In regard to the “Arabian Nights,” from which we give you three choice stories, you ought to know the way they came to be told. Once upon a time, a Sultan of Arabia thought that all women were of not much use, so every day he married a new wife, and before twenty-four hours were over he ordered that she have her head cut off. One brave woman thought of a clever plan by which she could end this cruelty. She went to the palace and offered to marry the Sultan, and that night she began to tell him such fascinating stories that when morning came he still wished to hear more. He commanded that she should not be beheaded until all her stories were told. Then for a thousand and one nights, night after night, she gave him fresh stories, and by the end of that time the Sultan had fallen very much in love with her. Naturally, they lived happily forever after. Perhaps these three stories which we have selected will compel you to seek out all the rest, and if you do, we are quite sure you will not wonder that the brave lady won the heart of the wicked Sultan and made him good.
From the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey” of Homer, we have given you some soul-stirring happenings. Several thousand years ago these stories were sung by a blind minstrel named Homer. Some day you may read Homer’s sublime poetry in the original Greek, and the selections which we give you will help you to remember the stories when you are struggling with that difficult language.
Parts of the old favorite “Robinson Crusoe” follow the Grecian tales, and we trust its simple language will make the little ones love it more than ever. You will remember that Defoe wrote this nearly two hundred years ago. Everybody liked long stories in those days, but we have all heard children of to-day ask when a somewhat lengthy book would end, no matter how interesting, and many grown-ups are guilty of reading the close of a story before they have gone very far in it. So with that in mind we have put down in brief form most of Robinson Crusoe’s important adventures during his twenty-eight years on the desert island.
Here we also give three splendid stories from Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” which were supposedly told to one another by a party of pilgrims on their way to Canterbury. According to our gentle author, who was one of them, they stopped over night at a house in England called the Tabard Inn, and here they passed the hours repeating fine stories. Afterward Chaucer wrote these down in a book in quaint old English. One might look at these words all day long and not know in the least what what some of them meant, though they do hold such beautiful tales.
Now about “Pilgrim’s Progress.” More than two hundred years ago a tinker named John Bunyan was in jail, but one night this poor man left his prison and wandered into the land of dreams. There he saw wonderful sights and heard marvelous things, and as there was no one to listen to his dream, John Bunyan wrote it down, and had it made into a book. And this he called “The Pilgrim’s Progress.” It was about the journey and adventures of a pilgrim and his companions. In our version we have given most of the dream, but when the boys and girls grow older they will want to read it all in Bunyan’s own language, and we hope this account will lead them to do so.