This introduction to Donald Barthelme’s short story “The School” is non-fiction. Non-fiction means “not fiction.” Fiction, as you have learned, is a story that is “not true.” In other words non-fiction, on a linguistic level, is “not not-true.” This means, logically, when you cancel out the negatives, that the non-fictional information I am about to give you, is — I am very pleased to say — true.
I have heard, O wise and happy Professor, that the end of the story is death, its continuation, life. For Shahrazad this is literally true. While the story continues, she lives. If the story ends, she dies. Full of jealousy and rage, the king has sworn to take a new wife every night, satisfy himself with her and kill her the next morning before his seed has dried in her womb. Thinking to save himself from the cunning of women, the king has unwittingly placed himself in a vulnerable position between orgasm and murder: under the tongue of the most cunning of women, the quintessential story-teller, Shahrazad.