I chose to read the book because it dealt with an American’s outlook on a Spanish landmark. I wondered why I had not heard about it before in my courses. In any case, I wanted to know what a nineteenth-century American’s impression was while wondering through this Islamic palace. I had never been to Granada, but I heard it was a fabulous city to visit. Francisco Asís de Icaza y Breña said it best with this popular phrase: “Give him alms, woman, for in this life there is nothing so pitiable as to be blind in Granada.”
The author of The Alhambra was Washington Irving, the same that wrote “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Irving had gone to Spain to scour the archives and write romantic histories. He later went to Granada and got permission to linger at the Alhambra for some time before heading to London to work as Secretary of the American Legation. He wrote essays and fiction relating to the palace and published his work using the title Tales of the Alhambra. He published it in 1832.
The first portion of the book deals with Irving’s first-hand experiences of the palace and historical backgrounds that created it. They read like elaborate journal entries. Some associations that Irving relates seem a little dramatized. I cannot call him a historian in the truest sense because he mixes history and legend on the same page. Later, he includes stories of magic and intrigue that have the Alhambra as the stage. They read like polished fairy tales. Irving may have gleaned these stories and myths from locals and archives while staying at the palace, but I have to question which ones. Most of the tales seem genuine, but others seem original to the author himself. I cannot claim this without proper research, of course, but I like to know when an author is doing his own work or not. However, these fairy tales are enjoyable in themselves and I do like a good fairy tale. My particular favorite is “Legend of the Three Beautiful Princesses.”
I believe anyone can enjoy this book, or the stories in this book, although children that like fairy tales would have to hear the story from a skillful storyteller in order to like it. The descriptions Irving uses in his earlier chapters may throw off younger readers. An ideal activity for this book would be to compare the observations in the book while strolling through the Alhambra to see how closely Irving got to the original.