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Arabian Nights was one of my favorite stories as a child. It’s also one of the most fantastically illustrated stories of all time. I love the variety of interpretations of each story by so many different illustrators, so I’ve collected a few to share. Here, you’ll see three stories as portrayed by several artists from the 19th and 20th centuries in near chronological order. Enjoy the eye candy!
Tale of the Fisherman and the Genie
and for good measure…
One of the most memorable bed time stories I’ve heard that has stuck with me throughout the years is Dwarf Nose (Karlik Nos in Russian) by Wilhelm Hauff.
A young boy works at a market helping his mother sell herbs. One day an old and ugly woman with a giant nose comes sniffing around their booth. The boy is rude to her, poking fun at her disfigured nose, so she requests his help carrying her herbs home across town. There she makes him a soup that knocks him out for seven years. He dreams about turning into a master chef servant squirrel, and wakes up seven years later as a midget with a long nose. Imagine that.
He runs back to the market and finds his mother who of course doesn’t recognize him and shooes him off when he claims to be her lost son. He then goes to his leatherworker father who tells him the story of the long-lost son while offering to make a leather case for the midget’s horrid nose.
The boy then shuffles off to the nearby castle and goes to work for the duke as a master chef, earning respect for his talent regardless of his disfigurement.
One day he goes to the market to buy geese for the kitchen, and one of the flock starts to speak to him, informing him that she is actually the daughter of a powerful wizard and can help him reverse the spell. They run away from the castle, find some rare herbs that turn them back to their normal selves, and all ends well.
Cute, huh? I would love to see this turned into an opera.
Arthur Rackham was a turn of the 20th century book illustrator. Some of his more popular works include the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, Wagner’s “The Ring”, “Gulliver’s Travels”, and “Alice in Wonderland”.
Book illustration is a lost art. I’m always blown away when each illustration looks like a painting that could be hanging on a museum wall. These are so expressive and the colors somehow remind me of my childhood in Odessa (Ukraine) where memories, like photographs, take on a vintage hue.
La Llorona is a Latin American folk tale of sorts. It is the story of a woman who drowned her children in a river and pays for it by forever mourning for them. If you listen, you can hear her wailing in the rain…
Her story has become a popular song that has been recreated by countless musicians. Here is a version sung by Chavela Vargas, one of my all-time favorite divas:
Vargas’s story is worth looking into on its own. She had an affair with Frida Kahlo way back in the day. Vargas recalls singing to Frida on her sick-bed as Diego Rivera watched for hours in silence. What I would give to be a fly on that wall….