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Literature / Sinbad the Sailor

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Sinbad the Sailor is an outcome report about an Intrepid Merchant who goes on seven high risk business ventures to open new trade routes to oversea markets, only to have unforeseen complications create areas of opportunity for his negotiating skills to create mutually beneficial outcomes.

Or at least, that would be the modern interpretation of Sinbad. This Middle Eastern fable is a collection of stories told in a manner similar to the Thousand And One Nights; Sinbad (or Hinbad) the Porter stops to rest outside the mansion of Sinbad the merchant, and laments that for chance he missed out on the amazing riches of the latter, which he won very easily. However, who should hear him but Sinbad the Sailor? Rather than be angry at his jealousy, he invites the porter to dine with him and regales him for seven consecutive nights with the tales of his fortunes and misfortunes, adventures and perils, giving him a hundred gold coins at the end of each.

The tales of Sinbad the Sailor were originally independent of the Thousand and One Nights. Antoine Galland added Sinbad to the Nights when compiling his 18th-century French translation, which was the first translation into any European language, and which introduced the Nights to European culture. The "Sinbad" stories have since become closely associated with the Thousand and One Nights and are usually included in Nights translations. The original Arabic name is most closely transliterated as "Sindbad"; this is how it's spelled in the famous Richard Burton translation and the 2008 Lyons translation. Despite this, "Sinbad" without a D has become the most common form in English, and some scholars have jokingly (or not) suggested it's because of the inadvertent pun on "sin" and "bad". Note that there are two radically different versions of Sinbad's seventh voyage (one where he spends a long period in a city of intermittently winged men, the other where he's enslaved and encounters an Elephant Graveyard); some translations include both.

Despite being commonly called "the Sailor," Sinbad is a merchant and a ship-owner, and has adventures in places reached by sailing, but is not himself a sailor of any sort; at most, he occasionally improvises rafts for emergency travel. Some translations call him something like "Sindbad of the Sea", which might be more accurate.

Sinbad has proven a popular figure in the cinema and on TV, where, however, his adventures have generally had little connection with his original 1,001 Nights version.

Not to be confused with Popeye The Sailor, though they did "costar" in Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor, sort of. Also not to be confused with Sinbad the comedian.

Tropes used in the Seven Voyages:

  • Aesop Amnesia: Whenever Sinbad gets in a really bad spot on one of his journeys he regrets leaving home and wishes he hadn't taken a risky sea voyage. After he finally does get home, he gets bored and winds up going to sea again.
  • "Arabian Nights" Days: The baseline setting.
  • City of Gold: Sinbad gets to visit some very wealthy kingdoms, though none of them really hit the peak version of the trope.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Sinbad's "fighting style" consists mainly of sneak attacking vulnerable enemies.
  • Disproportionate Reward: Perhaps filtered by Values Dissonance, but the rich kings and other rulers in Sinbad's tale do seem to enjoy lavishing him with presents and riches just for being an interesting guy. They may be flaunting their wealth to a foreigner there, of course.
  • Doom Magnet: Sindbad is unlucky, very unlucky. However, his shipmates tend to be a lot unluckier — at least Sindbad always survives. Most of the stories involve him becoming the sole survivor of some terrible cataclysm, or begin that way. Then it gets worse. Then he gets rich(er). Then he goes out on more adventures and does it again!
  • Dwindling Party: Sinbad tends to be the lone survivor of a lot of his tales.
  • Framing Device: Sinbad tells his stories to Sinbad the Porter over several dinners.
  • Guile Hero: Only rarely does Sinbad ever need to use violence to escape his predicaments.
  • The Homeward Journey: Every time he goes off on an adventure, Sinbad eventually gets homesick and looks for a ship heading back to Baghdad.
  • Intrepid Merchant: Sinbad's schtick. He does seem to have a gift for trading.
  • Isle of Giant Horrors: The title character often ends up on one of these during his travels, including one where a Roc bird nests, and another inhabited by a man-eating giant (who's basically an Expy of Polyphemus from The Odyssey and gets defeated in a similar manner).
  • Mr. Vice Guy: Sinbad is a lot like Scrooge McDuck, ambitious (but not evil, Values Dissonance not withstanding) and out to make a buck. (He does also suffer from a lot of wanderlust.) In fact, by the end he's one of the richest men in Baghdad.
  • Non-Action Guy: Despite the modern habit of portraying him as a swashbuckling hero (just look at the page image), like a lot of 1,001 Nights heroes Sindbad is more of an explorer and businessman than a fighter and primarily uses his cunning to find ways to avoid conflict. When he is forced to fight, it's as a last resort, he isn't particularly good at it, and he rarely does so in a very action packed or heroic way — typically, he springs upon his enemies when they are vulnerable and beats them down before they can react.
  • Ocean of Adventure: Sinbad is a merchant who undertakes seven long journeys across the Indian Ocean. During his travels, he encounters terrible monsters and cannibals, travels to distant and wondrous places, and is shipwrecked or left stranded with a certain regularity, but always manages to use his wits to escape and return to Baghdad laden with riches.
  • One-Steve Limit: Notably averted when Sinbad the Porter attracts the attention of Sinbad the Sailor, who proceeds to tell the porter of his seven voyages.
  • Sole Survivor: Often Sinbad's status by the mid-point of a story.
  • Strictly Formula: Sinbad gets wanderlust (or, in some of the earlier voyages, broke), goes off on a trading expedition, gets shipwrecked or stranded, runs afoul of some sort of monster, meets up with a king who showers him with wealth and favors, and finally finds his way back to Baghdad.
  • Walking the Earth: Well, more like sailing the ocean, but still.

