Monday, 13 November 2017

Tales from the Past 1001 Nights

The 1001 Nights Premise

by Sharon Bryant

I was talking with my husband about which fairy tale to choose for my final blog for 2017. He suggested 1001 nights, often called The Arabian Nights in English.

The story is based on a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales put together between the 8th and 13th centuries.

They revolve around a ruler called Shahryar who has his wife murdered when he learns she is unfaithful. He becomes embittered, concluding that all women are alike in this regard, and announces that he will marry a new bride daily, only to execute her the following morning. Scheherazade, the heroine, volunteers to be his next wife.

The Author's Challenge

How I wondered, could such a tale possibly become the central premise for a romance novel? How could an author, retelling such a story, possibly hope to create a hero with whom modern-day readers could empathise? I wondered about Scheherazade too. It would take, I thought, a highly talented author to create a heroine with whom the reader could identify, given the character would volunteer for near-certain death. Fortunately, I found two fabulous Arabian Nights retellings that I strongly recommend you read.

Two Fantastic 1001 Nights Retellings

The Storyteller's Daughter by Cameron Dokey is a beautifully written novel. Shahrazad comes from a long line of storytellers. She comes to believe it is her destiny to volunteer to be Shahryar's wife. After the wedding, she weaves a tale that continues night after night. Shahryar wants to know how the story ends so he keeps her alive. With each tale, his journey of personal growth continues and he comes to love Shahrazad and she comes to love him. Then an unexpected event changes everything.

Dokey creates a beautiful, brave, intelligent and gentle Shahrazad and a well-constructed, sympathetic Shahryar who has much to learn.

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh is the first novel in a two-novel series. There is also a fascinating short story providing further information about the emotional journey of the hero.

The series tells the tale of Khalid, the King of Khorasan, and Shahrzad who volunteers to be his wife in order to exact revenge for the murder of her best friend. Ahdieh does a superb job, weaving a gripping tale of two brave people caught in a world of magic and superstition who despite their flaws, and desperate circumstances, truly belong together. Not surprising, The Wrath and the Dawn was a New York Times bestseller.

Have you read 1001 Nights or a 1001 Nights retelling? What did you think of it? Did the author succeed in enabling you to empathise with the hero and heroine?

I love to love: spending time with my family.

I love to laugh: watching romantic comedies on DVD is the best.

I love to learn: researching the background to each fairy tale in this series and finding engaging romance novels associated with each story has been so much fun.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Historical Tidbits - The Art of Duelling

By Cassandra Samuels
(This first appeared on the Historical Hearts Blog)

Trial by Combat. Wager by battle. Duelling. This one-on-one practice of conflict resolution has been around for centuries. As far back as the Romans, when gladiators would fight for the honour of their masters.

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Knights would duel on horseback and with swords to honour their king, queen or noble house. It was a form of entertainment but also a battle of wits and skill. It was a way to earn favour and to make money for armour, horses and equipment.

Sir Nigel Sustains England's Honor by N.C. Wyeth - 1922

Later, around the 1700s, duelling became fashionable and was fought over more trivial matters. Duels were still matters of honour and were serious events despite what might have been the original slight.

As you can see, the sword was the weapon of hand-to-hand combat. From the heavier broadsword and the longer rapier, to the short sword and the deadly sabre.

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All were weapons that could wound and kill, depending on the combatants and the seriousness of their quarrel. Some duels were to the death while others were to 'first blood' only.
Around the 1770s there was a brief transition whereby both the pistol and the sword were used in a duel. Swords soon fell out of favour and the pistol became the weapon of choice by the 1800s. Duelling with swords became more of a recreational sport amongst the aristocrats.

duelling pistols circa 1750s

There were only a very few master craftsmen who made duelling pistols (Wogdon and Barton being two). These men took pride in their creations and presented them in a set, usually in a beautiful inlaid box. These pistols could be highly decorated or austere but they had one thing in common - they were deadly.

A pistol duellist would stand side-on (presenting the smallest target), pointing his pistol at the ground. On signal, he would raise his arm in a single movement and fire. These instructions varied. Some dropped a handkerchief while others stood back-to-back, took paces, turned and fired. In every instance it was hoped that the quick action would be less accurate, giving the opponents less time to aim and more chance to miss, therefore giving each swordsman a fighting chance (pun intended). Written into the rules was that there must always be ample time for apologies.

I shall conquer this - Rowlandson 1787

There are many variations on the rules of duelling depending on time period, country and choice of weapon. They are all very interesting. The most common of these was the Code Duello which itself was changed over the years but the honour of the gentlemen was always paramount.

There are many great stories of duels between notable men but I only have space for one. In 1761 Colonel Grey was killed and Major Egerton wounded after Grey bumped into Egerton while leaving a performance at the theatre. Egerton had called Grey 'a stupid booby', punches were thrown and a duel was quickly organised. Many such incidences occurred with at least six recorded in 1793 and 1796. 

Women loved duelists; perhaps they were the bad boys of the time or just dangerous to know and exciting to be with. I have a duel in my current work in progress, currently called The Collector of Hearts. The duel is the catalyst for my hero's journey. Everything he does and every decision, right or wrong, is the effect of what happened that fateful day. 

Have you read any books or films that included a duel?

Love to love the sword duel between Montoya and Westly (Dread Pirate Roberts) in The Princess Bride

Love to laugh at this short but brilliant film - Duel at Blood Creek by Leo Burton

Love to learn more about the traditions of the time in which I am writing.

Want to know more about dueling? Go to:

Watch 1977 The Duellist movie