How many times can one man die? Surprisingly many, it turns out. Set in what is now the Xinjiang province of China, tensions between Muslims, Jews and Christians lead a series of inhabitants to frame their neighbours for a death; but will they listen to their consciences when the penalty for murder is hanging? A black comedy with a social message, this tale is unusual among the Arabian Nights for containing no magic, but a great deal of gallows humour and contemporary relevance. You won’t be sorry you stumbled upon “The Little Hunchback”, the twenty-third of 34 tales in the classic Arabian Nights collection translated by Andrew Lang.
A treasure-trove of timeless stories, the One Thousand and One Nights or Arabian Nights have been loved, imitated, and added to over many centuries. Similar to the fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm, the Arabian Nights are drawn from the folklore of India, Iran and the Middle East, and were collected in Arabic versions throughout the medieval period; others were added as recently as the eighteenth century. These stories of the exotic East have been popularised for new generations by film adaptations such as Disney’s Aladdin, starring Robin Williams and Gilbert Gottfried in 1992, and Will Smith in 2019, and Dreamworks’ Sinbad, starring Brad Pitt and Michelle Pfeiffer. They continue to inspire writers as varied as Salman Rushdie and Neil Gaiman, while numerous Bollywood and manga versions attest to their popularity around the world. These stories of magic, adventure and romance have shaped readers’ imaginations for generations, and are sure to be retold for years to come.
This selection was translated by Andrew Lang from the French versions by Antoine Galland, who was the first to include the stories of Aladdin and Ali Baba. Born in Scotland in 1844, Lang was a scholar of ancient Greek, a journalist, historian, novelist and poet, and the author of 25 popular collections of fairy tales; his edition of the Arabian Nights’ Entertainment was published in 1898. He became a Fellow of the British Academy in 1906, and died in 1912.