“just one more chapter.”
inspired by the 1001 arabian nights
“the chain of anomalies always tends to lead back to normality… the protagonist of the stories is in fact destiny itself.”
~pier paolo pasolini,
filmmaker of il fiore delle mille una notte (1974)
i started out this piece more than a year ago with the intent of doing an “aladdin” piece. a big fan of the disney animated classic, it was an adventurous tale, and with the uptrend in arabian adventures in YA lit, i thought it perfect timing to re-explore the classic tale!
however, after much research, as i am wont to do with my paintings, aladdin turned out not just to be awful, but fake. (more on that later.)
so i broadened my topic to the arabian nights and scheherazade’s tales within tales within tales as her life is spared day by day as the king insists on “just one more chapter” until they eventually (according to legend) finally fall in love.
so have a look-see at my painting (mostly inking) process below, and then i’ll get more into the story and research and included imagery!
i wrote a pretty scathing review of my main source material HERE on goodreads. and as i mentioned, both the stories of “aladdin” and “ali baba” didn’t appear in arabic until after antoine garland’s les mille et one nuits contes arabes was published (all twelve volumes between 1704-1717 when faerie tales were at their most fashionable in europe)… so there's considerable proof that they were both forgeries.
the earliest tales from india and persia that we have that were translated into arablic in the 8th century are known as “alf layla”- the thousand nights. more arab stories were added in the 9th & 10th centuries. and syria and egypt added stories in the 13th century and onward. and honestly, i find them all pretty awful… there's drunkenness & lots of beheadings & cutting off (even unmentionable) body parts.
there's demons and more drunkenness & sleeping around & it all gets quite tedious after a while.
i appreciate that this is ancient literature. orally passed down for centuries, then finally written down. and the 1990 english translation i used for my painting went back to the 14th century manuscript edited by muhsin mahdi.
it’s stories within stories within stories.
shahrazad (“she was intelligent, knowlegeable, wise and refined.”) is prolonging the invevitable— “i would like you to marry me to king shahrayar, so that i may either succeed in saving the people or perish and die like the rest.”— as are all the characters within her stories. they're telling their own stories. or someone else's stories-- in order to spare their own lives. but even more super confusing to the reader is to imagine that arabic has no punctuation.
so to sort out who's talking to whom stresses me out. even when reading it in english, it's difficult to remember who's telling a story from which story in which episode to which jiin or demon to save their lives through bargaining...
every night ending on a cliffhanger, “the king thought to himself, ‘i will spare her until i hear the rest of the story.’” and therein lies our quest for just one more chapter. :)
alas, there were a handful of repeat elements throughout the tales that weren’t TOO scandalous to paint.
so look through the lamp’s smoke and you’ll find not just decorative motifs from the region, but things such as:
great column of smoke (usually preceding a monster)
horse (i did the one from the 62nd night)
the magic carpet/rug
and mostly just lots of floral/decorative swirls because the rest of it wasn’t even PG… ;)
i enjoyed researching all i didn’t know about the history of these tales. and i really DO LOVE how the painting turned out. even if it wasn’t the one i started out to paint, i think it’s lovely. and as enchanting as can be. :) even if a bit happier than the stories within…
“without the coincidence there would be no story. without pattern, there is no meaning.”
the original mixed media (ink, watercolor, gouache, acrylic) painting on handmade indian watercolour paper is available in a white washed wood frame for $545. (+$40 for safe US shipping.) email me if you're interested in collecting the original! it's beautiful! :)