Seek the Original (abbreviated): Aladdin

Sometimes there just isn't much to say about a book/movie comparison. So here's an abbreviated seek the original of:

(story traditional / Most famous film version: 1992 by Disney)

In China, Aladdin is a teenager who shuns work and wanders the streets. Then a man claiming to be his lost uncle makes friends with his family and offers to raise Aladdin to be a merchant. But he takes him out of town, performs a magic spell and opens a strange cave. He gives Aladdin a ring to protect him from evil and sends him down to retrieve a lamp.

Aladdin does so, but after refusing to give the man the lamp first before being pulled out of the cave, the magician seals him in the cave, intending to let him die so he can take the lamp for himself at his leisure. But Aladdin rubs the ring the magician gave him and a genie appears. Aladdin orders the genie to take him home, which it does.

At home, Aladdin's mother cleans the lamp and a genie appears. Aladdin asks for food, and it provides them with food in abundance. They make a comfortable living selling the silver dishes and platters that came with it.

Aladdin falls in love with the princess and uses the lamp's magic to win the Sultan's permission to marry her. He then uses the lamp to have a magnificent palace built next to the Sultan's.

After a couple years of living in happiness, the evil magician tricks the princess into giving up the magic lamp for a new one. The magician wishes the palace away to Africa. The Sultan, fearing for his daughter's safety, is about to have Aladdin killed, but the people love him so much the Sultan fears a rebellion if he does. He gives Aladdin 40 days to restore the palace.

Aladdin searches for days, until one day he accidentally rubs the ring again. The genie of the ring takes Aladdin to where the palace is now. He and the princess poison the magician and order the lamp genie to return the palace to China.

But this didn't go unnoticed. The evil magician's brother seeks to avenge his brother's death. He disguises himself as a holy woman and tricks the princess into letting him into the palace (what is it with women in old stories always letting evil into men's lives??).

He tricks the princess into asking Aladdin to make an impossible command, but instead of ruining Aladdin for it, the genie spares Aladdin and informs him of the assassin in his palace. Aladdin kills the second evil magician, the Sultan dies of natural causes, the princess takes his place on the throne and everyone lives happily ever after.

There is a lot to say about how we know the story of Aladdin today verses how it was originally told, but a quick glance at wikipedia says it all.

My thoughts on it are quite few. The story takes place in China, but it's impossible to imagine it set there because nothing resembles China. People go to mosques, there is a Sultan, khans, people can approach the sultan to make direct requests. None of this is Chinese. Refreshing to know that even people in the middle east had no idea what China was like either. China was far-far-away land to them.

And... Aladdin has two genies. One in the lamp, one in the ring. Why does he need the lamp? Can't the genie of the ring build him a new palace? Why did the first evil magician want the lamp when he had the magic ring? Surely he knew about the ring--he must have rubbed it at some point! The genie of the ring serves no purpose and makes things too complicated. Why introduce a second genie when one is enough? Aladdin had the lamp in the cave; why not just rub that? Then when his palace goes missing, tales of a beautiful palace appearing out of nowhere reach him from Africa and he knows where to travel?

I enjoyed the classic story as a classic story. It is quite shocking to read the original, and how wildly different it is from the various modern adaptations. We tend to skip the China location and set the story were it was meant to be anyway. We also leave out the multitudes of black slaves and the cheating Jew. Getting rid of the ring genie improves the story greatly, keeping things focused and simple. The modern adaptations use everything that works and leave out the things that don't, making the story of Aladdin much better.

Oh, and there's no three-wish limit. There is no mention of "wishes" at all. The genie is a servant.

The story is very simplistic. Commoner finds genie, lifts himself out of poverty, is accepted into the nobility and lives happily ever after. No twist, no lesson, no moral. In a society with little social mobility, I can see how this would have been every common man's dream. Look at the story as an expression of this and it makes sense. It is, after all, why we tell stories.


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