Shadow Spinner is a wonderful piece of historical fiction by Susan Fletcher. It dives deep into the original story of the 1001 Arabian Nights. In this book, Marjan is a young girl who has a hero—Shahrazad. One day, five years ago, the Sultan, Shahryar, caught one of his wives dallying with her lover and executed her. He started to believe that all women were betrayers. So, every day, he would marry a young girl and then kill her the next morning. But then, Shahrazad came along. Shahrazad tells stories to her sister Dunyazad, and every day, the Sultan let’s her stay alive so that she can resume the story. And, folded carefully into her stories, Shahrazad is trying to indirectly teach some lessons to the Sultan . Now, she is running out of stories. Then, they meet Marjan, who supplies them with one last story. It is the tale of the Mermaid Julnar. But the Sultan, upon hearing it, asks Shahrazad for the rest of the tale—about Julnar’s son, who had a name that had”two parts to it,” he remembers, “both starting with the same letter, maybe a ‘B’, or a ‘D’.” Now, Shahrazad, Dunyazad, and Marjan need to find that story, because none of them know it! Will they succeed… or will Shahrazad get executed, just like all the others before her? Read the book to find out!
For this book, I have tried to recreate an entry from a journal of Dunyazad, Queen Shahrazad’s younger sister whom Shahrazad tells stories to. Here it is.
JOURNAL of DUNYAZAD (this excerpt is from the day Dunyazad and Shahrazad first meet Marjan)
In the Fourteenth Year of King Shahryar’s Reign
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On the Sixth Day of the Seventh Month
My sister, Shahrazad, has been telling Shahryar, the Sultan, stories every night. It has been nine hundred and eighty-nine nights since she first started telling stories! Now, she is running out of stories.
I find the harem boring, so quite a long time ago, I started getting good at hiding in different parts of the harem and visiting the different places. Now, I know the harem like home. I was walking along the bazaar part of the harem, thinking desperately of some place I had heard a story, any story that Shahrazad had not yet told. I racked my brains, but I could not think of anything. I wish I had my sister’s memory. She remembers every single story she reads!
As I was thinking about our desolate situation, I heard children giggling. I looked up. I saw my friend Mitra, who is seven, with her pet gazelle, and some of the other children crowded about a young girl, who seemed almost my age! I came closer. Was she… telling a story? As she saw me, she stopped. I prodded her to continue. She was telling a story that I had never heard before! I was sure of it. This story was the one we needed! “Do you know other stories?” I asked her when she had finished. She nodded.
I couldn’t control my excitement inside—this girl could tell us new stories that Shahrazad could tell to Shahryar! I went to the woman standing nearby, selling her goods, who was either her mother or aunt. I talked to her. She introduced herself as the girl’s Aunt Chava, and I asked if I could take the girl with me to the harem for a few hours. I promised a fine reward of gold dinars in return. She let me take her.
So then, I returned to the girl. “What is your name?” I asked. She obviously realized I was somewhat royal, and she was right, because I was the Queen’s sister. She told me she was Marjan. So I led Marjan right through the harem gates and took her to Shahrazad’s room. I took her through an extensively long route. This was because I wanted to avoid the Khatun as much as possible. She would ruin everything. I knew it. I hurried up, getting more and more excited. Then, I looked back at Marjan to see if she were alright.
I saw that she was limping! I quickly slowed down for her, and noticed that she had a twisted foot. She was a cripple! But, I thought to myself, we don’t need to make use of her foot. What we need is her stories. She was obviously ashamed of the foot, though. She tried to hide it.
I took her to my sister’s quarters. I went inside, but Marjan hung back. I told Shahrazad, “Sister! I have found you a girl who knows a story we haven’t told!” I was overjoyed.
“That’s impossible!” Shahrazad said. “Bring her in! Let’s see what she has for us.”
I went back out, surprised that Marjan hadn’t followed me. I told her to follow me. “Come!” I said. “She awaits you.”
When we entered, I urged her, “Tell her that story about the fish—the one you told the children.” Marjan told it—haltingly, at first, then slowly getting calmer. But then, my sister stopped her.
“I told this story a long time ago. Don’t you remember? It was one of the early ones.”
I sighed, hiding my dissapointment. I was wrong! She did not know a story we hadn’t told. Then, I cheered up with a new thought. I turned to Marjan. “You told me you knew more stories! Tell her another.”
So the poor little girl recounted story after story, only (to my bitter dissapointment) to be told again and again that the story had already been narrated to the Sultan. Then, as I heard Shahrazad stop her again, she leaned closer and said, “I haven’t heard this story before. I haven’t heard it!”
Allah be thanked! I thought. We have found another story!
And then, Shahrazad listened to the entire story, then retold it exactly as it was. So we were ready for tonight!
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This night, when I was brought to the Sultan’s quarters for the telling of the story, I coudn’t control my joy. I sat down on their bed, as usual. Shahrazad began telling the story. Today, when so many of Marjan’s stories sounded like ones my sister has already told, I realized that we should have made sure to write each story down. But it is too late to begin now. Anyways, I have a strong hunch that this tale of Julnar the Mermaid that Marjan told us will certainly last us until Father comes back from his travels with Sharyar’s younger brother, Shah Zaman. And then Father will have brought back many books with new tales! It would all work out!