Episode 107 - Where The Genie Does His Dirty Business (Lights Week)
I started my research this week as I have done many a time recently – by working out whether I can justify mentioning a funny story from the book A Thousand And One Nights. And much to my delight, I can. This podcast has become a bit of a historical database of rude historical sources hasn’t it? Well let’s start with that honorary mention then and add it to the database.
It’s a tale from my Penguin Classic edition of Tales From The Thousand And One Nights and it’s entitled, quite simply, The Historic Fart. It’s only two pages long and it has a sharp beginning, a loud middle and slight wet end. I’ll summarise it.
In the town of Kaukaban, in Yemen, there lived a Bedouin man called Abu Hasan who had settled in the town and become loaded. He’d lost his life young but his mates kept pestering him say, “you’re loaded mate, get yourself a bird.” Eventually he gave in, joined Tinder and started nobbing random girls. No, that’s not true to the source, he enlisted the services of a marriage broker who found him a hotty. A marriage was arranged and there was a big wedding which even included, one of my personal favourite delicacies, a whole roasted camel. Not the easiest thing to find a dish for but I understand Le Creuset do a camel roasting dish. If you have a standard oven, you might just need to take out the shelves and rest the dish on the bottom of the oven.
Abu Hasan ate and drank and ate and drank, always thinking about the beautiful moment when he could finally bone his new wife. When at last, we was summoned to the bridal chamber, quote “slowly and solemnly he rose from his divan, but horror of horrors, being bloated with meat and drink, he let go a long and resounding fart. The embarrassed guests, whose attentions had been fixed upon the bridegroom, turned to one another speaking with raised voices and pretending to have heard nothing at all.”
Anyway, Abu Hasan is so embarrassed that he gets up and flees the scene, leaving everyone else breathing in his airborne farticles. He grabs a horse and is off. He ends up going all the way to the Malabar Coast which is the south west coast of India! Really very far away. He lives there for 10 years but a longing to return home almost kills him. Eventually, he heads back, keeping his true identity a secret by pretending to be a dervish, presumably a whirling one propelled by his backside. A dervish is actually a preacher who gives up all wealth and begs.
He eventually reaches his home town where he begins snooping around to see if anyone remembers him. Quote: “He went around the outskirts of the town, and, as he sat down to rest at the door of a hut, he heard the voice of a young girl within, saying: “Please mother, what day was I born on? One of my friend wants to tell my fortune.” “My daughter,” replied the women solemnly, “you were born on the very night of Abu Hasan’s fart.”
Anyway, Abu Hasan, completely humiliated, flees again never to return. And the morale of this story? He who smelt it dealt it. Own your fart folks. Take responsibility for your actions.
In Thousand And One Nights, there’s a story, you may have heard about this story, it’s called Aladdin. It actually comes straight after the fart story in my Penguin Classics edition. Here, I might merge them,
Prince Abu, we think you need a poo, you’re farting everywhere!
Your thunder pants put ladies in a trance,
They don’t know what to do.
I’d better summarise Thousand And One Nights, also known as Arabian Nights and other variants. It’s a very diverse collection of stories with no fixed origin. The stories come from North Africa, the Middle East, India and even possibly from Greece. The collection of stories that we are most familiar with comes from a translation by Frenchmen, Antoine Galland, at the start of the 17th Century, but the origins of the stories stretch back to before 1000AD. If I started making this more complicated at this point, it would become very complicated, so enough said. Interestingly, Aladdin is a late addition to the stories. Antoine Galland introduced his story after hearing it told by an Arab story teller called Hanna Diyab who visited Paris. Ali Baba and the Intellectual Property Thieves is also from this storyteller. Did you see what I did there? It’s a joke about the website Ali Baba that sells knock of goods from China much to the chagrin of Western businesses.
I’m not going to summarise Aladdin – we all know what happens but what I will tell you is that it is closely connected to a number of other, fortunately much shorter, stories from Germanic culture. I’d also like to point out that this fits with the topic because of the lamp. How does it connect to German stories? As anyone with half a brain knows, Aladdin is an Aarne-Thompson-Uther Type 562. Now I am indebted to Professor D. L. Ashliman from the University of Pittsburgh. He’s a folklore specialist who puts a lot of translations of folktales online. Thank you if you’re listening. Incidentally, I referenced him when researching Till Eulenspiegel, Travellers Week, Episode 62 - A Filthy Little Tip for the Barman, which was recorded this time last year.
I’m going to put it out there, I love Germanic folktales. They’re bloody brilliant. They’re right up with stories of people getting shipwrecked and eating each other and rude Classical sources.
Professor Ashliman has 10 short stories on a webpage that are 562ers. Let’s summarise the plot that they all share:
A person, usually a soldier who has returned home from fighting, encounters a stranger person or creature who knows a weird place where some money is stored. The money is guarded by another strange person or creature. The man takes as much money as he likes, lives the good life but eventually squanders it all, much like a 90s football player. Just as he spends his last penny, he discovers a lighting device that he also pinched from the strange place guarded by the strange person or creature. Usually this is a tinderbox. He lights a fag and there appears the strange person or creature who was guarding the money. This person or creature then grants wishes to the man. Naturally, the first thing that the man requests, is to kidnap and attempt to rape the king’s daughter. So off goes this stranger person or creature, they kidnap the princess and bring her to the man. This happens multiple times and the princess thinks it’s a dream. She tells the king who is naturally a bit annoyed. He then tries various methods of tracking where she is taken, eventually succeeds, sends his men to find the pervy soldier who is sentenced to death. Just as the man is about to be executed, he asks for his tinderbox. This request is granted, the man summons the weird person or creature who then kills everyone, makes the man king and the princess becomes his wife. A bit of Stockholm syndrome here I think.
Let’s now go into some of the silly details and explore how different 562ers differ.
We’ll start with Brothers Grimm and their story called The Blue Light.
In this story, the soldier comes across a witch who is loaded. She drives a Bentley, lives in a mansion made of Gingerbread and has a double garage full of vintage broomsticks. This witch persuades the soldier to help her fetch a blue light from the bottom of a well. The soldier agrees and is lowered down by a rope. He grabs the light, is pulled back up but the naughty witch plans to grab the light and drop the soldier back into the well. The soldier is wise to this and refuses to hand it over. The witch then throws a tantrum and drops the soldier to the bottom of the well. The soldiers resigns himself to his fate and decided to light a fag with the blue light. As he does so, a little black dwarf appears in a puff of smoke.
In my Penguin Classic version of this story, there is a very racially insensitive depiction of this dwarf – he looks a bit like Al Jolson. As an aside, and I didn’t research this in depth, I didn’t realise that Al Jolson, who frequently acted and sand in blackface, actually fought racism and prejudice on Broadway and in Hollywood on many occasions and was well-loved by black audiences who felt that he was bringing Afro-American music to a wider audience and providing opportunities for black artists. Anyway, this black dwarf sings Sonny-Boy and then tells the soldier that he will do whatever he likes. The soldier takes no time in sorting out the witch and then taking his revenge on the King who dismissed him without pay. He gets the dwarf to kidnap the Kings daughter and he make her wait for him in a hotel room. Not sure I follow the soldier’s logic here, the princess isn’t an extension of the King. She is her own entity who cannot be held responsible for the crime of her father. Anyway, the king then tries to track her the next night by tearing a small hole in her pocket and peeing in it, sorry, misread that, putting peas in it. When she is kidnapped, the peas go everywhere and could be tracked to the soldiers house. Luckily for the soldier, this little black dwarf spots this, and goes around the town that night peeing everywhere, sorry, misread that, scattering peas everywhere. Anyway, the story then follows the pattern summarised a moment ago.