Tropes used in the First Voyage:

  • That's No Moon: The sailors mistake the giant sea creature for an island.
  • Turtle Island: The sleeping giant whale/fish has a forest growing on it.

Tropes used in the Second Voyage:

Tropes used in the Third Voyage:

  • Expy: The giant is a fairly obvious one to Polyphemus the Cyclops in Homer's Odyssey
  • Eye Scream: Sinbad and the other sailors blind the giant with two red-hot iron spits with which the monster has been kebabing and roasting the ship's company.
  • Giant Mook: The giant.
  • Go for the Eye: The way to take out something that's basically too big to kill.
  • The Great Serpent: In an Out of the Frying Pan moment, Sinbad and a couple of his companions managed to escape the giants' isle to another nearby island, only to realize it's the home of a gargantuan serpent. Sinbad managed to escape up a tree, but his remaining comrades quickly become snake dinner.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Mmm. Mmm. Sailors!

Tropes used in the Fourth Voyage:

  • Captured by Cannibals: Sinbad just keeps walking into this sort of thing, doesn't he? Though actually, this time round, he's smarter about it than his companions; he refuses to eat the herb offered to them while the others are too hungry to be suspicious, and so doesn't fall into the same stupor.
  • Darker and Edgier: We get more cannibalism, but this time the victims are essentially lobotomized, treated as livestock and deliberately fattened up. Later on Sinbad is entombed alive, and resorts to murdering others who suffer the same fate in order to take their food and survive a little longer.
  • Grave Robbing/Serial Killer: After escaping from the tombs, Sinbad periodically returns, murders whoever else was thrown in there alive, and takes their stuff.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: Well, plain old "Lotuses" anyway. The cannibals make their captives docile with an herb to fatten them up.
  • Together in Death: The bad kind. The kingdom Sinbad ends up living in for a while has a custom that when one member of a married couple dies, the surviving spouse will be entombed with them (and obviously won't survive for much longer after that).

Tropes used in the Fifth Voyage:

Tropes used in the Sixth Voyage:

  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: This time around, after a shipwreck, many of Sinbad's companions die around him, of starvation and exposure, leaving him waiting for death. Apparently, he has a great constitution.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: The land of Serendib is so jewel studded it's a massive piece of jewelry.

Tropes used in the Seventh Voyage:

  • Elephant Graveyard: Sinbad finds one in the variant version.
  • Made a Slave: In the variant version.
  • Our Demons Are Different: The inhabitants of the distant city where Sinbad settles for a while turn out to be demons, or at least demon-worshipers.
  • Revised Ending: Some versions, such as Burton and Lyons, include the alternate version in which the Caliph sends Sinbad back to Serendib bearing gifts — in effect, an eighth voyage, especially once things go wrong for Sinbad yet again.
  • Sea Monster: The enormous fish that threaten Sinbad's ship.
  • Shapeshifting: The demons/demon-worshippers change form and grow wings once a month.

Works Featuring Sinbad (Sometimes In Name Only) Include: