Tag Archives: Tales of the Marvellous

Autobiography of a banknote

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According to Patricia Storace

The beauty ‘Arus al-’Ara’is (“Tale Seven”) is a rather more fearsome prospect: born under the configuration of stars that marked heaven when Adam lost Paradise and when Abel was killed, she is kept locked in a chest for a time by her jinn lover. (The prince of “Tale Seventeen” – “The Tale of the Talisman Mountain” – also finds his queen inside a chest.) Like money, she is infinitely malleable and has no will of her own. She has no interest but self-interest and her power precedes her agency. Her father, angry at their predictions, executes all of the astrologers he has commissioned to forecast his infant daughter’s future, and her fatal force outlives her. Before her execution she asks a servant to purify the pit into which she has been thrown. The purifying liquid turns out to be a magic resin, which bursts into flames and kills all in the council chamber where she was condemned, except for the king, who manages to escape. She brings periods of prosperity, as well as destruction. Her murders satisfy the needs of the moment; in order to conceal from her future bridegroom the fact that she isn’t a virgin, she concocts a scheme by which all the daughters of her father’s court, “every girl who had lived a sheltered life”, is raped, and then arranges for the rapists she has hired, including her lover, to be murdered. Her father and mother compulsively continue to serve her needs, despite her crimes. She eventually causes her parents’ deaths incidentally, as mere collateral damage. It is her mesmeric, mirage-like power to create illusions which gives her power over both men and women, enabling her crimes and making her victims – for the most part – her collaborators. At one point, she offers a future victim a chance at freedom, telling him her story of purposeless, impersonal murders. “If you are content”, she promises him, “you can take me with you in the full knowledge of what I have done, and if you don’t like it, you can go off by yourself.” His appetite for her remains uncontrollable and he promises to abandon his family for her. Arus’s remarkable confession is like the autobiography of a banknote, indifferent to whether it has funded a house purchase or a war.