Here’s another 562er that I particularly likes because it involves dwarves and sausages. It’s called The Transverse Flute. Not to be mistaken for the Transvestites Boots, which are sassy knee height boots for in size 10 and above, or the Transylvanian Suit, which is smart evening wear that comes with a lovely cape with a red lining and a matching handkerchief for wiping your mouth.
In this story a boy called Hans leaves home in a huff. As he is leaving, he has a tough decision, to take fish fingers or sausages with him. He goes for sausages.
“Toward evening he came into a large forest, lost his way, and was in great distress. He heard a rustling in the brush and a gray dwarf stepped forward, saying, "I'm hungry. Give me something to eat!"
Hans reached into his pocket, pulled out the sausage, and gave it to the dwarf. Then the dwarf reached into his pocket, pulled out a transverse flute, then gave it to Hans, saying, "If you are in need, just blow!"
Hans carries on and discovers that if he is hungry, he can blow on the flute and two dogs appear, one with a sausage and the other with a load of bread. He also realised that if he is threatened by wolves or a bear, he can blow on the flute and the two dogs turn up and beat them up. Hans then gets them to beat up a cannibal lady who tries to eat him and a dragon who has kidnapped the king’s daughter.
The King is grateful and offers Hans his daughter. Quote: "Yes," said Hans. "She looks like my mother, only younger and more noble. Therefore I would like her."
There’s a Hans Christian Anderson version of this story involving a witch again. This time the treasure and tinderbox is in the trunk of an old tree that leads to three underground rooms, in each room an enormous dog sits upon a chest of treasure. It’s then the dogs that the soldiers is able to summon when he want to kill the king after kidnapping his daughter.
In another story it’s a mineshaft the soldier has to go down and there are giants guarding the treasure.
Finally, there’s an Indian version of the story. In this, a soldier’s son is given a little box by a tigress who he helps by removing a thorn from her paw. Here’s a quote detailing what happens next:
“he flung the box down on the ground. It burst open with the shock, and out stepped a little old man. He was only one span high, but his beard was a span and a quarter long, and trailed upon the ground. The little manikin immediately began to stamp about and scold the lad roundly for letting the box down so violently.”
"Upon my word!" quoth the soldier's son, scarcely able to restrain a smile at the ridiculous little figure, " but you are weighty for your size, old gentleman! And what may your name be?"
"Sir Buzz!" snapped the one-span manikin, still stamping about in a great rage.
Moving on a bit in the story, Sir Buzz’s behaviour is so enjoyable I’m just going to quote at length with a few bits cut out:
No sooner had the soldier's son said this and given the money, than with a whiz! boom! bing! like a big bee, Sir Buzz flew through the air to a confectioner's shop in the nearest town. There he stood… and cried in ever so loud a voice, "Ho! ho! Sir Confectioner, bring me sweets!"
The confectioner looked round the shop, and out of the door, and down the street, but could see no one, for tiny Sir Buzz was quite hidden by the preserving pan. Then the manikin called out louder still, " Ho! ho! Sir Confectioner, bring me sweets! " And when the confectioner looked in vain for his customer, Sir Buzz grew angry, and ran and pinched him on the legs, and kicked him on the foot, saying, " Impudent knave! do you mean to say you can't see me? Why, I was standing by the preserving pan all the time!"
Sir Buzz is equally rude to a few other people then the soldier’s son gets a liking for a Princess, Princess Blossom in fact. Sir Buzz kidnaps and then marches around outside the house with a giant tree he’s pulled up.
Before long the whole town was in a commotion, because the Princess Blossom had been carried off, and all the world and his wife turned out to look for her. By and by the one-eyed chief constable came to the garden gate.
"What do you want here?" cried valiant Sir Buzz, making passes at him with the tree.
The chief constable with his one eye could see nothing save the branches, but he replied sturdily, "I want the Princess Blossom!"
"I'll blossom you! Get out of my garden, will you?"
Anyway, the story gets a bit surreal more surreal from there. The angry midget saves the boy and girl from a vampire and eventually they live happily ever after.