The Arabian Hero Cycles are a collection of folklore and stories, traditionally passed on orally, that originated in the Arabic-speaking populations of the Middle East. The Arabian Nights are the most famous collection; this entry will cover lesser-known tales.
The typical structure of an Arabian Hero Cycle is as follows: a hero (sometimes based on a real person) sets out on a quest, often to find a bride. Common motifs and characters include battles, princesses, viziers, warrior women, and cross-dressing.
These stories provide examples of:
- Amazon Chaser: Abu Muhammad al-Battal falls in love with his future wife Nura after spying her besting other girls in wrestling.
- As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Some of the Rum (Byzantine Greek/Eastern Roman) and franj (Frankish, general term for Western European) characters have real names, but most of them have clearly made-up names that simply sound exotic.
- Attempted Rape: This happens a lot, usually as a peril from which the hero can rescue a princess and then eventually marry her.
- Bastard Bastard: Abd al-Salib, conceived when a Portuguese princess was raped by forty brigands, is brilliant but utterly evil and deranged.
- Black Widow: al-Qannasa, a lady brigand who marries a succession of young men and then kills them.
- Chocolate Baby: Harith, Fatima Dhat al-Himma's husband, bribes one of her servants to drug her so that he can rape her. Fatima then gives birth to a son, Abd al-Wahhab, who is black supposedly due to his mother menstruating when he was conceived.
- Downer Ending: In Ali al-Zaibaq, after many tribulations, the hero Ali takes another wife, which infuriates his first wife, Zainab. She goes Medea on him, and in turn is killed by their son, Asad.
- Evil Sorcerer: Ezra, the sorcerer-king of Tiberias in Ali al-Zaibaq, who transforms the titular hero into a donkey.
- Fetish: Al-Battal loves to be whipped by his wife, Nura.
- Glorified Sperm Donor: In one of the most extreme examples, Arnus, a hero of Sirat Baibars, turns out to have a posse of sons scattered here and there.
- Love Dodecahedron: Some very complex ones, but here's one particularly twisted example: Abd al-Wahhab loved Maimuna and they had a son, Bahrun. Maimuna then fell in love with and married Armanus. Her son Bahrun falls in love with the princess Iftuna, who declares that the Prophet Muhammad promised her in a dream that she would marry Armanus.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Kundafrun, a sort of erstaz Richard the Lionhearted, appears in a couple of tales. The real-life sultana of Egypt, Shajar al-Durr, also appears in Sirat Baibars as Fatima Shajarat al-Durr.
- Offing the Offspring: Maimuna cuts the throat of her own son, Bahrun, after circumstances result in them fighting on opposite sides.
- Oops! I Forgot I Was Married: Maimuna marries the Eastern Roman emperor Armanus despite having already married Abd al-Wahhab. Perhaps she figured if she had one Christian husband and one Muslim husband it didn't count.
- Psychic Dreams for Everyone: Many, many examples of people falling in love with women they glimpse in dreams, or Christians converting to Islam after having a prophetic dream.
- Really 700 Years Old: The 400-year-old vizier, Amr.
- Scary Black Man: The Warrior Poet Antar.
- Self-Made Orphan: Abd al-Wahhab kills his Jerkass father, Harith, in single combat.
- Sweet Polly Oliver: The heroines get in on the crossdressing, too. In one notable instance, the warrior-queen Fatima Dhat al-Himma disguises herself as a priest and kisses the heroine Nura "twenty times"!
- Warrior Poet: In a culture which admires courage and poetry, Antar merits serious respect.
- What the Hell, Hero?: A particularly blatant example is when Qatalunaj meets his fated bride, Zuhur, the princess of China. Zuhur's father, the king, falls in love with his own daughter and kills her so that Qatalunaj cannot have her. Qatalunaj convinces him to repent and become a Muslim, and after that all is forgiven. Too bad for the dead princess.