Monday, March 26, 2012
‘Stranger Magic’ by Marina Warner
At 65, the British scholar Marina Warner is a veteran magus, and an adept mythographer of the vast global traditions of magic, metaphor and myth. Also an accomplished novelist, she augments her learning with her narrative skills. As a fan of her prolific enterprise for the last quarter-century, I regret that I have never met her, so delightful is her verve.
Will and Frances Brundage/Blue Lantern Studio — Corbis
Illustrated. 540 pp. The Belknap Press/Harvard University Press. $35.
“The Tales of a Thousand and One Nights” is both more and less than a single, complete book. It has no named author or authors, no dates or places of composition and no single national tradition that informs it. You can trace elements of these tales to India, Persia and various Arabian lands, just as the enormous vogue in Europe, from the 18th century on, naturalized them in Voltaire’s “Zadig,” Samuel Johnson’s “Rasselas” and Goethe’s “West-Eastern Divan.” This cavalcade continues in our time, from Borges to A. S. Byatt and Salman Rushdie.
Warner’s “Stranger Magic” is part of that procession of influence, or rather of what Borges encouraged all of us to do in regard to “The Arabian Nights”: “I think that the reader should enrich what he is reading. He should misunderstand the text; he should change it into something else.”