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From: Michael Andre-Driussi <mantis@sirius.com>
Subject: (urth) PEACE: ben Yahya and the Marid
Date: Mon, 23 Oct 2000 15:38:05 

This is the story fragment that has all the marks of being a genuine
ARABIAN NIGHTS tale: style, form, and substance.

The tale erupts into the narrative flow when Den (at age 9), sitting in the
rumble seat as the car speeds towards the Lorn farm, spies a towering
column of cloud.  (That is to say: Den is on the cusp of both meeting
maiden Margaret and briefly grasping the Egg.) Apparently this cloud makes
him think of a jinni coming out of a bottle; hence the story's frame of a
fisherman, the bottle he caught in his net, and the jinni released.

This frame tale is very famous, used at least once very early on in ARABIAN
NIGHTS (the very first story _Sherry_ tells the king in Burton's
translation).  But the nested story (in Burton's translation) does not come
from either the fisherman or the jinni, rather it is told by a last man
(note) who is discovered in a ruinous town (note).

The Fisherman and the Jinni
     The Tale of the Ensorceled Prince

The Fisherman and the Jinni
     The Tale of ben Yahya and the Marid

Oh look!  Here's a handy ARABIAN NIGHTS online reference:


Note to Dan'l: didn't you have a nice table showing all the nestings of
stories in PEACE?  Please post it here--I've somehow managed to lose my

"The Tale of ben Yahya and the Marid" (outline)

A marid (most powerful class of jinni) named Naranj has a human slave
called ben Yahya.  The marid, among other magics, regularly turns tubers
into sherbet.

One fateful day, ben Yahya was carrying a huge jar of sherbet through the
town when he was stung on the heel by a scorpion.  Stopping, he saw a pear
on a limb hanging over a garden wall.  He climbed upon the jar to reach the
pear, and as his hand closed over it, he saw a beautiful maiden sitting in
the garden.

The slave fell in love at first sight; and fell in fact, breaking the jar
and losing the sherbet.  (Plus, he didn't even have the pear in hand.)  The
marid beat him for losing the sherbet, but promised to give him the maiden
and his freedom if he served silently for thirty years.

So he served his term and aged accordingly.  The marid then took him up and
flew him to the Haunted City, where he set the slave free and told him that
the maiden was there . . . end of fragment.

This is the first time I've ever worked on PEACE, but over the last ten
years I've seen essays and a lot of online works in progress.  William
Schuyler's article in NYRSF #91 was the first I saw that linked ben Yahya's
story back into Den's life story (and since I wrote an essay on how the
brown book tales link back into TBOTNS, I have an expressed interest in
such things).

ben Yahya = "son of John" = Den (son of John Weer)
Naranj    = Orange (Arabic) = Julius Smart, alchemist
tubers into sherbet = potatoes into Tang
broken jar of sherbet = coldhouse accident

Okay, so if we sense that Den was the coldhouse prankster (some will refuse
this initial condition), then it becomes a clear case: Den, working for
uncle Julius, causes a terrible accident; after this, he works silently
(Julius hasn't spoken to him in 25 years) for 30 years.

But who is the maiden?  Where is the Haunted City?  How does the story end?

The maiden at one obvious level is Olivia.  She is married to Julius.  Den
has strong feelings for her.  The forbidden vision of the maiden might
refer to the times when Olivia called Den to see her while she was in the
bath (and her husband was in the lab).  She is taken away (by death).

When the action of the gold hunt episode begins (25+ years after Olivia's
funeral), Den goes to the library (formerly Olivia's house, with
temple-like architecture) for a bit of research and he sees Lois, who is
very clearly an echo of Olivia (an avatar incarnated within her own
temple--see examples below).  Den falls in love with her and her
Olivia-ness; and as they travel together through the town, we come to see
that in the 30 or so years of change it has come to be a Haunted City for
Den (Olivia's cook has become a restaurant owner, and even then he is
absent; Blaine reduced; Den is working with Ted Singer, who is probably the
grandson of Eleanor's friend Sophie; etc.).

A few Examples (non-exhaustive):

1) Age: Olivia was in her early thirties when she married; Lois is in her
early to mid-thirties, divorced, no children (an Olivia who did not grow

2) Olivia does not cook for her suitors; Lois does not cook for Den
(special bonus if the delivered food is _Chinese_, heh).

3) Blaine to Den, with Olivia nearby: "There is properly no history, Alden,
only biography"; Lois to Den, "Then you should try biography.  Someone said
that it was the only history, and I suspect most of it's more than half

4) Olivia's Indian club; Lois to Den, "Have you ever thought of Indians
inhabiting this land?"

The Gold Hunt instigated by Lois is rather a lot like The Egg Hunt started
by Olivia, another instance of the parallels.  And there, at the climax,
Lois pulls a gun on Den . . . end of fragment.

Well, well, well: maybe Lois was a little too much like Olivia; or maybe
the opposite, despite all her superficial seeming, she was actually a
monster disguised as Olivia (if I were to finish the ARABIAN NIGHTS tale,
I'd say she was a ghul).

BUT what happened THEN?  People have wondered if Den killed Lois; after
all, he has her gun.  I don't think he killed her, but there is a spectrum
of unpleasantness that stops short of murder: at the very least, Den
wrestled the gun away from her and drove off without her, leaving her in
the countryside at night.  However, since Den seems to fear her showing up
at his doorstep (sleeps with the gun under his pillow), I'll bet it was
something worse than that--rape is a possibility.

(I should stop here, but nah.)

Anyway, as I've hinted already, the maiden is probably represented by more
than just Olivia: there is a hint of Margaret Lorn, who, in some ways I'll
tell you some other time, is the opposite of Olivia.

Den assumed that he would marry Margaret, but suddenly in high school the
relationship broke off.  The exact details of Den's next several years are
fuzzy, but: Olivia died (when Den was 20 or 25); a worker died in the
coldhouse (when Den was 18 or 23); Margaret married someone else, and had
his children.

So poor-man Den is fearful of an avenging Lois, when who should come to his
door but . . . Sherry Gold.  She's come to plead for her father.  Yes,
she's an older LOLITA (1958), but I also think she's a bit of Scheherazade
. . . reel it in, boy, reel it in!  Right--the main point is that she
initially seems somewhat like Margaret as he remembers her (virginal, brown
hair, teenager), so here Den gets the second attack on his heart, and then
Sherry reveals (like Lolita) that Den is her third lover (and the third
suitor, alas, is the least important).

Still: in the Haunted City, perhaps ben Yahya has finally found the true
love; the first one he saw was a ghul in disguise, the second one was the
real thing.
Here is the potential for a happy ending (and judging from later events,
Den felt deeply for Sherry--his stroke came the night of her death), but it
doesn't seem to have materialized in Den's real life.

We will see another case where the fairy tale ending is not realized.


*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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