The Arabian Nights first arrived in the West 300 years ago, and ever since then its stories have entranced generations of children and seduced adults with a vision of an exotic, magical Middle East. Actor and director Richard E Grant wants to know why the book he loved as a child still has such a hold on our imagination.
He travels to Paris to discover how the stories of Sinbad, Ali Baba and Aladdin were first brought to the West by the pioneering Arabist Antoine Galland in the early 18th century. The Nights quickly became an overnight literary sensation and were quickly translated into all the major European languages. Richard then travels to Cairo to explore the medieval Islamic world which first created them.
He quickly finds that some of the stories can still be deeply controversial, because of their sexually-explicit content. Richard meets the Egyptian writer and publisher Gamal al Ghitani, who received death threats when he published a new edition of the book.
He also finds that the ribald and riotous stories in the Nights represent a very different view of Islam than fundamentalism. Can the Nights still enrich and change the West's distorted image of the Arab world?