Fairy Tales from the Middle East and Asia



Today is Fairy Tale Day. We’ve asked our etutors to tell you about fairy tales in their cultures.

Shahrayar and Shahrazad: An Arab Fairy Tale

By Hkebbe

The most famous fairy tale in Arab culture is called “One Thousand and One Nights” or “Arabian Nights”.

The tale goes that every day King Shahryar would marry a new virgin and he would send the previous day’s wife to be beheaded. This was done in anger after finding out that his first wife had betrayed him.

Once Shahrazad was in the king’s chambers, she started telling him a story. The King lay awake and listened with awe as Shahrazad told her first story. The night whiled away, but when the king urged her to finish, Shahrazad said there was not time, as dawn was breaking. So, the King spared her life for one day to finish the story the next night. On the next night, Shahrazad finished the story, and then began a second, an even more exciting tale which she again stopped halfway through, at dawn. So the King again spared her life for another day to finish the second story.

And so the story continued for one thousand and one nights till the king, Shahrayar was fond of Shahrazad and spared her life.

The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter: A Japanese Fairy Tale

By Sakura

Taketori Monogatari 2This 10th century Japanese fairy tale tells the story of ‘Taketori no Okina‘, a childless husband who discovers a baby girl inside a glowing bamboo shoot. The bamboo cutter takes the baby home. He and his wife name the child Kaguya and raise her as their own.

Kaguya grows into a young woman with otherworldly beauty which attracts the interest of five princes from across the country. Kaguya wards off their advances by devising an impossible challenge for each prince.

Finally, the Emperor of Japan travels to meet and propose to Kaguya. She declines his proposal but provides the Emperor with a letter explaining why and an elixir for immortality.

Kaguya tells Taketori that she is from the moon. Moreover, she yearns to return to her celestial home. Her adoptive parents are, of course, saddened while the Emperor, desperate to prevent her departure, sends guards to her home.

When visitors from the moon arrive to take her home, they shine so brightly that they are able to overwhelm the Emperor’s guards. Kaguya dons a robe of feathers before she ascends into the sky.

The Emperor is devastated. He orders his army to take the letter from Kaguya to the highest mountain and then burn it along side her magical elixir. The Emperor forfeited immortality over his misery at losing the moon princess.

As an interesting aside, the tragic final scenes in ‘The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter’ form a legend that describes Mt. Fuji; the term Fuji conjures a reference to “immortality”. Likewise, volcanic activity on Mt. Fuji could be attributed to the burning letter.

In addition to presenting an origin story for Mt.Fuji, the “Bamboo Cutter” is also widely considered a prototype of the science fiction genre.

A Chinese Fairy Tale

By Khung

愚公移山 yú gōng yí shān (The literal translation of the title would be “Foolish Man Moved The Mountain“. However, the point of this fairy tale is, a determined effort can move a mountain, or where there’s a will, there’s a way.)

A long, long time ago, an old man lived in the south of China. The door to his house faced two big mountains. One day, he called a family meeting and said: “The mountain is blocking our way, let’s all work together to move the mountain and create a path.” His family agreed with the idea. The next day, they started digging.

Year after year, they continued moving the mountain without rest. One of their neighbors saw them doing all this hard work through the years and thought the old man and his family were fools. One day he said to the old man, “How is it possible that you can move the mountain? You are old, even if you work non-stop until the day you die, you won’t be able to finish your work! You are wasting your time!”

The old man looked at him for a few seconds, then he smiled and said: “You are right. I’m old, but I have my children and they have their children. As long as we don’t give up and carry on our effort through generations, one day, we will be able to move the mountain and create a path for ourselves and others.”

His neighbor was left speechless by his determination. The God of the mountains heard this and was moved by his spirit.  He was so moved that he sent two of his angels to come down and clear away the mountain from the old man’s front door.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons