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Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten

Tales from the 1001 Nights Edition: First

Tales From the 1001 Nights - Anonymous, Richard Francis Burton As I say in my review, I wanted to write a parody of this wonderful book but was forced to admit defeat. Burton is too damn clever for a good parody to be possible. During my preliminary negotiations, I had however received a remarkable offer from Alfonso. A Burton parody without political incorrectness is unthinkable, and Alfonso bravely put himself forward to play the role of an evil blackamoor of hideous appearance.

It seems wrong that Alfonso's selfless devotion to literature should go unrewarded. I am therefore proud to present:

A Fragment of the Tale of Rashid al-Bhattan and al-Fonso the Maghrabi

Now there dwelt not far from the Caliph's court another foreigner, a Darwaysh from the Maghrib named al-Fonso, a powerful magician and geomancer; from his earliest age upwards he had been addicted to witchcraft and had studied and practiced every manner of occult science, for which unholy lore the city of Africa is notorious. And the Maghrabi possessed a seal ring, a signet that once had graced the hand of Solomon Davids-son; yet so woven about with secret spells and enchantments was it, that the Maghrabi could not avail himself of its familiar, for all his arts. But by his gramarye, the Maghrabi learned how it stood with Rashid, and he thought himself a scheme whereby he might bend the ring to his will. And one day, as Rashid left the Caliph's court, the Maghribi thrust himself in Rashid's way; and addressing him, he asked if he would learn the infallible method to win the favour of any woman, even the highest and most beautiful.

The Maghrabi was a hideous blackamoor, ill-favoured and foul with grease and grime, and Rashid laughed to hear his words, believing that he spoke in jest. But the Maghrabi spoke kindly to Rashid and flattered him and used all his charms to put him at his ease; and presently he took forth the ring and instructed him in its use, telling him that he had but to rub it to gain aught that he might want, but that only one of the Isles of the Setting Sun might thus constrain the Spirit of the Ring; and Rashid still doubting, the Maghrabi put the ring on Rashid's finger and told him to rub it. Rashid did as the Maghrabi bade; and instantly before him appeared a Marid. He trembled at the terrible sight; but, hearing the Slave of the Ring say, "Ask whatso thou wantest, verily, I am thy thrall, seeing that the signet of my lord be upon thy finger", he took courage. "Command the Marid," said the Maghrabi, "that he transport us to the Caliph's Harim." Rashid did as the Maghrabi said; "Hearing and obeying," replied the Marid, and smote the earth, so that it clave in two; and taking the Maghrabi under one arm and Rashid under the other, he bore them to the innermost sanctum of the Harim.

"Hide thyself in this closet," said the Maghrabi to Rashid, when they were arrived. "As soon as thou dost espy one of the Caliph's concubines, command the Marid to make me in all ways pleasing to her; then shalt thou see the true power of the Ring." Rashid did as the Maghrabi said; and no sooner had he concealed himself, than entered a girl high-bosomed and pleasing of face, slender-waisted and heavy of hip, of whom one might soothly say as the poet¹
Eyes like two stars and hair as black as night
Lips ruby red caught in a winsome pucker
So fair a maid I ween ne'er crossed my sight
To look on her is aye to wish to embrace her.
She glanced with displeasure on the Maghrabi; but Rashid, heeding the magician's rede, rubbed the ring and commanded the Marid. The Maghrabi spake some words to the girl; and instantly her aspect changed, and she did with goodly gree suffer the Maghrabi, for all his hideousness, to kiss her and toy with her, and presently to disrobe her of her gold-purfled dress and even of her petticoat-trousers and know her carnally², whereby she joyed with great joyance. "Now command the Marid to take us hence," said the Maghrabi without even making the Ghusl-ablution, for he was a Kafir; and again Rashid commanded the Marid, and they made good their escape, leaving the Caliph's concubine swooned on the ground.


¹ I use Lane's somewhat anaemic translation.

² The Breslau Edition adds some details concerning the excessive size of the Maghrabi's manhood; the wording leaves it unclear whether or not this can be ascribed to the influence of the Ring.