Thoughts on adaptations

I think what is most interesting about this final unit is that what we are working with are self proclaimed adaptations, although I feel like we crossed this line far before the translator’s debate. Even though I was on Galland’s team (legal council?) I think once we forayed into the European translations via his work, we truly stepped into the adaptive realm. As the orphan tales are only tangentially related to based stories, they are basically inspired by rather than a part of the collection; “Ali Baba” is to “The Porter” what Disney’s Aladdin is to The Thief of Baghdad. The only difference is a claim to authenticity which, while giving it some legitimacy also opens it up to criticism it cannot support. While an adaptation of a different genre (music, drama, film, etc) cannot claim that same legitimacy, it does allow it an artistic freedom and a licence to augment to the creator’s content. Does it make it faithful? Not in almost any of the cases we were presented with, yet it does allow an artistic expression that does not need to be justified: the audience expects a collage of borrowed, old and new. However, in terms of actual integrity, Galland and Rimsky-Korsakov are working on almost identical planes.

Furthermore, I think back to the first assignment (and blogpost!) of the semester which was, of course, about adaptations, which brings the course into a full circle. Yet the reason that was the introductory question is because most people’s familiarity with the nights comes from some sort of adaptation: I remember myself (and others) saying that we were familiar with some sort of adaptation, but would like to read the original. Obviously, as we soon learned, that is a complicated and almost impossible wish, which only became more and more convoluted as translations melted into adaptations, as aforementioned with Galland, but also very much with Burton and Lane. Then of course comes the question of the new originals and the question “poisonous fruits” and how they are to be dealt with. Like it or not, as Haddaway himself admits, the most famous tales are those “fruits”, orphan tales, fallacies or adaptations that were tacked on to please audiences. Perhaps they are most ubiquitous because they were created for that very purpose; perhaps because they came out of deep study and translation of so many Nights tales.

In seeing how these adaptations came into the norm, it is also interesting seeing them augment again and again. The cruelly elegant transformation from Sabu to Abu, which is at once a nod and an insult: once a headliner, now a monkey. It is also interesting to see how much Robin Williams’ character was based on his counterpart in Thief, even in appearance: the old movie becomes the new original, a basis for the new movie, which serves as an introduction to the world of the Nights for an unbelievably vast audience. Also, in doing some research about Sabu, the film he was discovered for, Elephant Boy, is based on a short story by Rudyard Kipling called “Toomai of the Elephants” – which is a British man’s mythologization of India; the story itself was published in The Jungle Book collection which underwent a similar treatment to Aladdin via Disney.


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