Sindbad The Sailor

Summer vacations are the best time during school days. Other than the relaxation, each summer vacation marks a milestone in life moving from one class to another making progress in life. In a work life, we don’t seem to have this kind of clear progression marked by a vacation. Time seems to come to a standstill. And when changes happen, one is not sure if one is progressing or regressing. Wish entire life were like school time. Getting back to school time, one of the excitements for me at the end of summer vacations was when I got brand new school books for the next year. One thing was that was the only time school books look anything like books. My books used to be barely recognizable at the end of the academic year. People like to get opinions right out of the horse’s mouth but my mother used to say my books look as if they have come right out of a donkey’s mouth. That aside still it was exciting seeing new books, especially the English books.

English typically consisted of a reader having collection of short stories, excerpts from large novels and poetry. Then there was the dreaded grammar, which of course was as exciting as plucking out every toe nails. But let us not talk about that now. The most exciting part was the non-detail which was usually a simplified version of a classical work. One of the years, the non detailed book was 'Adventures of Sindbad the Sailor'. And that was really my first introduction to the fantasy genre. Reading about the seven voyages of Sindbad the sailor gave me such a wonderful time I actually forgot to be sad about my summer vacation ending. Some might argue that Sindbad cannot be classified as fantasy in the strict sense of the word, but it does have strong fantasy elements.

Most fantasies are based on Celtic folklore and most children’s’ and fantasy books give a Euro-centric view of the world. So anything non Celtic with the center of gravity in a different part of the world comes as a breath of fresh air. Nowadays somehow a strongly negative view is projected of the Middle East as a backward region with regressive thinking. This book on the contrast gives us a romantic view of the region and showcases its glorious past. This book is set in Basra in Iraq during the time of Abbasid Caliph Harun Al Rashid. Most of Sindbad's travels are in the seas East of Africa and South of Asia. This book gives us a brief glance into the culture, civilization and prosperity in these regions.

The story is narrated as a first person account of Sindbad himself telling the story of his adventures to Sindbad the porter. The story is organized into seven parts giving an account of Sinbad’s seven voyages. The story does not have much use for character development. The book is more outward looking that inward looking, making it an excellent book for light reading. The stories are all about guts and glory. They are a celebration of the spirit of adventure. The reader is taken on an adventure of his lifetime in the shoes of Sindabad. One encounters fantastical creatures such as the roc, the huge serpents, the island monster and the Cyclops. Then we have human villains in the form of the old man of the sea who use lost voyagers as his steed till they drop to death and the cannibal tribe that feeds lost voyagers, fatten them up and then have them for dinner. The stories give a gripping account of how Sindbad through his ingenuity and initiative overcomes these various obstacles and comes up trumps in each of his voyages. The book also goes at length to describe the riches and wealth of the different kingdoms he visits. The reader feels a vicarious pleasure reading about them.

There are also some interesting cultural elements introduced in the book. One such element is a kind of reverse Sati that our feminists would just love. In one of the lands, Sindbad gets married and then discovers that there is a custom that if a wife dies the husband has to be buried with her. And as luck would have it his wife dies and Sindbad gets buried alive with food supplies for a few days. Of course since the story is being told in flashback by a Sindabad who is alive and kicking, we know that he managed to escape the burial alive. To know how, I suggest the reader to read the book for I am not retelling the story here.

To summarize, it is one smashing fantasy adventure. Though it does not have too much for the serious reader, it should be read for the overall positive spirit it infuses. And definitely a must read for children. Other than being a fun read that glorifies adventure, it can help in overcoming the prejudices about the Islamic world. At the least the book drives home the point that medieval Middle East was as much an interesting region as medieval Europe.

Related Post: Struggle in the Seas


Stan Szczesny said...

Sindbad is a great read for children. You're right, it's not a serious read for adults, but my kids are learning a lot from hearing it as bedtime reading. I posted on it at

The Fool said...

Thanks a lot Stand Szczesny. I wonder how you found my blog. Such a coincidence that you also choose to write a book on this book on the same day. Shall read your review.

Arti said...

Yes, i have read this book as a child and i loved it absolutely! The review just got me nostalgic and i felt an urge to re read it all over again!

The Fool said...

Glad I was able to make you feel nostalgic. Do re read it. I am sure you would find it equally delightful as you found it in your childhood.

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