I’ve been seeking a good eBook of the Arabian Nights Entertainments ever since I conceived and began to write a science fiction collection based on Scheherazade’s stories.
My chief criterion was that it be a complete translation, which ruled out a number of translations intended for children. Since it also had to be accessible, I decided to use Sir Richard Francis Burton’s translation.
Another criterion was that it had to be cheap. The Arabian Nights Entertainments is available from Project Gutenberg, however each volume of the work is a separate download. I then found a reasonably priced Quench edition that collects the work in a single volume. It’s a decent, low priced edition, however it is not sold on Amazon. One drawback to this edition, however, is that to read Burton’s footnotes readers must navigate to the back of each volume. A better edition would have roundtrip hyperlinks between the text and the footnotes.
Eureka! An edition sold through Google Play does contain roundtrip hyperlinks. It also contains a short biography of Burton. Although, the MobileReference translation also has several shortcomings, it is the best I’ve found. One shortcoming is that it is not available for Kindle. I can live with this; it looks fine when viewed on Adobe Digital Editions and on Android devices. The other shortcoming is that its design prohibits copying text. Most readers won’t care about this, but if they do, they can readily copy text from various internet sources.
Friday, July 12, 2013
Sunday, January 06, 2013
Vikram and the Vampire; Classic Hindu Tales of Adventure, Magic, and Romance
Richard Francis Burton (Author), Isabel Burton (Editor)
Fiction 134 pages
Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton translated 10 volumes of the Arabian Nights proper, plus half as many volumes of supplemental material. However, his translation of Vikram and the Vampire only includes 11 of the original 25 stories. Not only is it a quicker read, its writing style is far less archaic than that of the Arabian Nights translation. Even so, it does not read like a contemporary bestseller, but, then again, it’s old stuff, but that adds to its charm.
This collection of folk tales, written in Sanskrit, and compiled in the 11th century, is the oldest known work to showcase stories collected around a framing device. As such, it predates other framed story collections, including the Arabian Nights, the Decameron, and the Canterbury Tales, by several centuries.
Perhaps King Vikram should not have given his promise to the yogi. Now it’s too late to withdraw it. He has agreed to retrieve a corpse, but there’s a catch — the corpse is possessed by a baital (or vetala) — an Indian demon or vampire. On the chosen night, Vikram and his son enter the cemetery where they find the vampire hanging upside down from a tree limb. After some effort, they capture the vampire, but it escapes. The vampire then strikes a deal with Vikram: He’ll allow himself to be carried while telling a story, but at its conclusion, a riddle will be asked. Once Vikram answers correctly, the vampire escapes. And so, story after story is told through the long night until finally Vikram is stumped for an answer.
The stories are witty, satirical and fantastic. In one, three suitors attempt to animate the remains of their intended bride. One carries her ashes, another carries her bones, and a third recites an incantation to bring her back to life. If they succeed in reviving the beauty, which suitor will marry her? Vikram knows and so will we.
In another story, a thief laughs during his execution. Why? Again, Vikram knows the answer. Yet, the vampire has another answer. Regardless, Vikram’s answer is close enough to allow the vampire to escape. Once again, Vikram must retrieve him from the tree limb in which he hangs in bat-like fashion.
In a story about a learned scholar and his three sons, ‘atheist’ receives four definitions. Of these, the most common is that an atheist is someone whose beliefs are different from one’s own. A bit of philosophical meandering follows, and then there’s a speech, “so stuffed with erudition that even the writer hardly understood it.” Such excesses of scholarship can only result in disaster. After the inevitable occurs, Vikram correctly names which of the four is the greatest fool.
The final story takes place several hundred years after Vikram’s death. Pale-skinned invaders will come from the north to conquer Vikram’s kingdom with “fire weapon(s), large and small tubes, which discharge flame and smoke, and bullets … And instead of using swords and shields, they will fix daggers to the ends of their tubes, and thrust with them like lances.” This reference to British soldiers makes one wonder if the original author, possibly Somadeva, was prophetic, or if, as N. M. Penzer claimed in 1924, Burton embellished the original with fictions of his own.
At the conclusion of the final story, the vampire allows Vikram to take him to the yogi, but not without first revealing the yogi’s evil purpose and the means of his defeat. Does Vikram defeat the yogi? You will have to read it for yourself.