A writer stands outside a story yelling, “Open Sesame!” and the story, as if a seed, opens. And treasure is found inside. That treasure, of course, is just another story, and it all begins again…
Or else, say the writer is no different from any other of his tribe—say he’s actually a thief. And the story is no story, but really a mountain. “Open Sesame!” (this writer continues)—the mountain opens and my meaning is revealed.
A version of this nonsense—this magician’s stage business—occurs in the tale “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” popularly known from the One Thousand and One Nights.
But Ali’s tale is not to be found in the oldest manuscripts of that collection. Some scholars believe it to be the invention of one Youhenna Diab, known as Hanna of Aleppo, an Arab Christian storyteller said to have communicated it to Antoine Galland, the first translator of the Nights into French. Others argue for a purely Western source, and believe that Ali is the incorrupt fiction of Galland himself (though Richard Burton, the first translator of an unexpurgated Nights into English, claimed that Ali was to be found in an Arabic original, a mythical manuscript often forged but never found).