Since there’s no agreed canon of tales making up the Arabian Nights, we can never say how many stories should actually be counted as being a part of this famous collection.
At various times, the series has been described under different names ¬– Arabian Nights Entertainments being as well known during the nineteenth centuries as the One Thousand and One Nights, and the first mention of this number can probably be attributed to Antoine Galland, the French translator whose Les mille et une nuits popularized many of the stories in Europe.
One thousand is a big number – perhaps not quite as big as it might have sounded a century or two ago, given that everything has experienced inflation – but representing “a lot” nonetheless. To add one to this suggests that even more than a very big number was needed for Scheherazade, the narrator of The Nights, to finish her storytelling.
The fact that a work contained so many stories must have made good marketing sense when printed volumes started to be sold, promising near-endless value and entertainment.
But the great number of stories might also be meant to remind us that Scheherazade had to work hard before she was eventually able to break the heart of the evil sultan who is entertained by her tellings. Many lessons needed to be imparted, some repeatedly, albeit through different tales. That he continued to be sufficiently intrigued to invite her back night after night to relate more, suggests that the sultan was undergoing something of an awakening, albeit a very slow one.
That so many stories have come to us is truly a wonder. To have a hundred, or even ten, of such tales would be a great gift from history. But one thousand and one – well, that’s to have all Christmases coming at once! That is if there really are one thousand and one stories among those belonging to The Nights.
Somehow, I suspect that the number is a little less than that. But we have more than enough to be entertained, enthralled, and educated by for a lifetime or more.
Download my new book, ‘Arabian Nights & Arabian Nights’, for FREE on Kindle from Amazon this week only (17-21th October). Click on your country site to download the Kindle version or look inside/purchase the paperback edition: