Once upon a self

On the hazards of storytelling

Featured in

  • Published 20230502
  • ISBN: 978-1-922212-83-2
  • Extent: 264pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

WHEN I WAS small my mother gave me a copy of The Arabian Nights, hardback and beautiful, with a cover that swung open like a heavy door. It was the right thing to give a child who had started incessantly telling stories without much consideration for why you would. Back then I thought telling a story was just a way to pass the time, or a way to mash concepts just to see what would happen. I had written one about a forlorn starfish who just wanted an office job, one about a dragon whose fiery breath got funnelled into an oven by a town baker. Stuff happened that wouldn’t usually, the end.

In Scheherazade’s hands, stories were vital, shimmering, and the act of telling them was one of mortal bravery. The set-­up is that prideful King Shahryar gets married and comes home to find his wife tangled up with the cook. In vengeance he resolves to marry a new virgin every night and have her beheaded the next morning before she has time to betray him. For three years his bloodthirst claims the daughters of the land, and as he runs out of virgins to kill he sets sight on his executioner’s own daughter, Scheherazade. Against her father’s pleas, she volunteers to be the next bride, for Scheherazade – bold, educated, selfless – has a plan. 

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About the author

Eleanor Gordon-Smith

Eleanor Gordon-Smith is a radio producer, advice columnist and a Harold W Dodds Fellow in Philosophy at Princeton University.

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