Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Sometimes called Shahrazad or Sheherezade, the narrator of the Arabian Nights (see Arabian Fantasy). King Shahryar, angered to discover his wife has been unfaithful, executes her and thereafter slays each new wife after the wedding night. Scheherazade, daughter of the vizier, cunningly – and with the help of her sister Dunyazad – contrives to begin a story on the wedding night that is unfinished at dawn. The king is sufficiently interested that he delays the execution to hear the end of the story. This continues for 1000 nights, after which Shahryar is so enamoured that he lets Scheherazade live.

This is one of the oldest forms of Frame Story, and has been used by other writers, such as Ernest Bramah in his Kai Lung tales. The stories inspired Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) to compose his symphonic suite Shahrazad (1888), which is used as a trigger for spiritual Transformations in the movie Shadow Dancing (1988). Scheherazade features in several of the stories and books by John Barth, including "Dunyazadiad" (in Chimera coll of linked stories 1972), where he uses a timewarp (see Time) to sustain Scheherazade's storytelling, and notably in The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor (1991). In "The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade" (1845 Godey's Lady's Book) Edgar Allan Poe has her tell of many contemporary scientific wonders which the king finds too fanciful – he thus has her throttled. Larry Niven continued the story of Scheherazade in "The Tale of the Djinni and the Sisters" (in Arabesques anth 1988 ed Susan Shwartz). [MA]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.