The Thousand and One Nights is the most important influence on the works of Mark Twain. The Thousand and One Nights or The Arabian Nights is a collection of 264 stories and tales that have become classics in world literature. In the early 18th century the collection was translated into French which made it available to the West(Bloom’s).
The major frame story in The Thousand and One Nights is the story of Scheherazade. She was the wife of King Shahriyar of India who after his first wife betrayed him started to marry a new wife everyday and have them beheaded the next morning. Scheherazade was able to prolong their marriage by telling the king a collection of stories for one-thousand and one nights. On the thousandth and one night he finally loses his desire to kill her.
Many of Scheherazade’s tales are familiar throughout the world including Aladdin and his magic lamp, Ali Baba and the 40 thieves, Abou Hassan the sleeper, Sinbad the sailor, and others. These tales are filled with witches, genies, flying carpets and winged horses, as well as beautiful princesses, dashing desert horsemen, camel caravans and heartless kings. Their magic, romance, exotic settings, and strange characters have long contributed to Western perceptions of the East as “mysterious”.
These stories are also very influential to the works of Mark Twain who made references to The Thousand and One Nights on many different occasions. This influence may be hard to assess but even more greater is that the tales influenced his own imagination. Tom Sawyer may be lacking clear allusions to The Thousand and One Nights, but their spirit can be found in the novel’s many flights of fancy. Around the mid 1860’s Twain was regularly dropping references of The Thousand and One nights in his writings. When he went on the Quaker Excursion Twain used The Thousand and One Nights as a way to measure the near Eastern civilizations he encountered. When returning from his journey Twain wrote the book Innocents Abroad which was filled with allusions to The Thousand and One Nights(Rasmussen).
Although Tom Sawyer lacks clear allusions to the Arabian Nights, Tom himself is familiar with the stories. In Huckleberry Finn he leads his gang against an imaginary caravan of Spanish merchants and rich Arabs. To everyone but Tom, the caravan appears to be a Sunday-school picnic. Tom explains the discrepancy as an enchantment performed by magicians and genies. Huck suggests getting their own genies to fight back, so Tom puts him to work rubbing a magic lamp. After hours of rubbing, Huck concludes “that all that stuff was only just one of Tom Sawyer's lies(Twain Adventures).” Despite his rationality, Huck is not above using the Arabian Nights to make a point, though he tends to get his details wrong. In chapter 23 of Huckleberry Finn, he tells Jim that King Henry VIII "used to marry a new wife every day, and chop off her head the next morning". Twain was very cleaver in alluding to The Thousand and One...