secretly test him with her storytelling magic. Meanwhile our princess had set a trap and asked permission to bid farewell to her sister Dunyazad who was part of the scheme. This sister begged Scheherazade to recite one last tale, a story with plots and twists and turns and imagery that lasted till daybreak. The king, captivated by this enchanting story, begged the storyteller to return with another chapter the following evening. Thus he was forced to keep her alive so more of her story could be revealed.
So, for the following 1000 nights, Scheherazade recited her tales to the king’s delight, so much so that he not only permitted her to live but fathered three sons by her. In time, King Shahryar blossomed into a changed man with a deepening respect for women, far greater kindness, and an unshakable sense of morality. Scheherazade became his queen and they lived happily ever after.
The Book Of A Thousand And One Nights
Scheherazade’s stories form the basis for this book for which she is the narrator. Sinbad the Sailor is one of these “story-cycles” of Persian origin recounting the wild tales of a young sailor from Basrah (in present day Iraq). Other stories include Aladdin as well as Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Scholars claim these tales date back to 800-900 AD though no original manuscripts have ever been found. Never mind. Let’s just get to the good part, the part that happens on the 536th night of the 1001.
Sinbad The Sailor
Sinbad, as the story goes, had squandered all his inheritance so he was forced to take to the seas to rebuild his fortune. Very quickly we discover his pattern of missteps, mistakes, and challenges. His first voyage includes details of confusing a giant fish for an island, being adrift on the open sea, and washing ashore only to be embraced by the local king who showers him with gold so he can return to Baghdad a wealthy man.
During The Second Voyage of Sinbad the Sailor, our lead character becomes “possessed with the thought of traveling about the world of men and seeing their cities and islands”. Sound familiar? He winds up stranded in a remote valley with massive snakes and even bigger birds called rocs. Curiously, the valley floor is strewn with a carpet of shiny diamonds so Sinbad coats his back with meat, a roc carries him to its diamond-lined nest and our protagonist escapes with a bag of sparkling gems, returning to Baghdad even richer than before.
The Third Voyage of Sinbad finds our hero captured by a monster that makes Jabba the Hut look like Raggedy Andy. Sinbad manages to blind the monster and escape. But, wait! He then has to wriggle from the grasp of a massive python before returning home with immense wealth. Sinbad shares his riches with the downtrodden thus capturing the moral highground.
On his fourth voyage, all hell breaks loose. Sinbad is forced to wrangle with naked cannibals who are high on a local narcotic. Thankfully, he’s rescued by a neighboring king who gives him his wealthy daughter as a bride. The twist here is that, upon the death of one partner, the other is entombed with the corpse. Don’t you just hate when that happens? Sinbad’s darker side emerges (think Survivor) as he becomes entombed then steals from other bereaved spouses in the same pickle and lives to fight another day.
The Fifth Voyage of Sinbad is when his ship is sunk by angry rocs in revenge for sailors devouring their chick. Our hero becomes enslaved by the Old Man of The Sea (not …”and The Sea” of Hemingway fame). This dotty sod wraps his legs around Sinbad’s neck and rides him day and night till Sinbad begs for death. He manages to escape to the City Of Apes for another drama before going home again even richer.
The Sixth Voyage – shipwreck, riverbed of precious stones, no food. Your basic cliffhanger but this one takes place in Sri Lanka and includes a cup carved from a single ruby and a serpent that swallows an elephant.
The Seventh (and final) Voyage of Sinbad The Sailor wraps things up neatly with another Chief’s daughter for a wife and birds that carry him to the heavens for God’s messages. Our Arabic Idol Sinbad returns to Baghdad to live out his final days happily everafter, adventure no longer ruling his very soul.