BBC’s ‘100 Most Influential Stories’: From the 1001 to Mahfouz

In April, BBC Culture asked writers, critics, and scholars to nominate up to five fictional stories they felt “had shaped mindsets or influenced history”:

They got answers from 108 people who chose works in 33 different languages.

Inevitably, the critics are too weighted to the US and UK; since the questionnaire was composed in English, it’s hardly surprising that there were only four critics from China. Few chose works that haven’t been translated into English.

There were three in the top 100 translated from Arabic:

6. One Thousand and One Nights (unknown)

76. Children of Gebelawi (Naguib Mahfouz, 1967)

94. The Khamriyyat (Abu Nuwas, late 8th-early 9th Century)

Also, The Panchatantra (attributed to Vishnu Sharma, circa 300 BC) was at 59, while I had it in the Kalila wa Dimna translation by Ibn al-Muqaffa.

But far more interesting than the top 100 are the critics’, authors’ and scholars’ individual choices. Some, like myself, took the question too seriously and decided only premodern works would do; others allowed themselves more idiosyncratic choices. Amina Yaqin of SOAS had a number of interesting choices, among them Punjabi writer Waris Shah’s Heer Ranjha (1766), which according to Wikipedia has been adapted to film at least 14 times.

A particular shout-out to critic Muneeza Shamsie who, like me, thought it was necessary to choose one particular story from The Nights. 

Those who chose Arabic works that didn’t make the top 100:

Hassan Abdulrazzak, playwright, UK

2. The Corpse Washer (Sinan Antoon, 2014)
4. The Shell (Mustafa Khalifa, 2008)

Lena Merhej, comic artist, Samandal, Lebanon

3. The Illustrator’s Notebook (Mohieddine Ellabbad, 2003)

Alex Rowell, writer, translator, and Managing Editor of Al-Jumhuriya English, UK

2. The Mu’allaqa (Imru’ al-Qais, 6th Century)

M Lynx Qualey, critic, ArabLit, Morocco

2. Layla and Majnun (folk story / Nizami Ganjavi, 1192)
3. The Epic of ‘Antar (author unknown, attributed 7th/8th Century)