1001: A Sensitive Retelling of The Arabian Nights

Curator's Note

1001” is a webcomic created by the Toronto-based writer and Vertigo illustrator, Sanya Anwar. It is a retelling of "1001 Arabian Nights" told from the perspective of Scherezade with a modern twist. The collection of stories, popularized in the past by Sir Richard Francis Burton, has served as a recurrent source for fetishizing the East, and is quintessential to the construction of the "Oriental Other". But does the webcomic assist in decolonizing the famous story? Anwar’s rendition is a fresh and sensitive portrayal of an ancient Middle East that undoes previous racist stereotyping by creating nuance in her characters and storyline. The brutal Sultan Sharyar is resurrected as an eccentric recluse and Scherzade (the main character) is portrayed as a courageous, witty and clever scribe. Breaking away from the formal language of the early translations, the comic reads like a popular fiction novel at times. The story is also interwoven with subtle plot intrigues that often shows Scherezade and her sister, Dunyazade negotiating a third space for themselves to maintain their autonomy in a patriarchal society. One example would be when Dunyazade uses her washer-woman job in a school as an opportunity to secretly learn how to be an alchemist. It is interesting to see such moments play out because they illustrate the universal ways in which women resisted patriarchal systems in all time periods. The story is also innovative since folkloric retellings are popular in fantasy literature, but are often confined to Western folklore as opposed to Eastern. Having a retelling of “1001 Arabian Nights” retold from the perspective of Scherezade by a Muslim woman like Anwar also provides a unique opportunity for a Muslim to individualize iconic fictional Muslim characters that have often been portrayed as one-dimensional by non-Muslims. Anwar’s illustrations are both lush and sophisticated and creates a world as intriguing as the original tale - minus the usual offensive stereotypes that accompanies it.

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