The Marvelous and Complicated Journey of Aladdin from Arabic Coffeehouses to NFTs

Excavating the Shadowy History of Aladdin Across the Centuries: Countries, Languages, Media & Technologies

Figure 1: Will Smith as the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin (2019) (source: Screenrant)
Figure 2: The Mena Massoud NFT that dropped recently (source: Thetadrop)

Aladdin, Ali Baba and the Pizza Effect

Figure 3: The goal of this article is to provide a high level diagram to show the history of our Aladdin tale (src: author)

The Marvellous Thieves of Europe

Figure 4: Filling in Some of the Missing Pieces of Aladdin’s History (src: author)

Hana Dayib and the history of Aleppo Coffeehouses

Figure 5: Where Did Hana Dayib get the tale of Aladdin from? (src: author)

The Sun Never Sets on The English Versions

Figure 6: My editions of Marvelous Thieves, and a recent printing of Burton’s translation of Arabian Nights (src: author)
Figure 7: Aladdin Travels Across the Languages (src: author)

Filling in Details: Wishes, Flying Carpets, Princes and Princesses

  • The Three Wishes of the Jinni. Jinn are not new in Islamic storytelling. In fact, all the authentic manuscripts of Alif Laila had stories like The Fisherman and the Jinni, which might have been one of the first tales of a Jinn to be published in the west. In that story, the Jinni, who had been imprisoned by Solomon for four hundreds years, originally decided to give whoever freed him great riches, but no one freed him and 100 years had passed. Then for the next 100 years, he had vowed to give whoever freed him “the hoards of the earth”, then for the next 100 years, the Jinni would give him three wishes. Finally, the Jinni decided it would let whosoever freed him chose the method of their death.
  • In the original Aladdin, the Jinni of the lamp (a type of jinn known as a Jann, known as the Slave of the Lamp, and the Jinni of the magic ring,a Marid similar to an an Ifrit, known as either the Familiar or the Slave of the Ring) simply proclaimed (at least in Burton’s translation which came from Galland) “to hear is to obey” and they would grant whatever wish the bearer had. There was no mention of the three wishes. The first example of three wishes (in the West anyways) was in another French fairy tale, The 3 Ridiculous Wishes by Charles Perrault in 1698, several years before Galland’s version. Perhaps some combination of these two tales (The 3 Ridiculous Wishes, the Fisherman and the Jinni) got conflated in later retellings of the tale of Aladdin, and now we all think of the Jinni as giving out 3 (and only 3) wishes to whoever rubs the wonderful lamp.
  • Princess Jasmine. The original Aladdin tale did have a princess who was the daughter of the Sultan. Her name was the Lady Badr al-Budur, and she was originally engaged to the son of the Wizier before Aladdin uses his magic to disrupt their marriage by sweeping them up on their wedding night before they could consummate the marriage, resulting in her availability to marry Aladdin. Understandably, in the Disney versions, the salacious details of her original wedding night were excised for the kids version, and her name was changed to a name that could work in the west or the East.
  • The orphan Aladdin. In the original story, Aladdin was not an orphan, though he was a lazy street urchin who stole things. His mother was still alive, and his father, who had been a tailor, had died years earlier. Throughout the story, Aladdin becomes more responsible and steps into
  • Agrabah and the Flying Carpet. The original Disney animated movie was supposed to have taken place in Baghdad, but with the first Gulf War, Disney decided to set it somewhere else. Clements has told the story publicly of simply scrambling the letters of Baghdad to come up with Agrabah. Also, they said they were hugely inspired by the Thief of Bagdad, an iconic 1940 movie whose best known scene features a flying carpet. While flying carpets are no doubt more common in Arabic lore , it’s another one of those elements, like the three wishes, that were never part of the original Aladdin story.
  • Prince Ali. While the original tale didn’t have Aladdin masquerading as Prince Ali Ababwa (one of my favorite parts of both movies!), he did have the Jinni make him into a prince-like figure with a new palace that outshone the Sultan’s palace. The Sultan, like the one in the movie, was a man who was impressed with Wealth, and accepted Aladdin as his son in law. We have already talked about how Hana Dayib might have been inspired by Versailles to create the magnificent palace in the story, complete with salves and an entourage, which no doubt inspired Prince Ali in the Disney movies.
  • Jafar the Magician. Everyone’s favorite character to hate, Jafar, is actually based on two characters in the original story. There is the Wizier who influences the sultan, with the goal of his son (not himself) marrying the princess, and then there is main antognist, a Moroccan magician (“Maghrebi”) who leads Aladdin to the lamp. It’s not at all clear if the Wizier’s name was Jafar in the original story, however, elsewhere in the Arabian Nights, the first minister to the caliph Harun al Rashid, who features in many other stories in the collection, is named Jafar. This seems to be a storytelling decision to create a composite character, and it worked well enough in the movies.

Conclusion — Tracing the Elusive History of Aladdin and the Jinni

Figure 8: A much more complete picture of the inspiration and history of Aladdin! (src: author)

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From the times that the pyramids were raised to the end of the cold war in this publication you will find it all. This is a publication that has been created to tell the stories of forgotten battles and fortunes that have crafted the world that we live in today.

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Riz Virk

The Simulation Hypothesis, Play Labs @ MIT, Startups/VC, Sci Fi, Bitcoin, Consciousness, Space, Video Games: visit www.zenentrepreneur.com