Thursday, April 21, 2011

On "Read me a story?"





My five-year-old nephew rarely has the patience to sit down quietly for more than a couple of minutes at the time. The exception is when he is being told a story, whether it is through television, a book, or one I make up ad hoc.  






A while back he came dragging an elaborately decorated book he had found in the bookcase. “Read me a story from this book?” he demanded.

I could not resist, of course. We share a love for stories, my nephew and I, and reading has been an important bonding experience for the two of us. The book he had picked, however, offered some challenges. 


One Thousand and One Nights. I am not overly familiar with these stories, because I grew up with Norwegian folktales and a selection from the Grimm collection. What I know of Arabian tales is mostly what Disney has taught me. Obviously, I know the basic concept and a few of the stories, but I wasn’t familiar with this book. However, I assumed it was similar to the Norwegian and German stories that in their modern versions have been “child proofed”. The Norwegian collectors, Peder Christian Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, actually censored the stories that had been orally transmitted to them, and they made separate collections of tales with adult content.

Apparently the Arabs were less prudish. 


 


As my nephew handed me the book, I picked a story I knew, but not word by word. “Ali Baba and the Robbers” in my memory was a story about a boy who outsmarted some villains, and I figured it would be both entertaining (and morally acceptable) for a five-year-old. Well…

I didn’t realize Ali Baba had a brother. Or that this brother is a jealous man.

I’ll spare you the details but it suffices to say that I discovered mid-read that a decapitation puts a rather definite end of the chilly relationship between the brothers. This was most certainly no children’s story! 


Open sesame...
Like my countrymen 150 years ago I took to censoring. I skipped the gory parts, and added a nice moralistic end where the brothers make up and decide to split the treasure. I even made the story more interactive my teaching my nephew the difference between sesame seeds and sunflower seeds (I’m TONS of fun, I know…) The boy was happy, I was happy. I’m pretty sure old Scheherazade is turning in her grave, but that’s not really my problem…







Giraffame! 

12 comments:

M.J. Nicholls said...

One Thousand and One Nights spreads its tentacles so far into all literature, I really ought to read it. Once someone tells me how to pronounce Scheherazade, I'm there.

sue said...

Definitely not nice, but the sesame seeds make up for the gruesomeness, especially the giraffe. Of course you might have a bit of a problem when he asks for you to read it again and you can't remember the exact details ;)

welcome to my world of poetry said...

I so enjoyed your post, reading to children can either be a pleasure or a nightmare......depending on the child. I found two of mine was wonderful listening to stories but my daughter every couple of seconds would ask the immortal words"Why!?

Yvonne.

Ann said...

Sounds like you sailed through that storm with flying colours!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

One day your nephew will read the real story, but in the meantime, I'm sure your version was much better!

Missy said...

Oh dear! Gotta love those old fairtales/folktales, I was a little shocked when I found the actual ending to The Little Mermaid. But it is so great before the little ones can read cuz then you can make up your own version!

Marjorie said...

I've read almost all of the stories in One Thousand and One Nights. I got so sick of the way women were portrayed and abused that I couldn't go on after a while. I do have to say that I enjoyed the tales of Sindbad the Sailor though.

Marjorie said...

By the way, Giraffame made me laugh out loud.

Kelly said...

Love that last photo (giraffame)! But then I would, considering how much I love giraffes. :)

nutschell said...

I love those sesame seed pictures! I've seen movie versions of the 1001 nights stories, but I have yet to read the book.
Great meeting you through the A-Z!

nutschell
www.thewritingnut.com

Stephanie V said...

I was so distracted by your cool sesame seed art that I had to go back and re-read the words. Great post!

LTM said...

oh, man. I do that all the time with the girls... LOL! Old fairy tales are the worst, man! :D <3

Related Posts with Thumbnails