1001 Nights is a collection of folk tales written and released during the Islamic Gold Age. This compilation of stories is organized under the following narrative:
Scorned by his unfaithful wife, the king of the empire, Shahryar, was devastated by this betrayal. His emotional state soon turned to wrath as the king decided to wed a new bride every night, just to kill her the next day.
One day, Sheherazade, the daughter of one of the king’s top advisors, asked her father if she could marry the king. The advisor, worried about his daughter’s fate, urged her to rethink her decision. Determined to be the one who stopped the king’s violence, Sheherazade insisted upon her request and married king Shahryar that night.
In an attempt to escape death, Sheherazade decides to tell the king a new story every night, stopping in the middle as to keep the king’s interest. Her strategy is successful- king Shahryar keeps her alive to tell both old legends and new tales for 1001 nights.
Of these 1001 stories, some have become famous in the Western world, one of which is The Three Princes and the Princess of Nouronnihar.
In this tale, there are three brothers who fall in love with their cousin, the princess Nouronnihar. The Sultan, father of the three brothers, cannot decide who he he will wed to the princess and decides to have the brothers compete for the honor to marry her. Each son is tasked with finding a special item, the one finding the most special item winning the princess’s hand in marriage. The brothers set out to find their item to soon learn Nouronnihar has fallen deathly ill. The three brothers then join forces to save her, each using their item to help heal the princess. The Sultan, though impressed with his sons, still asserts there is no clear winner for Nouronnihar’s hand in marriage. Thus, the brothers compete in a bow and arrow contest until one emerges victorious.
A more detailed, but still simplified english version of the story is linked here.
Disney movie Brave was released in 2012 and showcases main character Merida, a princess, from the Scottish Highlands. As a princess, when Merida comes of the age, she is told she must wed the son of one of the three lords in the kingdom. To fight for her hand in marriage, an archery competition is held, with the winner earning the right to marry the princess.
Merida, however, changes the narrative when she participates in the competition herself and wins. The movie continues on the explore the repercussions of her decision to both question and break this tradition.
Compare/Contrast of 2 Narratives
Both these stories begin with a plot line in which a young princess is to be wed to a man of high status in society. Additionally, both these stories have three men being considered for the marriage. that are then made to compete in some capacity to win the hand of the princess. This, however, is about where the similarities end.
In 1001 Nights, the character of the princess, Nouronnihar, is essentially nonexistent—described only for her beauty, virtue, and appeal as a love interest. She has no agency, her fate is in the hands of the Sultan and the three brothers. The men in this story create the narrative.
Contrastingly, in Brave, princess Merida is both the main focus and one of the strongest characters in the movie. In addition, Merida takes control of her own story when she decides to stand up against a patriarchal tradition and control her own future. The story of Merida therefore becomes one of empowerment for woman.
Thus, ultimately, while The Three Princes and the Princess of Nouronnihar and Brave appear parallel, the two take a very different turn and accordingly deliver very different messages to readers and viewers.
Nonetheless, it is worth noting that this story line of men fighting for the love a woman is one that has gained popularity in many societies over many periods of time, whether present in an Islamic folk tale from the Middle Ages or a 21st century Disney movie.