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Appointment in Samarra

Updated: Aug 14, 2022

The story of the 'Appointment in Samarra' appears in various versions in the Talmud and in narrative form in the 1933 play, Sheppey, by W. Somerset Maugham. In Of All Faiths & None the story is referred to but not told. In earlier drafts of the novel the story was told by Adrian Drewe to Peter Hall at Ypres, after hearing Lutyens tell the story at an earlier dinner. It was, however, decided to omit the story as it gave too much away as to the conclusion of the novel.

The story as drafted in earlier versions of the novel was:

"A servant went to the marketplace in Baghdad on his master’s business and while he was there the servant bumped into a woman in black robes who turned, looked at him, and stretched out her hand. The servant instantly realised that this woman was Death and fearing the gesture fled back to his master’s house and begged the master to lend him a horse so he could ride away and thus avoid his fate. ‘Where will you go?’ asked the master. ‘To Samarra,’ said the servant ‘for there Death will not find me.’ So the servant climbed on the master’s fastest horse and fled the city. Later that day the master became inquisitive and went down to the marketplace to confront Death and finding her there he said to her: ‘Why did you frighten my servant by making a gesture at him?’ Death looked at the master and replied: ‘I did not mean to frighten your servant; I was just surprised to see him here because I have an appointment in Samarra with him tonight.”

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