The original cliff-hangers: from the 8th century AD

The Thousand and One Nights, better known in the west as the Arabian Nights, is a collection in Arabic of popular tales handed down in an oral tradition. The earliest historically identifiable details in the stories suggest that they are first gathered together in the late 8th century, in the Baghdad of Harun al-rashid. They continue to be added to, with the collection probably reaching its present form in Cairo in the 15th century.

The tales are held together within the framework of another story, taking place in the harem of a fierce and bitter sultan.

The sultan, Shahryar, hates all women because he discovers that his wife has been unfaithful to him. He kills her and then, in his bitterness, marries and kills a new wife each night. This grisly saga continues until his latest wife, Shahrazad (or Scheherazade), devises a brilliant but alarming plan for staying alive. Every evening she tells her murderous husband a story, but leaves it incomplete - promising to tell him the end on the following day.

It is a perfect device for an open-ended collection of tales. Several of Shahrazad's stories, such as Aladdin, Ali Baba and Sindbad the Sailor, have become known and loved throughout the world.