Worldbuilding Wednesday 7/10/19: Arabian Nights Tales II

Illustration by Virginia Sterrett

It’s not only the translations of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights that have changed over the years; illustrations of the classic have changed as well. The oil painting Alnaschar’s Fortune, by William Ewart Lockhart, embodies a realistic, dramatic Victorian style, but starting in the 20th century, children’s book illustrators  showed a move towards abstraction and fancifulness  influenced by the larger art trends of their time. The above watercolor by Virginia Sterrett has a slinky 1920s Art Deco feel, halfway between the more realistic Maxfield Parrish and the later stylizations of Erté. The empty space above the princess may have been left for the book’s title, but many interior illustrations of the time showed generous amounts of unoccupied space as well, such as this illustration by Sterrett’s contemporary Kay Nielson.

As the Arabian Nights hodgepodge of Persian, Indian, Arabic, and Jewish tales is presented as belonging to a unified mythical “East” that never really was, the illustration combines elements of various Eastern cultures as well: a Chinese-style headdress on the princess, Ancient Egyptian collar, sheer North African pantaloons, Indian slippers, and Turkish minarets in the background, with the  small pursed red lips and sultry eye makeup of a 1920s It Girl.


Unwritten Arabian Nights Tales II

The Tale of the Serpent-Charmer and His Father

The Porter’s Tale of His First Brother

The Mishaps of the Concubine and the Parakeet

Queen Taryal and Her Slave-Girls

Zariq and the Swallow’s Curse

Princess Awaryet and the Amiable Miller

The Fat Serpent-Charmer and the Lazy Fakir

Garden of the Forty Mice

Kelemen the Gem Cutter

The Hyena, the Spider, and the Acrobat

The Six Lamps of Al-Ibhreen

The Wise Son and the Silent Daughter

The Gazelle, the Devil, and the Jewess

The Voyages of Zartu the Traveler

Princess Zulakka and Her Flying Coffee-Set

A Letter to the Renowned Imam of Zarrush

The Barber’s Tale of His Grandfather Six Times Removed

The Ten Cunning Pilgrims

Khefren and the Mishap of the Forty Melons

The Twelve Daughters of Rhanaziah

King Quryn and His Sons, Baraz and Sidyal

Bendaisha the Ghoul

Queen Faykhaat and the Learned Seamstress

The Sultana Who Became an Envoy

The Tale of Young Wasdul and His Grandmother

The Old Weaver and His Magical Loom

The Dillemna of Emir Quaaz and His Elephant

The Twelve Queens of El-Zarinda

The Lady Arzeena and the Ghost of the Cripple

The Journey of Queen Rubanja and Her Brother

Sharqeera the Baggar-Woman and the Talking Spider

Faldan and the Golden Orange


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