Lately, I’ve been reading The Arabian Nights, or what has been traditionally called The Thousand and One Nights, translated by Husain Haddawy from a 14th century Syrian manuscript, the oldest there is. Haddawy grew up hearing the Nights around his grandmother’s hearth on long winter nights in Baghdad.
The book could easily be called The Thousand and One Doors. Doors open: doors to Kings’ palaces, doors to the street, doors into the earth or into lost worlds. Strangers, trusted advisors, the sons and daughters of kings, even demons, enter. Stories enter: three one-eyed dervishes, a lake with fish in three colours, a woman turned into a cow–fantastic stories–and a young woman named Shahrazad presides over their telling.
The Nights have got me thinking about the uncanny resemblance between doors and books. Medieval book covers looked and felt a lot like doors. Book covers were usually made from wood then covered in leather and had the same shape and a similar function, opening the reader to worlds, sometimes familiar, sometimes not. An article at the Getty Museum even describes one medieval book that has a miniature medallion at its centre, made of parchment scraps arranged and dyed to look like stained glass. A window? And when you think of it, isn’t that how life often presents itself? A series of doors and windows? Opening in and out, again and again, to the unknown? Unpredictable and upside down from how we imagined it? When I visited Andalusia in 2009, what the Moors once called Al-Andalus, I was enthralled with the doors, so like medieval books. I came upon the one shown, here, with the eight-pointed star, a sun symbol, inside the Alhambra.
And so comes a familiar door. The longest night of the year is upon us again and the shortest day, when the sun stands at its lowest point in the sky; stands still, then turns. For the ancients, this day was a door, an opening into a new year.
May you grasp hold and find blessing in that opening. May you find strength to face any woe. May a labyrinth of stories sustain you.