One fairy tale category I haven’t touched on until now is that of Middle Eastern fairy tales. Most of us have heard of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Sinbad the Sailor, or Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp. Perhaps you may also have heard of Scheherazade. They all fall under the category of fairy tales coming out of the Middle East. But what about Scheherazade?
Just who was Scheherazade? Scheherazade was a fairy tale heroine. The Tale of Scheherazade is itself wrapped around several other tales from The Arabian Nights, so the beginning of the book is the first part of Scheherazade, followed by several other tales.
In the Tale of Scheherazade, when King Shahryar finds out his wife and all his concubines have been unfaithful to him, he has the Queen killed, and kills his concubines and their lovers himself. Then he vows that whatever wife he marries, he will take her maidenhead at night, only to then slay her in the morning in order to protect his honor. And this is just what King Shahryar does for three years, until there are practically no young virgins left. That is, except for the two daughters of King Shahryar’s Chief Wazir. The eldest, Scheherazade is well educated, knowing a thousand books of histories. Scheherazade insists her father, the Wazir, offer her to King Shahryar. He does not want to, but Scheherazade insists. She also tells her sister to come request a story during the night.
This is where the first part of the Tale of Scheherazade is broken off as Scheherazade tells her sister and King Shahryar the Tale of the Trader with the Jinni, but she does not finish before morning. King Shahryar decides to let her live and finish the tale the next night, which she does, but Scheherazade then begins another tale, but again does not finish before morning. Again, King Shahryar lets her live. This goes on for one thousand Arabian nights, during which time, several tales are presented, comprising the “middle” section to the Tales of The Arabian Nights. And here is where such tales as Sinbad the Sailor and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves can be found.
Then, on the 1,001st night, we return to the Tale of Scheherazade at the end of the book. After finishing the last of her stories, Scheherazade brings forth the three sons she has borne to King Shahryar during the time of the One Thousand and One Nights and asks that he spare her so that their children will not be left motherless. King Shahryar pardons Scheherazade, and finding her chaste and pure, marries her in an elaborate wedding ceremony. Later, King Shahryar has his chroniclers record the tales, which we know of as One Thousand and One Nights or The Arabian Nights.
As with most fairy tales, the Tale of Scheherazade contains some very mature themes. Unfaithfulness is the initial basis for King Shahryar’s actions. But what of the King’s actions, taking the virginity of several maidens, only to have them killed the next morning, until the kingdom is all but devoid of females?
Also like most fairy tales, the Tale of Scheherazade teaches. Whether you agree or disagree, it is still a sad fact of life that a woman’s purity in the Middle East is often measured by proof of her virginity. The Tale of Scheherazade serves to warn females of the truth about what may happen should they be unfaithful. It also reaffirms the power that males such as the king have in this patriarchal society.
Sad but true, as is usually the case with fairy tales, if you want to survive, learn your fairy tale lessons well!