Book: Ali Baba: Fooling the Forty Thieves

Ali Baba: Fooling the Forty ThievesAli Baba: Fooling the Forty Thieves
Marie P. Croall
illustrated by Clint Hilinski
2008 (Graphic Universe/Lerner)

I wouldn’t have expected it, but the graphic novel format lends itself well to the story of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” from the Arabian Nights. The tale follows Ali Baba as he discovers the secret lair of a group of thieves and steals from it. Later his brother’s wife discovers that Ali Baba has money and urges her husband to find out the secret, which he does. After hearing it he, of course, goes to the lair as well. He does not fare as well as Ali Baba and is brutally murdered by the thieves. Ali Baba retrieves his brother’s body and the thieves come after him. Luckily, Ali Baba has a servant who is much more clever than him or than the thieves and through various observations and smart moves she repeatedly saves her master’s life.

Croall and Hilinski do a brilliant job telling this story with sequential art. I was particularly impressed at their use of panels without speech bubbles or much action to relay mood and moments of consideration and contemplation. Since this is actually a story without a whole lot of action (part of the story is almost more like a chess game being played between Morgiana and the thieves), those moments are extremely important. I was also impressed with the look of the world they created. I’m so used to illustrations for stories from the Arabian Nights where the girls all look like they just stepped out of a harem and the men are muscle-bound and always armed to the teeth that it was extremely refreshing to find that everyone in here looked like a real person. The women were wrapped up as women actually would have been! Everyone had extremely light skin (Ali Baba is almost as fair as I am), but I guess you can’t have everything. The only piece of art in the book that I actually thought didn’t fit at all was the cover art. It doesn’t represent either the character or the story well at all, and that’s a shame.

This telling of the story highlights one of the major oddnesses of it – the fact that Ali Baba gets all the credit. He really doesn’t do much of anything. Actually, he’s very dubiously moral in stealing from the thieves in the first place, so it’s hard to feel too bad for him when they start to cause him trouble. The real hero of this tale is Morgiana, the servant girl who manages to both outsmart everyone else and get to stick a knife into the bad guy, killing him without help. After reading this, I’m left wondering why she wasn’t on the cover of the book instead of ineffectual Ali Baba.

This was an excellent, dynamic telling of this story and I highly recommend it. Not only would it be great paired with more traditional versions of Arabian Nights stories, but it would be a great heroic story with some unusual twists as well. References from “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” so pervade our popular culture (it seems like every cartoon character ever has said “open sesame” at some point) but few people really seem to know the story anymore. This is such an approachable, well done version that I see no reason why that couldn’t be changed!

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