The traditional Djinn bears little resemblence to the modern perception of the Genie.
|The word Genie was first used when France published a translation of The Book of 1001 Nights. The Arabic Djinn was translated as "génie", the French word meaning a supernatural spirit. This word was picked up by the English translators, and so the word "Genie" entered our vocabulary. The phrase “Lost in Translation” becomes very appropriate here when one learns the original meaning of the word “Djinn”.
Please note: the subject matter of this newsletter is very large, and very detailed. I am only touching of the very basics of these fascinating and interesting creatures.
Islamic mythology tells us Djinn are fiery spirits, originating in pre-Islam Middle Eastern folklore. The Djinn lived on earth long before man, and were created from smokeless fire; unlike man who is made from earth. Belief in Djinn was so strong the creatures were incorporated into the Islamic faith. Although they are destructive creatures, Djinn can sometimes be useful to human beings. Djinn do not like daylight, and are believed to cause insanity and disease. Contrary to many evil beings, Djinn have free will, and may even be redeemed through the Faith. Many Djinn harbour malicious feelings towards humans, believing themselves to be far superior than man.
Djinn, like their human counterparts, have organised societies and lifestyles, and interact within these the same way as human societies. They form relationships, raise families, eat food and die. Their longevity exceeds man's, and like humans they have the ability to be good or bad. Although they can see humans we are unable to see them, unless by accident or if the Djinn chooses to be seen. The Qur’an states Muhammad was a prophet to both “humanity and the Djinn”,
There are four types of Djinn:
Ghul – a mischievous shape-shifter associated with graveyards and cemeteries, Ghuls have a particular affinity to the hyena, their favourite metamorphosis. A Ghul consumes the dead, robs graves and preys on children. It also lures travellers into the desert wastelands to kill and devour them. The English word “ghoul” owes its origins to this name.
Sila – these Djinns can take on any shape they choose, and are very difficult to distinguish from human beings. They’re extremely intelligent.
Ifrit – an arrogant spirit, Ifrits resent mankind’s ability to control them through magic, because they were around long before man. The resentment makes them difficult to work with, and their bad attitude means they try very hard to undermine any orders received from their masters. An Ifrit may reveal him/herself as an individual of incredible beauty and superhuman strength.
Marid – the most powerful Djinns, with the arrogance and pride so typical of these creatures. Also known as “blue djinn” because their skin is either blue or green, a Marid’s hair always looks wet and wavy – as though swimming. This type of Djinn will grant a human’s wish, but at a price – perhaps a battle, imprisonment or various rituals designed to appease the Marid. A bit of flattery goes a long way!
The main Djinn is Iblis. Created by Allah, Iblis was forbidden from Allah’s presence when he refused to honour the creation of the first man, Adam – confirmation of Djinn’s inferiority complex at the supposed usurpation of their position as Allah’s first and best creation. After encouraging Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit Allah cast him out, condemning him to live in Hell – Jarhannam – for eternity. Exhibiting typical Djinn behaviour Iblis told Allah he wanted mankind to fail, and to spend eternity with him in Jarhannam. To test the faith of both Man and the Djinn, Allah allowed Iblis to roam freely on Earth, doing his best to make people commit sins. While it may seem that Iblis the Djinn is to Islam what Satan is to Christianity, the Qur’an says Iblis is not Allah’s enemy. All deeds – both good and bad – come from Allah, who is the only One who can save humanity from both the evils of His universe and that of His creations. Iblis was created by Allah, who is supreme over all His creations. Iblis’ enemy is Man, which is why he tries to prevent human beings from obeying Allah. The similarity between the Islamic and Christian faiths is that universal evil in every man’s personal life is usually experienced because of one being – Satan or Iblis.
It’s generally accepted that the Western ideal of the Genie is based on the tale of Aladdin in “The Book of 1001 Nights”, which features a Genie living in an oil lamp. He would be freed when someone polished the lamp, and in return would grant his liberator three wishes. This story has taken several variations; one of the most common is the results of carelessly worded wishes. This is probably best illustrated by WW Jacobs’ classic “The Monkey’s Paw”, wherein the owner of the paw will be granted three wishes… at a price.
Caution – spoiler ahead!!! Mr White was cautioned about the three wishes when he receives the cursed paw, but he makes what he feels is an innocent request when he asks for a small sum of money. His wish is granted, and he receives the exact sum of money – as an insurance payment when his son dies in an accident at work. Naturally Mr and Mrs White’s grief is dreadful, and a second wish to bring their son back appears to have been answered when, some time after making the wish, a knocking is heard at the door. As his wife rushes down to open the door Mr White realises the delay must mean his son had to travel from the cemetery back home, and is probably in the same condition as he was at the morgue. Fearing the terrible sight of his son, who was only identifiable by his clothes, Mr White makes a final wish. The reader never learns the exact details of the wish, but when we read of his wife’s cry of disappointment and the empty street outside their house our imaginations can complete the story. End of spoiler.
Here are some examples of Djinn in literature:
Christopher Moore’ “Practical Demonkeeping” describes the origins of Djinn, the creation of man and God’s relationship with both parties.
Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So Stories” contains a tale about “the Djinn in Charge of All Deserts”, who gives a lazy camel his hump.
Tim Power’s “Declare” places Djinn in a modern cold war, giving them a home on Mount Ararat which is discovered by a British secret serviceman.
C S Lewis’ classic “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” features Mr Beaver identifying Jadis, the White Witch, as having giantess and Djinn origins.
P B Kerr’s “Children of the Lamp” deals with the adventures of twins Phillipa and John Gault, who have to use their powers to defeat evil Djinn forces.
Diana Wynne Jones’ “Castle in the Air” tells of carpet salesman’s Abdullah’s dealings with a magic carpet, his love for the beautiful Princess Flower-in-the-Night and various Djinn who interfere in his life.
In conclusion it seems the Genie/Djinn a great character for a fantasy writer, and the surrounding mythology and connotations surrounding this being means it can be placed in many situations. “The Monkey’s Paw” story warns us to be careful what we wish for, and to consider the price and consequences of those wishes. While the Djinn will grant those wishes the greed or ignorance of its master may cause pain, suffering or even death to innocent people or those close to the wisher.