In an interview on WPR, author Andrei Codrescu and Professor Reza Aslan talk about the interesting origins of the Arabian Nights stories. According to Aslan, the story of 1001 Nights were originally translated into the English language in the Victorian era to serve as sex manuals for repressed British men, much in the way that the Kama Sutra is considered by some today. His article of the Arabian Nights stories as “Islamic Erotica” appeared in Playboy Magazine. (Excerpts from that article can be found here.)
Codrescu notes that the Arabian Nights stories are interesting because their original author is unknown. As such they have been revised and rewritten by generations of authors and editors, changing the message (and degree of eroticism) of the tales. Codrescu also insists that the oral nature of the stories play an important role in their seductive effect. They are by definition never ending–Sheherezade depends on her skill as a story teller to stay alive–and thus are written (or spoken) to continually arouse curiosity and interest in the reader (or listener).
Both experts agree that the fantastic and exotic nature of the stories are what have drawn centuries of readers to the Arabian Nights stories. Even the Disney classic Aladdin was derived from one of Sheherezade’s many tales. The interview explores the stories’ connections to everything from historical figures who may have inspired the characters in 1001 Nights to the current “erotic” events that fascinate the public today (Congressman Weiner, for example). Take a listen to this educational and entertaining interview here, and check out Codrescu’s take on the famous story in Whatever Gets You through the Night: A Story of Sheherezade and the Arabian Entertainments.