A late addition to the Thousand and One Nights, this classic tale of magic lamps and jinni is revisited in a fresh translation.
“Majesty, in the capital of one of China’s vast and wealthy kingdoms, whose name escapes me at present, there lived a tailor named Mustafa, who had no other distinction but his craft….” So begins one of the most enduring stories in the fairy-tale canon, supposedly conjured up by Shahrazad, whose daily tales delayed her husband, the sultan, from executing her. Aladdin is Mustafa’s rebellious son who shows no desire to learn his father’s trade and, after the tailor dies, lives in poverty with his mother until a magician arrives claiming to be his uncle. Now Aladdin is swept up into a world of wealth and promises, all part of the magician’s plan to get his hands on a magic lamp offering unimaginable power. Protected by a magic ring, Aladdin is sent underground to find the lamp but then refuses to hand it over and is sealed beneath the earth by the enraged magician. Freed by the jinni of the ring, Aladdin returns home to find that an even more powerful and fearsome jinni—of the lamp—is now his to command. Absent from the original Thousand and One Nights, “Aladdin” was added, along with “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” and others, in a French translation dating from the 18th century. Yet its themes of wish fulfillment and transformation have granted it infinite life, as fairy story, pantomime, film, and literary touchstone. Aladdin’s adventures continue as he tries to win the sultan’s daughter as his bride, temporarily loses the lamp (“New lamps for old”), and faces down evil magicians. But all’s well that ends well, and Shahrazad lives to narrate another day.
If there are only seven basic stories in the world of literature, this is most probably one of them.