The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor
The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor’s full-page, bordered illustrations are composed of bright colors like the tiled floors of Mediterranean homes, adding great depth to these retold tales. The monsters Sinbad encounters are reminiscent of Where the Wild Things Are in their childlike depictions of striped horns, beards, and hairy bodies as well as of the colored pencil illustrations in Tomie dePaola’s Strega Nona books.
Perhaps told in the original language The Seven Voyages of Sinbad would sound more musical, but this translation by David Henry Wilson is stilted. For example, the dialogue, “I must tell you that the violent storms have driven us off course, and our misfortune is that it has brought us to the Isle of the Apes” could have been modernized and made more palatable to today’s reader and listener. The formal writing style is difficult to enjoy and its pattern is oddly contrived, falling flat on the ear.
With longer paragraphs, this book is ideal for a third-grade reader and older. Though each voyage is broken into a chapter, making seven, plus one where Sinbad is introduced as a character at the beginning, these could be turned into older children’s story time fodder. There is a great deal of excitement on the voyages from pirates to monsters to damsels in distress. Unfortunately, Sinbad’s voyages don’t quite stand the test of time; though there is potential, it is not realized.
Sinbad is the narrator, telling his life’s story to a porter, also named Sinbad, who shows up on his doorstep one day. Sinbad the sailor relates the ideas of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps, as well as using cunning and intelligence to overcome enemies and problems, which are good lessons to be learned. Sinbad is similar to Odysseus with his wanderings and adventures, the fear of family that the hero has been lost over the years, the use of cunning, bravery, and skill, and the triumphant return of the prodigal to the loyal and ever-faithful wife.
However, this hero from The Thousand and One Nights, a story of Scheherazade that goes back millennia, is a product of his era. A sailor turned wealthy, he now owns slaves and women are a commodity—and all this is written in language that suggests Sinbad the sailor is to be admired for his conquests, an unfortunate lesson to hand off to children of any age, particularly if there will be absolutely no discussion about the time period and culture.
It is clear, however, in the description of the author, Said, that he is not the author for this undertaking of modernization, particularly if he refers to something as “Oriental wisdom”—Oriental refers to furniture and not East Asia (the term “Oriental” is associated with Imperialism and considered derogatory and offensive when referring to countries and people). Furthermore, this is problematic given that Sinbad is Muslim, reads the Koran, and given our current culture and the hotbed of political issues around Islam, sensitivity would be key in discussing a tale about Muslim heroes.
It is lovely that Sinbad keeps to his religion: He reads verses of the Koran before setting sail and trusts in God in his journeys, and stories are a great way to introduce children to new cultures, ideas, and religions. There are demons who are men who have renounced God, but religion can be a confusing topic for children and explaining renouncement of God to a young child is not that easy.
Many older fairytales have withstood modernization and have found new life and new fans. Sinbad sadly misses the boat.