IoS book review: Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights, By Marina Warner


Warner's gentle authority proves to be the perfect guide not only through many of the tales themselves but also through their attendant history, and theories about them.

What she's really exploring is the West's fascination with the Orient, and how it has accommodated that alternative culture into its own: why was The Arabian Nights, a text that wasn't sacred and wasn't even valued, the one that the West alighted on so eagerly? The fabulism, the shape-shifting, the play between the figurative and the literal, that is found in the tales, speaks to something in the West's psyche, a need for fantasy. Warner cleverly relates this to 20th-century psychiatry (Freud and his dreams), and new technologies such as cinema and aeroplanes (the allure of that magic carpet). Her immersion in her subject makes for an enthusiasm that proves to be infectious.