When I discovered this book it pretty much jumped to the top of my 'must get a copy of it' list, the reason being is that it contained a collection of stories from Greek Mythology and the Tales of 1001 Arabian Nights. Knowing a lot of Greek stories, and how sexually explicit some of them were, I wanted to see how Blyton turned them into children's stories. Getting my hands on this book was an adventure in itself since I could not find it in any of the second hand bookshops in the city, and the one that did was asking $90.00 for it (which I was not going to pay). I was tempted to get one over Ebay, however on my last day in Adelaide, I went for a drive around the suburbs and discovered that they were a dime a dozen and ended up getting a copy cheaper than what Ebay had to offer. Personally, I am still baffled as to why this one shop thought they could get away with charging $90.00 for it (and in reality, they probably can't).
When I read this book I was even more astonished at the sources that Blyton used. It turns out that in the Greek section a bulk of the stories she took straight out of Ovid. Now, Blyton writes these stories as aetiological myths, that is a story of how something became what it is. Maybe to the Ancient Greeks that is what these tales were, however to Ovid it was not. Ovid did not see these stories as aetiological but rather demonstrations of the changing nature of the universe and the fact that everything is constantly in flux. However I will not go into deeper detail about Ovid here, except to say that whenever I read one of these Greek stories of transformation I do not think aetiological, I think Ovidian.
It also surprised me that it was not only Ovid that she used: she also took as story from Herodotus, being the story about the master musician who was thrown overboard by pirates and rescued by dolphins who were enchanted by his music. The other story, Cupid and Psyche, is taken from Apuleius' Golden Ass, which, to be honest with you, is not the type of book that one would read to children (considering there are numerous instances of bestiology). However, the Cupid and Psyche story is much tamer than the rest of The Golden Ass.
So, the question then remains, how does Blyton deal with the sex issue. The answer is that she doesn't. She talks about love and relationships, and most of the stories that she uses do not involve sex. However one of the stories, the story of Io, does, and I feel that she does cause some problems. In her story she tells of how Jupiter (she uses the Roman names, which is further evidence that she used Ovid as a source) travelled to Earth to talk to Io and that he created a cloud to hide them. However Juno saw the cloud and became incredibly jealous. The thought that rises in my head is 'why is Juno jealous of Jupiter talking to Io?' Maybe the question won't be asked, but then again maybe it will.
The second part of the book is taken from the Arabian Nights. Blyton explains at the beginning how the book is actually a collection of stories that are being told by a noble Persian woman to the Caliph. The Caliph one day caught his wife having an affair and so he killed her. Not trusting woman anymore, he decided to marry a woman for a night and then kill her. It came to the point that there were no longer any available women and it was the Vizier's daughter's turn to take the wedding vow, however she tricked him by beginning a story and ending at a cliff-hanger which meant that the Caliph could not kill her until he had heard the ending, but when she ended one story she would immediately start another. This went on for 1001 nights and at the end the Caliph decided that he would keep the princess alive.
There are a number of familiar stories here, including Sinbad the Sailor (though only six of his journies are told), Aladdin and the Lamp, and Ali Baba and the forty thieves. Also there are other stories, including one about a magical horse, another about a genie and three merchants, and another about a lost city. Mind you, when I read Ali Baba, I could not help but laugh whenever somebody said 'open sesame'. These stories are so permeated into our culture that we sometimes forget their origin, and the thing is that these stories all come from the Muslim world.
The book actually gives a good overview of the style of story telling from the Arabian Nights and I must say that it is very impressive. In fact many of these stories seem to set the standard for many of the other works that have succeeded it, right down to the stock standard Hollywood film. The protagonists always win, always come out wealthy, and always get the girl. However they also go through trials and tribulations to reach this ending. Further, there a stories within stories within stories, and one of the stories, the Genie and the Three Merchants, indicates this. It is also interesting that the story of the lost city has a pool in which there are four coloured fish, representing the faiths of the people of the land (which are Muslim, Christian, Jew, and Xorastrian). For me, the Arabian Nights has suddenly appeared on my reading list and we could learn quite a lot about Muslim culture and storytelling from it.