I recently finished rereading The Arabian Nights (also known as 1001 Nights or 1001 Arabian Nights), which contains the famous story of Aladdin and the genie. Pretty much everyone in the US has seen the 1992 movie, staring Robin Williams. What I hadn’t realized is how very, very, very different the book is from the movie.
Movies and TV adaptations often change things from their source material, and it’s usually not a big deal. The exception for me personally being, the 2002 version of the Count of Monte Cristo, starring Jim Caveziel, which is an abomination and should be stricken from the planet.
So let’s break down the book version of Aladdin. According to Wikipedia, it should be pronounced “Ala ad Deen”. Next, the entire story (with the exception of one scene towards the end) is in China. Aladdin is Chinese. The princess (named Badroulbadour, not Jasmine) is Chinese. The Sultan is Chinese. The magician is African. Like, he has no name. He is only referred to as the “African Magician”. Jafar does not exist in the story, though earlier stories in the Arabian Nights do have characters named Giafar. There is no monkey, no magic carpet, and luckily, no Gilbert Gottfried.
Also, the story wasn’t originally part of the Arabian Nights. Most of the stories in the Arabian Nights were compiled from oral traditions by the 1300s. The first mention of Aladdin was in the 1700s. Apparently, a French dude named Antoine Galland met a Syrian who told him the story. Since it had a bunch of Arab sounding names, he just added them to the Arabian Nights translation on which he was working.
Aladdin is idle, and doesn’t want to work. His father, Mustapha is a tailor, and dies. Aladdin still doesn’t want to work, so he goes out each day and does whatever he wants, while his mother works. Then one day, the African Magician shows up claiming to be Mustapha’s long lost brother.
This brings me to the most distracting part of the story. Aladdin is Chinese. So are his parents. Suddenly a brotha from Africa shows up claiming to be Aladdin’s uncle. Aladdin’s mother is at first incredulous, saying that Mustapha had a brother who had died. But since the African Magician was really sad to hear Mustapha had died, she concluded that he must, in fact, be his brother.
How stupid can you be? Black dude just shows up, claiming to be a Chinese guy’s brother, and the only test is to see if he mourns? He explicitly says “It is a full forty years since I left this country, of which, like my brother, I am a native”. Right. Because traveling the world often turns Chinese people into black guys.
Anyway, the African Magician has a bit of money, and wants to make Aladdin into a mature adult, so he takes him clothes shopping and introduces him to respectable people. The next day, the Magician takes him for a walk. They travel for hours, and finally, the African Magician magics a cave open. He gives Aladdin a ring which will protect him, and tells him to go into the cave, walk through the various hallways and rooms, until he finds the lamp. He can take whatever he wants, but he must bring the lamp to the African Magician.
Anyway, sounds pretty straight forward. He finds trees with giant jewels growing like flowers. Aladdin doesn’t realize what they are, so he grabs some because they are pretty. He gets the lamp, and brings it to the African Magician. As he’s trying to leave the cave, he asks for the Magician’s help. In obvious fashion, the Magician suggests that he give him the lamp first. Aladdin says that he’ll give it to him when he gets out. This infuriates the African Magician so much that he magics the cave shut again, trapping Aladdin… with the lamp… in the cave…
What was the Magician thinking? I mean, obviously, he meant to trap Aladdin in the cave the entire time, but as we’ll see later, the genii are very powerful, so he could have easily helped Aladdin out of the cave, gotten the lamp, then genie’d him back into the cave.
Now that Aladdin is trapped in the cave, and the African Magician is heading back to Africa, Aladdin comes to the realization, “There is no doubt that this African Magician was not the brother of Mustapha the tailor, as he had pretended to be, and consequently not the uncle of Aladdin. He was most probably a native of Africa…” Really? Ya think? It was the magic that gave it away, not the skin color. Real genius, Aladdin was.
After a couple of days in the cave without any food or drink, Aladdin decides to pray to Allah, as any good Chinese person does. As he’s doing this, he bumps the ring, and a genie comes out. Using this genie, Aladdin gets instantly transported out of the cave. The RING has a genie. AND the lamp. The ring came from the Magician. So the Magician already had a genie (or more accurately, the book specifies that there are multiple genii in both the lamp and the ring). Why did he need the genii in the lamp?
Aladdin gets home, and his mother has been worried sick. She feels so guilty about letting him go with the African Magician. Aladdin tells his mother the most stupid thing ever “You took him to be my uncle, and I also was equally deceived. Indeed, how could we suspect him of any treachery?” Indeed. How could they have known the tall black guy wasn’t a short Chinese guy’s brother?
