Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Arabian Nights Series Part 2: Burton Vs Lyons Translation Throwdown

(Written by Timeless Tales Magazine Editor Tahlia Merrill Kirk)

This is Part 2 of a series about reading Tales of 1001 Nights. To start at the beginning of the series, click HERE.

Your Arabian Nights Quote of the Day:

I asked an old man walking with his beard down to his knees: “Why are you so bent?” He waved his hands at me. “My youth was lost on the ground,” he said, “And I am bending down to look for it.

- Malcolm C. Lyons. The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights: Volume 1. Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Lyons' 2008 Translation

Since the complete unabridged Arabian Nights is around 2,600 pages (the notoriously long War and Peace is only around 1,225 pages), the circle of people who have read the entire thing is relatively small. But there’s always one question that pops ups first when you meet the rare member of this club: What translation are you reading?

For a long time, there was only one option if you wanted a complete unabridged translation. There are dozens of partial or abridged compilations, many heavily edited to take out the sexual content and insert Christian morals. The first to successfully tackle the entire collection was Sir Richard Francis Burton. His 1885 edition stood alone in this category for over a hundred years until Malcolm C. and Ursula Lyons published their Penguin Classic edition in 2008. Considering how long it takes to simply read the full collection, can you imagine being the person who painstakingly converts each page from Arabic to English? The thought blows my mind.

Sir Richard Burton
Photograph by Rischgitz/Getty Images
Burton’s version is beloved for its grandiose language and extensive footnotes that provide insight into Middle Eastern culture. He deliberately crafted his writing style to evoke epic literature by Medieval and Elizabethan writers like Chaucer and Shakespeare. But perhaps what Burton fans admire most about his work is its authenticity. All those footnotes came about during his many years living in the Middle East, so much of his research stems from firsthand accounts.
It’s impossible not to indulge in a small detour about the colorful character of Burton himself. His thirst for adventure led him into plenty of dangerous situations. He infamously disguised himself as a Muslim to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, going so far as to become circumcised to avoid discovery. He was once on an expedition that got attacked by Somali warriors and survived being impaled by a javelin through both cheeks. He immersed himself in every culture he visited and mastered over 26 languages. This larger than life legacy undoubtedly contributes to the continuing popularity of his books. There’s something extra exciting about reading a version of Arabian Nights knowing that the author was a real life Indiana Jones.

And after all that buildup, I will now break the news that Ron did not read Burton’s translation. He read the newer Lyons’ version. Sure, Malcolm and Ursula don’t have any stories on their Wikipedia page about being chased out of town on horseback by 300 soldiers--wait, let's give them the benefit of the doubt--I'll fact check that before I make such a broad generalization…
Guys, neither Ursula nor Malcolm have a Wikipedia page. This is tragic! And makes for boring blogging! Their Goodreads pages lead me to believe that The Arabian Nights is probably their lives’ magnum opus. I'll just imagine some amazing romance that brought this couple together in their joint quest to rebirth this great epic book…

Okay, joking aside, the Lyons version of Arabian Nights actually has a lot going for it. Think of Burton’s version as the King James Version of the Bible and the Lyons’ translation as NIV. Lots of people love KJV for its beautiful evocative language that is steeped in tradition and history. But others prefer NIV for being straightforward and easier to understand. It’s the same with Arabian Nights. Burton has a tendency towards rambling and flowery language, using “thee”s and “thou”s to evoke an archaic tone. He deliberately chooses obscure words, using Latin whenever the chance arises. My incredibly well read friend Adam enthused about how many new words he learned from Burton’s text. Constantly googling words is fun for some, but cumbersome for others. The Lyons, on the other hand, take a more grounded approach. They aim for clarity and a smooth effortless reading experience. You’ll never lose the train of thought or get exhausted after reading one tale. Some might argue that the Lyons version lacks pizzazz, but others would say that they allow the words to speak for themselves. 

If you want a more detailed comparison The Guardian wrote this amazing post about the two editions. It even has two side-by-side examples of how drastically different they are. 

If anyone knows how to get in touch with the Lyons, I would love to interview them about the translation process and what their goals were in creating this new edition. 

For those who are interested, here's a link to the Penguin Classics Volume 1-3 that Ron read:

Next up in this blog series: Is Arabian Nights Super Sexist? Stay tuned!

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Review of "The Hawkman", a Retelling of Grimm's "Bearskin"

“In France and Germany, the protagonist is a veteran, starving for lack of work after the war; in Italy, he is a woodsman, wounded by an accident inherent in his profession.  In Spain, he is a pirate, shipwrecked after a poorly deliberated decision. In all places, he is a man who has lost his faith in God, and makes no secret of his apostasy.”

– Miss Eva Williams, “The Hawkman.”

After finishing Jane Rosenberg LaForge’s The Hawkman, I find myself still enamored by her lyrical prose, sifting through words to determine if what I read had really been written. Surely an ending so powerful could not exist?  Of course, it does.

As a retelling of the lesser known Grimm story Bearskin, here’s a quick summary of the fairy tale for those not already familiar: A desperate man makes a pact with the devil. If he can avoid bathing or praying for seven years and sleeps in a bearskin, then the devil will give him limitless wealth. Instead of the disaster you’d expect from such a bargain, the man’s kindness and generosity ultimately win him a bride and, once the seven years are up, they live happily ever after...except for the bride’s two sisters. Since they originally shunned our hero, they are later so full of regret that they kill themselves, netting the devil two souls and making him feel like the winner of the arrangement. Basically, it’s a monstrous bridegroom story, but steps away from tradition by using the man’s perspective instead of the woman’s.  

