Somewhere over the past few years I acquired a copy of a wonderful collection of stories by the famed author Robert Louis Stevenson. The volume, New Arabian Nights, is a mere one-hundred-and-ten years old, and in very good condition. While I can't remember when or where I bought it (undoubtedly in a flea market somewhere), it resurfaced recently as I was unboxing the books that I had stored in Arizona while I was overseas - and I put it in a stack next to my bed.
The collection began with a bit of a sarcastic "note" which indicated that the author had been victimized by a plagiarist. He said:
"I must prefix a word of thanks to the gentleman who condescended to borrow the gist of one of my stories, and even to honor it with the addition of his signature. This mark of appreciation emboldened me to make the present collection."Ouch!
Prior to tackling this interesting collection, my only experiences with Stevenson had been his classic tales for youth, Kidnapped and Treasure Island. The stories of New Arabian Nights were written for an older and more worldly audience. The author, ever the master storyteller, managed to showcase his humor, dramatic flare, and superior plotting abilities in the six stories of this collection. His subjects ranged from a young man who accidentally backed into a house late at night through a door that wasn't latched, only to find that once inside there was no way out - to chronicling the nocturnal adventures of a pair of entertainers (husband and wife) who were locked out of their Paris hotel for a night because they returned after it had been secured for the evening.
The best story in the collection is "The Suicide Club," a dark tale in which a European prince got himself entangled in a group of men who all had a desire to die. He assumed from what little he knew of the club, (he did not really want to die, and joined just to study the drama of the others), that he would be relatively safe. However, he learned at his first meeting that the club met each evening and the person who would die that night as well as the person who would do the killing were both determined through a game of chance. The prince, alas, was too proud to back out of his membership in the organization. Macabre complications ensued.
Stevenson's stories in this collection were all very original. Each of the six took place in or around London or Paris, with a couple set in the 1400's and the others in Stevenson's own era of the late 1800's. They examined the human condition through tales of greed, revenge, murder, and even love. All had twists and turns aplenty, and were as captivating as they were clever.
Robert Louis Stevenson was quite the prolific writer. I thoroughly enjoyed New Arabian Nights and will be on the lookout for more of his works. I predict he has a golden literary future!