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Recently I bought a One Thousand and One Nights book hoping that I would read 1001 stories. But then I find out that the number of stories varies depending on the version.

Some versions have 200 - 300 stories (not nights), which encompass far less than the 1001 nights. Richard Francis Burton's version has indeed 1001 nights (in 10 volumes plus 6 supplementary), but it is not the only version, as other compilations exist in the Middle East or Egypt organized by scholars.

What would be a good modern source for accessing the 1001 nights in One Thousand and One Nights - in terms of accessibility and faithfulness to the original work?

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    I'm not sure whether you will ever find a 'most faithful' version. As far as I know the one thousand and one nights stories are folk tales in the same way as Snow White etc were in Europe. – Mirte May 24 '18 at 5:04
  • You are on the right track, re: scholarship! – DukeZhou May 25 '18 at 16:48
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    Just because there were 1001 nights, it doesn't mean there were 1001 stories. Shaharazad always ended a night on a cliffhanger so that the king wouldn't want to kill her in the morning. – Peter Shor May 28 '18 at 15:03
  • @PeterShor A bunch of the nights ended with the end of a story (at least in my version). – Alex Jun 28 '18 at 7:25
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The framing story of 1001 nights allows the number of nights to be nowhere close to the number of stories.

Sometimes, one story would last for 3 or more nights due to the introduction of so called Red Herrings. Shaharazad would start a story one night, then in that story a character would tell a story to a different character as a way of teaching him some lesson, and that story within a story would end in the middle, on a cliffhanger.

Then she would continue the story within a story and end it as a lesson to a character, then continue the original story, which would end on a cliffhanger. Once she finished that story she would return to a minor character of that or a previous story within a story and start a new story.

The number of stories and the number of nights doesn't even have to be close.

Example:

There once was a prince named A who had a mischievous nature. He would often get bored and his servant named C would try to find a way to keep him amused. They had many funny adventures together. For example, one time (long story ending on a cliffhanger. Next night that story is over)... The father of prince A, a sultan named B, often despaired about A's fate. B worried that A wouldn't be his worthy successor and that the kingdom would come to ruin once A became sultan. He had reason to worry because of the way B became sultan. Many years ago... (long story of how B became sultan, the night ending on a cliffhanger in the middle of that story)... So, to prove that his son A would be a good ruler, Sultan B sent him on a quest (long story of a quest). During that quest A and C had to take a sleep in an inn. (Long description and story of how the innkeeper got his fortune and why he made an inn at that exact place). To amuse his prince A and the other patrons, servant C told them a funny story (servant's story) then they continued on the quest... And so on and so forth.

And that's just one story, stretched on 20 nights, with dozen of smaller stories contained in it!

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"1001 Nights" refers to the story that links all the other stories together (framing device); the story of the king who slays his unfaithful wife and decides to marry a new woman each day and kill her the next morning. When he marries Shaharazad she begins telling him a story (and stories within that story) that takes all night and still isn't finished by morning. The king postpones her execution for one day so he can hear the rest of the tale the following night. Shaharazad keeps this up for 1001 nights but the "Thousand Nights and A Night" is (I think) a loose collection of folktales without a definite text. Richard Burton was an amazing guy, but his translation is not fun to read. I liked the Penguin Press paperback edition I read years ago. Any version not aimed at kids will have a lot of sex and violence- think Game of Thrones not Aesop's Fables.

  • But did that collection of folktales ever include the full 1001 stories? (Or 999 or 1000 stories from 1001 nights, or whatever it was.) – Rand al'Thor May 26 '18 at 16:06
  • Nowhere close. Sometimes, one story would last for 3 or more nights due to introduction of so called Red Herring. She would start a story one night then in that story a character would tell a story to a different character as a way of teaching him some lesson, the story would end in the middle, on a cliffhanger. Then she would continue the story within a story and end it as a lesson to a character then continue original story, which would end on a cliffhanger. The number of stories and the number of days doesn't even have to be close. – jo1storm Jul 25 '18 at 13:54

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