LaForge’s novel sets this fairy tale during World War I. Michael is an Irish prisoner of war who has been held in German work camps for years. He is finally coming out the other side, but is a broken shell of a man. He falls into himself, withdrawing from a society that shuns him, until he builds the persona of the Hawkman around himself.  When he first meets Miss Eva Williams, he is more beast than human. She brings him back to her cottage in Bridgetonne, England in hopes of helping him heal. Eva is a professor, an American, a writer, and a believer in the fantastical. Much like the bride from the fairy tale, when she sees the Hawkman, she is able to see the man beneath the creature.

What draws you in - aside from the lyricism of the writing itself - is the idea that this story starts with a death. Though, when you think about it, aren’t the greatest love stories those that are actually tragedies in disguise? Whether it be the lovers themselves, or the villain, or even a friend, we find that love and death are often inextricably entwined. This story’s death forces the reader to backpedal and unpack while gripping our seat the entire time. We hope that maybe things will change or that all is not what it seems.  But, of course, it is.

As the story progresses, its layers are slowly peeled back. The town of Bridgetonne takes on a life of its own, as described by the Hawkman’s first encounter with it:

“Bridgetonne was not without other misfits: old maids who, in an earlier time, might have been mistaken for witches, and bachelors who, likewise, would have been called out as warlocks.  But by no means was the village haunted.”

It soon becomes clear that there is more than one transformation in this novel. The town itself shifts from loathing the Hawkman and fearing his presence--even writing him off as a degenerate due to his heritage and situation--to respecting him and taking him in so that he will always have a home. Of course, as the original fairy tale suggests, the devil does indeed take two souls for himself.  For, even though each person the Hawkman touches is changed, there is always one who will be against him. And as he changes into something more man than not, it is as if his transformation causes a change within Miss Williams. She slowly shifts from caretaker, to friend, to lover, and finally to something more in the end.

This novel is a story of love and of overcoming social norms. It is a story of magical realism, of hope and loss, and a story of overcoming trauma. All this is wrapped tightly into a ball and leveled out into a complete journey filled with pain and joy. But, most importantly, it is a story about two people from different backgrounds finding themselves being pieced together until they fit like perfectly aligned puzzle pieces. And when you zoom out to see how these two pieces connect with the other interlocking elements inside the novel, you’ll see how they form a work of art. Much like a painting, this novel rewards those who take the time to contemplate its brush strokes and hold onto its memory even when you walk away.

For fans of beautifully written fairy tales where the language bleeds magic onto the pages like Naomi Novik’s Uprooted and those who enjoy a heartbreaking story about war and the consequences it has on the human soul, The Hawkman will be sure to capture and enrapture, and, when it is done, leave you craving more.

Laura Lavelle is a writer from Queens, New York, working in the genres of fantasy, horror, and science fiction with young and new adult themes.  She studied English at Queens College where she won a Silverstein-Peiser award in Fiction before graduating with her bachelor’s degree. However, when she’s not writing she can be found curled up with a book and a cat, hoping that something magical will happen.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

First Impressions of 1001 Tales of Arabian Nights

(Written by Tahlia Merrill Kirk, editor of Timeless Tales Magazine)

A few years ago, my husband Ron delighted me with the news that he had started reading Tales of 1,001 Nights (aka Arabian Nights) on his Kindle.

“This is great!” I squeed. “I’ve never read it, so you can tell me all about it as you go!”

I suppose I should be at least a tad embarrassed that I have zero desire to read the entirety of Arabian Nights, but have you seen the SIZE of it?! There are three volumes. All combined, they add up to a staggering 2600 pages. There isn’t even a Sparknotes available for it, that’s how big it is. So I ignore the mournful wails of my English degree--secondhand reading is good enough for me on this one.

It took him almost 5 years to get through it all (taking breaks to read other books, of course), but this week, he finally finished. Since I immediately knew that I wanted to turn this experience into a blog post, I made sure that Ron filled me in about all the interesting parts of the stories. I even had him send me relevant/funny quotes as he went.

I started writing this as one post, but there is too much to say, so we’re going to make a whole series out of it! Here are a few topics I want to cover (Let me know if there's something you really want me to discuss):

1. Which Translation Did Ron Read? (I promise it won't be as boring as it sounds)

2. Is Arabian Nights Sexist? 

3. Is Arabian Nights Sexy? 

4. How Does Aladdin Fit Into Arabian Nights?

5. Djinn and Their Kind (or not-so-kind...hehe)

6. Religion in Arabian Nights

7. The Arabian Nights Board Game

8. Doughnuts (Nope, won’t explain. Saving the best for last)

In the meantime, here’s a funny mini-tale to give you a taste of how great these stories are:

My master the sultan, here is my most remarkable experience during my time in office. I had ten thieves hanged, each on a gibbet of his own, and I told the guards to watch to see that nobody removed any of the corpses. The next day, when I came to look at them, I found two corpses hanging from the same gibbet.

‘Who has done this,’ I asked the guards, ‘and where is the gibbet belonging to this second corpse?’

They disclaimed any knowledge of the affair, but when I was about to have them flogged, they said: ‘We fell asleep last night, emir, and when we woke up we found that one of the corpses, together with its gibbet, had been stolen. We were afraid, and when we saw a passing peasant coming up towards us with his donkey, we seized him, killed him and hanged him on this gibbet in place of the corpse that had been removed.’

I was taken by surprise and asked them what the peasant had had with him. They told me that he had had a saddlebag on his donkey, and when I asked what was in it they said that they didn’t know.
‘Bring it to me,’ I told them, and when they did, I ordered them to open it. There inside it was the body of a murdered man cut into pieces. I was astonished at this sight and said to myself: ‘Glory be to God. The reason that this peasant was hanged was that he was guilty of murder, and God does not treat His servants unjustly.’

Malcolm C. Lyons. The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights: Volume 2 (The Arabian Nights or Tales from 1001 Nights) (pp. 107-108). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.