The next day, he’s really hungry, but they have no food. So Aladdin decides to sell the lamp. Aladdin’s mother cleans the lamp, and BOOM. Genie. Now if you’re unfamiliar with Islamic mythology, genii are demons. They’re not the happy go lucky impressionists like in the movie. They’re monsters. So this genie terrifies the mom, and Aladdin takes the genie and lamp to his room. There he orders food. After a few days, they run out of food, so Aladdin decides to sell the platters on which the food was presented. He takes it to a Jew who, being a Jew in a book from a Muslim perspective, cheats Aladdin.
Eventually, Aladdin hears that Princess Bulbasaurus or whatever, is coming for her monthly bath. Aladdin, being a good Chinese Muslim, sneaks into the bath house and sees this slutty girl’s face. Aww dayum son. It’s on. Now Aladdin has decided to marry her. This devolves into a ridiculously long section of the book, where Aladdin’s mom goes back and forth to the Sultan to get permission, and the Sultan says sure, but then doesn’t.
Instead, the princess marries the Grand Vizier (Prime Minister)’s son. Aladdin is mad. So on their wedding night, he commands the genii to kidnap the two before they can consummate the marriage. The new husband, whose only crime is that the Sultan liked his dad, is paralyzed and locked up in a cold shed. Meanwhile, Aladdin hops into bed with the princess.
Now one important thing to remember is that the princess and her husband can’t see the genii. So one second they’re getting into bed in a palace. The next second the husband is in a cold shed and can’t move while the princess sees Aladdin talking to himself, and who then climbs into bed with her. She’s never met Aladdin before. He’s a complete stranger. She’s clearly terrified. The next morning, before the two newlyweds wake up, Aladdin has the genii move them back to the palace.
This happens every night until finally, both the princess and the Vizier’s son beg the marriage be annulled. Shortly after, Aladdin’s mother returns to the Sultan to remind him that the princess has been promised to her son. In order to be a dick, the Sultan then commands that Aladdin come up with all sorts of nonsense, like 40 black slaves led by 40 pretty white slaves and stuff, which, thanks to the genii, isn’t a problem.
So Aladdin marries the princess and the genii builds a palace right next to the Sultan’s palace. Aladdin’s palace looks like if Trump’s interior decorator and Liberace had a love child that was raised by Elton John. What I’m saying is that it was gaudy.
Years have gone by since Aladdin had seen the African Magician. The Magician one day decides to do magician things and learns that Aladdin is still alive and is living the pimp life. So it’s back to China for the Magician. He gets there from Africa in just a few paragraphs because book time. He learns Aladdin’s schedule, and then, when Aladdin is out of town for a few days, tricks the princess into trading the magic “old dirty” lamp for a brand new lamp. Now that the Magician has the magic lamp, he transports the palace and the princess to Africa. Not sure why he couldn’t just take the lamp and be done with it, but DRAMA! PLOT! CONFLICT!
The next morning, the Sultan looks out his window and sees Aladdin’s palace is missing. Clearly this is the result of magic. So… the Sultan accuses Aladdin of kidnapping the princess, and commands his soldiers to arrest Aladdin. Aladdin begs the Sultan to give him time to figure out what had happened, which is granted. He decides to kill himself “but being a good [Chinese] Mussulman (Muslim), and faithful to his religion, he… repeat[s] his prayers.” In doing so BOOM magic ring genie.
He gets the magic ring genie to take him to the princess. Aladdin and the princess conspire together to get back home. To China. Where they live. Because they are Chinese. The princess pretends to seduce the African Magician, and poisons him. They get the lamp back, and the genii move the palace, Aladdin, and the princess back. To China. The heavily Islamic country of China.
Blah blah, the Sultan is happy, and apologizes to Aladdin for accusing him. You’d think that the story would end there, but nope. Eventually, the African Magician’s brother, who I assume is Hispanic, finds out that his brother is dead and decides to get revenge. He gets to China and finds an old lady who everyone likes because she can heal people. He follows her, breaks into her home, and forces the woman to paint the brother to look like her. Then he kills her.
So now the cross dressing brother finds his way into the princess’ service, because it’s always good to have a doctor near by. The “old lady” convinces the princess that the one thing the palace needs is a roc’s egg. A roc is a giant bird from mythology. The princess tells Aladdin, and Aladdin tells the genii, who freak the fuck out at him. It turns out that roc’s are the masters of the genii. Who knew? Anyway, they advise Aladdin that they won’t kill him because it was the Magician’s brother who had convinced him to do it.
Aladdin gives the “old lady” a chance to kill him, but instead Aladdin kills the Magician’s brother. Soon the Sultan dies and Aladdin and Princess Blahblahblacksheep become the Sultan and Sultaness.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the real story of Aladdin.