Clever Pet Tricks

by Henry Farrell on September 6, 2004

Just came across a reference in a discussion board to one of my favourite bits from one of my favourite books – Robert Irwin’s “Arabian Nights Companion”: – and thought it was worth quoting.[1]

bq. Other [thieves] used to make use of a tortoise with a lighted candle on its back. They sent this creature ahead of them into the house they proposed to burgle. If the house was currently occupied, then the owner would surely exclaim in surprise on seeing the tortoise (‘Oh look! There’s a tortoise with a candle on its back. I wonder what it’s doing in my house’) and the thieves would be warned off. If, however, the house was unoccupied, then the candle would help to guide the thieves as they went about their work.

fn1. I blogged last year about Irwin’s related, and wonderfully tricky novel, “The Arabian Nightmare”: .



Jonathan Edelstein 09.06.04 at 6:38 pm

Although once such a unique MO is used a few times, a smart householder would recognize the tortoise’s purpose, say nothing and send a family member out the back door to summon the guards.


phil 09.06.04 at 6:51 pm

And if the tortoise stopped to eat some lettuce in the house garden, then the thieves would know tasty lettuce could be found at hand.


lightning 09.07.04 at 1:57 am

Definately for thieves who are *not* in a hurry. I guess the pace of life really was slower then.


Nabakov 09.07.04 at 3:55 am

But if the house was guarded by attack tortoises, the thieves would be foiled…eventually.


nick 09.07.04 at 10:56 am

They sent this creature ahead of them into the house they proposed to burgle.

One presumes that these thieves had mastered the art of making long-lasting candles. In which case they would probably have been better off selling them legit. Or opening a ‘tortoise lantern’ rental operation.

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