I’ve read a good numbers of titles in Osprey Publishing’s MYTHS AND LEGENDS series and while the individual books vary in quality, that variation runs between good and excellent, making the series as a whole top notch. My latest read, Sinbad the Sailor, by Phil Masters, continues the positive run, falling somewhere in the middle of its predecessors.
The bulk of the book is a retelling of Sinbad’s seven voyages (including an alternate seventh voyage), keeping the original frame of Sinbad the Sailor telling the story to Sinbad the Porter, his poorer namesake. The retellings are solid, if not particularly enthralling. I would have liked more of a sense of voice for Sinbad, but they move quickly and fluidly. You can’t fault Masters for some of the repetition in the tales; they are what they are, and since they almost certainly came out of the oral folk tale tradition, the repetition is a typical element. Those wholly unfamiliar with Sinbad will come away with a sense of adventure, while others who might be more familiar with the most commonly recognized elements — the Roc for instance — might be pleasantly surprised by some smaller points.
An introduction explains the possible origins of the Sinbad tales and also traces how they might have become mixed up with the 1001 Nights. The sidebars, an integral part of the MYTHS AND LEGENDS titles, do a nice job of explaining how the tales show various aspects of Muslim life, comparing these tales to perhaps better-known Western legends, and making some real-world connections to story elements. After the stories comes a section concisely detailing some important Arabic/Persian history so as to put the tale in context. Included in this segment is a description of medieval Baghdad, an explanation of the caliphate with particular focus on Haroun al-Rashid, some details on Arabic sea-faring and trade and a look at Ibn Battuta, whose real life was somewhat analogous to Sinbad’s. Following this section is a very brief look at Sinbad’s appearance in modern literature and especially in film.
As always, the artwork is an important part of the book, and is made up of reprints of historical works, original illustrations, useful maps, and photographs. Some other titles have better artwork overall, but standouts in this title include an original two-page spread by illustrator Ru–Mor of Sinbad’s ship being swamped by a sea monster they’d taken to be an island and several Dore reprints.
Informative, quick-moving, smooth flowing, nicely illustrated — Sinbad the Sailor is yet another fine installment in this highly recommended series.