Scheherazade

Fairy-Tale Files, published once weekly, feature three variations of a fairy tale chosen by one of Fairy Tale Review’s editors, readers, editorial assistants, or contributors.

When the world became unrecognizable, Scheherazade ran toward it. The sultan’s first wife had been unfaithful and put to death. Now with every rising sun, the sultan takes a new bride, veiled in the blood of the last. Against her father’s wishes, Scheherazade volunteered to wed the sultan, but asked to tell a final tale to her sister Dinarzad. And throughout the night, the sultan, awake, listened. The women let him overhear what was not for him: that intimate work of telling your sister a story, of hearing your sister’s story. One story and then another for One Thousand and One Nights until somehow they lived. Everyone lived.

Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty Eight Nights finds novelist Salman Rushdie as a self-styled Scheherazade, spinning tale after tale in which people are confronted with difficult choices. The novel’s strength lies in placing creation and destruction—the good choice and the bad choice—jowl to jowl to see who can make it out alive. Rushdie was, after all, famously subject to a fatwa for his storytelling. He made his choice. He still speaks, still lives. But some characters find peace at a price: with no conflict, they have no nightmares, no visions, no dreams.

In the 2015 film The Dream of Sharazad, documentary filmmaker Francois Verster explores the legacy of Scheherazade through a cast of Egyptian, Turkish, and Lebanese people who lived through the events of the Arab Spring. In each case, Scheherazade becomes “a metaphor for the people.” Their voices echo her long ago efforts to keep the story from ending in death alone, to let the story continue (keep it close as a sister), to find a way—and then another way and another way—to live.