Magic is not simply a matter of the occult arts, but a whole way of thinking, of dreaming the impossible. As such it has tremendous force in opening the mind to new realms of achievement: imagination precedes the fact. It used to be associated with wisdom, understanding the powers of nature, and with technical ingenuity that could let men do things they had never dreamed of before. The supreme fiction of this magical thinking is the Arabian Nights, with its flying carpets, hidden treasure and sudden revelations. Translated into French and English in the early days of the Enlightenment, this Arabic collection of folk and fairy tales became a huge success with intellectuals, artists and composers. The book's strangeness opened visions of transformation: dreams of flight, speaking objects, virtual money and the power of the word to bring about change. Its tales create a poetic image of the impossible and an unexpectedly modern parable of knowledge and power. Above all they have the fascination of the strange - the belief that true knowledge lies elsewhere, in a mysterious realm of wonder.
As part of her exploration into the prophetic enchantments of the Nights, Marina Warner retells some of the most wonderful and lesser-known stories. She explores the figure of the dark magician or magus, from Solomon to the wicked uncle in "Aladdin"; the complex vitality of the jinn, or genies; animal metamorphoses and flying carpets. Her narrative reveals that magical thinking, as conveyed by these stories, governs many aspects of experience, even now. In this respect, the East and West have been in fruitful dialogue. Writers and artists in every medium have found themselves by adopting Oriental disguise. With startling originality and impeccable research, this groundbreaking book shows how magic, in the deepest sense, helped to create the modern world, and how profoundly it is still inscribed in the way we think today.