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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #172: Sinbad the Sailor

An entirely different kind of stand-up.

Sinbad comes late to the Arabic fable-cycle we know as the 1001 Arabian Nights, appearing first in recognizable form in the 17th century, but the intrepid sailor is an archetype of long provenance in Arabic cultural history. For centuries, inhabitants of the Middle East plied their various mercantile trades throughout the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, and Indian Ocean, and melded with literary imports such as Homer's Odysseus, these merchant-sailors gave rise to a rich storytelling tradition. In his earliest incarnations, Sinbad was just a guy looking for business, not adventure, the more familiar swashbuckling character would come later. Plagued by shipwrecks and savages and supernatural monsters (not unlike Odysseus himself), Sinbad wins through based on his courage, his cleverness, and no small amount of luck. His seven voyages are great reading, and have been adapted many times into film and animated fare, much of it gloriously bad. The classic comic versions were always a favorite of mine.

The most indelible of these for me, though, were the three Columbia movies: The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977). All three had different and remarkable forgettable actors in the title role (although John Phillip Law, the 1973 Sinbad, was also the blind angel Pygar in Barbarella), but the common thread - and what made them so eminently watchable - was the involvement of effects master Ray Harryhausen. The rocs and centaurs and skeletons and other fantastical antagonists Sinbad encounters are brought to eerie life by Harryhausen's signature style, and my brother and I would devour the movies when they were repeatedly aired on Saturday or Sunday afternoons on basic cable. I couldn't tell you the plot of the movies now, but the action sequences and uncomfortably real monsters remain vividly etched in memory.

Do yourself a favor and find a good translation of the original stories - Husain Haddawy’s are considered top-notch - and then watch at least some of the movies mentioned above. There's always time for some Harryhausen.

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