Francisco: Well this was an interesting read, somehow in the 10th century the Japanese were reading stories about alien visitations... really. There's this princess which is found by a bamboo cutter inside a stalk, and at the end her people come to get her back to the moon.
As in most good alien visitation stories, and The Man Who Fell To Earth comes to mind, there is a certain disafection and lack of empathy by the part of the alien itself. This is what happens here, intrestingly. Maybe we shouldn't be post-modernist and project our cultural equivalents on the story, the alien might very well be a divinity or a kind of spirit, but in the end the story is the same.
The princess comes to love mankind at the end and pities her return to the Moon, where she'll forget all her time on Earth. It is a very pretty story and reads like a fairy tale, it is "alien" enough culturally, being from 10th century Japan to actually make very interesting reading to us westerners today. It was stories like this which made me switch the list to the international version, and based on this I am very glad I did.
The story is actually composed of several different tales of the quests that the several suitors of the Moon princess go through in order to please her, or cheat her, so that actually adds another level of interest to the story.
Vanda: I'd read this tale before, a few years back in a book of Japanese traditional tales. It's truly beautiful - the imagery, the story, the flow of the simple plot. Unlike Aesop, and unlike European tales that would be collected centuries later by the Brothers Grimm, I don't think it encompasses any particular moral tale, except perhaps that dishonesty and forgery will get you nowhere. It's rather evocative of far away lands and mysterious and magical objects, which I confess is something I tend to love in books and stories.
I'm actually quite happy we have reset the list, although now I'm looking for someone to blame for spending precious hours of my life reading Pilgrim's Progress. This is the sort of book which sheer antiquity and beauty should have made it a shoe-in for the previous list, were it not so anglo-centric. Read this, and, if possible, get the same edition we did. It's wonderful, will take very little of your time as it's quite short, and will make your day a litte bit more special.
Francisco: 8/10 Vanda: 8/10
Kaguya, the mouse born by quasi-parthenogenesis, and the asteroid 7991 Kaguyahime are among the many things named after the Princess Kaguya in the tale.
The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter is nearly identical in form to a Tibetan tale of a similar name, and some researchers believe that the Japanese legend may have been drawn from the Tibetan one, perhaps through ancient contacts with China. The part of the legend that relates to the name of Mt. Fuji is unique to the Japanese version. However, this Tibetan tale appears only in a collection of Tibetan stories published in 1950s and similar stories are nonexistent in regions between Japan and Tibet. Thus, some researchers believe that Japanese explorers venturing into Tibet introduced the Japanese tale where it became a classic.
There have also been suggestions that it is related to the tale of Swan Lake. This probably is due to Princess Kaguya-hime wearing the hagoromo 羽衣 "feather robe" when she ascends to her homeland. But the feather robe figures more famously in a group of tales known as the hagoromo densetsu (in one example recorded in the Ohmi-no-kuni Fudo ki tells of a man who instructs his dog to steal the feather garments of eight heavenly maidens while they were bathing, forcing one of them to become his bride). And the latter is remarkably similar to the tale of how Völundr the Smith and his brothers wedded the swan-maidens.
Japanese 1973 neo-folk by a band called Kaguyahime! (Moon Princess):
Francisco: Firstly let me say that I haven't got the whole complete version of the Arabian Nights. Actually, there doesn't seem to exist one really, the closest is the 19th century Burton edition but he was a crap translator. You are better off with a good compilation of tales like the Penguin one, which is a nice 400 pages long instead of like 10 volumes.
These tales are the first book reviewed here which is pure entertainment. There is no serious moral to most of the tales and they are all the better for it. They are just plain entertaining. The whole book is set in its own universe of Arabian fantasy, where there seem to be as many Djinns around as people. And the whole magic fantasy thing really works in a universe which is as detailed as that of the Arabian Nights, which developed through centuries or even millenia of folk tales.
So, if you like the idea of magic lamps, Djinns and some deeply developed fantastic world this is something for you. Just remember that the book itself is nothing more than a compilation of many many tales from different areas of Arabic influence, and formulated in very different times. The idea of a framing story for it is also brilliant, and having Sherahzad telling these stories to the Sultan helps transport us to the fantasy world of the thing. I really loved it.
Vanda: This is another of the books I grew up with, although my version of the Arabian Nights, I recognise now, was considerably tamer. (It was for children, after all). It is still full of wonders now, though, at least to me.
These are beautiful, beautiful stories, and while the book is not short, it lets itself be read with ease, from story to story, and from story inside story inside story to next story. Metanarratives are again abundant, but not complicated, and they keep you interested in the book.
This is a very good collection that is easy to pick up, or to read a story from, and put it down again until it strikes your fancy. Also, if you have children, read them this book (well, maybe a slighter tamer version), because they'll love you for it.
Francisco: 8/10 Vanda: 8/10 Trivia
Will forever look at brass lamps in a new light!
The nucleus of the stories is formed by a Pahlavi Sassanid Persian book called Hazār Afsānah ("Thousand Myths", in Persian: هزارافسانه). During the reign of the Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid in the 8th century, Baghdad had become an important cosmopolitan city. Merchants from Persia, China, India, Africa, and Europe were all found in Baghdad. It was during this time that many of the stories, which were originally folk stories, are thought to have been collected orally over many years and later then compiled into a single book. The later compiler and translator into Arabic is reputedly storyteller Abu abd-Allah Muhammed el-Gahshigar in the 9th century. The frame story of Shahrzad seems to have been added in the 14th century. The first modern Arabic compilation, made out of Egyptian writings, was published in Cairo in 1835.
Well, here's an American Born Chinese lady with her origins in the then English colony of Hong Kong performing a song by Russian composer Rimsky Korsakov about the Persian princess Scheherazade of the 1001 Arabian nights:
Hey. I've been pretty disappointed at this list so far. Mainly it is caused by it's extreme Anglo-Centrism and Euro-Centrism. Stuff like Euphues or the Pilgrim's Progress have no place in any reading list of quality, I'm sorry.
That was why I was excited, when I was in Portugal recently, to find an international version of the list. This immediately got my attention, a lot of books which were inexcusably left out were now a part of the canon, a lot of these are now representing literatures absent from the English version of the list. A lot of Chinese and Japanese literature for example, as well as Portuguese, Spanish and German language texts as well as a much wider selection of Eastern European texts. So now things like Tale Of Genji, the Romance Of The Three Kingdoms and my favourite writer in the Portuguese language, Antonio Lobo Antunes are in, as are some of Vanda's favourite writers like Eça de Queiroz. Don Quixote is finally put into context with the addition of chivalry romances like Amadis Of Gaul and Tirant Lo Blanc. And a lot of crap which was was really not looking forward to has been dropped, as well as the crappy Greek melodramas.
So we agreed to reset the project and start from the beggining; a lot of the books are the same we have already read, and Roxana by Defoe, one book I actually liked, was dropped. The gains greatly outweigh the losses, however. The previous reviews are left here for posterity but we're restarting from number 1.