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Literature / Aladdin

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Yes, that's a woman (Aladdin's mother). Yes, she's Chinese. Read on and be educated.

"Aladdin" is an Arabian folk tale originally composed by Syrian Maronite writer Hanna Diyab sometime in the early 18th century. Contrary to popular belief, it is actually not one of the original stories found in A Thousand and One Nights, as it first appeared in print in the 1704 French translation by Antoine Galland, who had Diyab as an uncredited oral source for some tales including this and "Ali Baba", and they're not traceable from Arabic sources earlier than that. More on this in the Other Wiki.

Like most folktales, "Aladdin" has undergone some major revisions, but the original story is as follows: Aladdin is a poor young man living in China (theoretically In Name Only, as while the setting is completely Islamic, it should be noted the western edge of China or Xinjiang is Islamic and highly influenced by the Middle East with the Uyghur script itself using Arabic). He has no job and lives off the little money his widowed mother can bring in; his father died from grief at such an irresponsible son. One day, an evil Maghreb sorcerer approaches him, claiming to be his father's brother but in fact seeking to use him for his own benefit. He gives Aladdin a ring and sends him into a magic cave to retrieve an old oil lamp, but when Aladdin struggles on the last step, the magician's impatience gets the better of him and he seals the cave with Aladdin and his lamp inside. Fortunately, he's still wearing his Magic Ring which, when rubbed, releases a Jinn who brings him out. When he gets home, Aladdin's mother starts cleaning the lamp, releasing a far more powerful Jinn who grants Aladdin his every wish.

Over time, with the use of the lamp, Aladdin becomes vastly wealthy. He even gains the Sultan's favorite daughter for his wife. However, the sorcerer realizes that Aladdin must have escaped with the lamp, so he steals it with a ruse, then takes Aladdin's palace, along with his wife and all his possessions, to his home in Maghreb.

Aladdin despairs, but all is not lost, because he still has that magic ring. While the Ring Jinn can't simply undo the Lamp Jinn's magic, he can transport Aladdin to his palace, where he frees his wife, beats the bad guy, and gets his lamp back.

Note that, thanks to its adaptations to Pantomime and assorted very successful movies, this story has been severely prone to Audience-Coloring Adaptation verging on Adaptation Displacement. For example, the evil vizier Jafar (however spelled) is basically a movie addition (his name comes from a whole different place), and the idea that Aladdin's mother is called "Widow Twankey" is a pantomime joke (based on the name of a cheap brand of China tea).

A version of the tale, as translated and published by Sir Richard Burton in his famous 19th Century edition of the 1001 Nights, may be found here.

Contains examples of:

  • All Wishes Granted: Zigzagged in the original Aladdin story, there are very few limitations to the genies' wishes: The genie of the ring can't cancel wishes granted by the genie of the lamp, and when Aladdin is tricked into asking for the egg of a Roc Bird, the genie makes it very clear that not only will it not happen, the only reason Aladdin is still alive after asking is because the genie knows Aladdin was tricked into it.
  • Ambiguous Situation: The setting might not be China as we understand it. In early Arabic usage, "China" was used in an abstract sense to designate an exotic, faraway land, meaning the setting could be somewhere else entirely. Cool History Bros has even suggested it is actually the Turpan Khanate and with the Islamic Golden Age setting, the Kara-Khanid Khanate, itself having spent its remaining decades as a vassal of the Qara Khitai, and Mongol Empire are other candidates.
  • Arbitrarily Large Bank Account: Just selling the dishes from a single genie-provided meal provides enough money for Aladdin and his mother to live for several months, even when being fleeced blind by the buyer. After Aladdin has his palace built, he leaves a single window unfinished (the others all have gems everywhere) so the sultan can finish it using his own treasury. The sultan sends his artisans and treasurer, who tell him there's not enough gold and jewels in their vaults to finish it. Aladdin then proves his wealth by completing it overnight (with the Genie).
  • Arranged Marriage: As would be common for royalty in the Islamic world and everywhere else at the time. The Sultan agrees to marry off his daughter to Aladdin as soon as he sees how much money Aladdin has... and his daughter is also happy with the prospect of marriage to such a rich man.
  • Avenging the Villain: In the original version, the evil magician has a brother who is even more evil that comes to avenge him, but is vanquished by Aladdin with the lamp Djinni's help. This final episode is sometimes omitted from adaptations.
  • Berserk Button: The genies grant Aladdin's every last wish, but when he asks for a roc's egg (after the princess asks him, after the sorcerer tells her about it) the genie of the lamp blows up at him, only sparing him because it wasn't his idea.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: Sort of. Aladdin spends many years using the genie of the lamp to grant his wishes. After the evil sorcerer steals the lamp, Aladdin calls on the genie of the ring, which he had only used once to escape the cave.
  • Big Bad: The Sorcerer who spends the book trying to steal the lamp.
  • Buried Alive: The evil sorcerer does this to Aladdin, sealing up the magic cave and leaving Aladdin trapped down below when Aladdin won't hand over the lamp.
  • Canon Immigrant: "Aladdin" wasn't originally a part of The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (a.k.a. the Arabian Nights). Galland included it after hearing the story from a Syrian named Hanna Diyab.
  • Cassandra Truth: The vizier is the only one who figures out that Aladdin's riches and the incredible things he can do — like build an enormous palace in a single night — must be the result of shady magic. The sultan writes him off as being jealous because the vizier's son was thrown over for Aladdin.
  • Chastity Dagger: When Aladdin kidnaps the princess, he puts a big sword between them in bed to ensure he won't touch her.
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: In addition to the genie of the lamp, Aladdin holds a magic ring containing a lesser genie. The second genie gets him out of the cave in which he was Buried Alive and also helps him recover his lamp, palace, and wife near the end of the story when an evil sorcerer has stolen them.
  • Child Marriage Veto: The vizier's son, who was promised the Sultan's daughter, calls the marriage off after his first two nights with his bride are nightmares (thanks to Aladdin's intervention).
  • Daddy's Girl: The princess is the Sultan's favorite daughter — quite possibly his only daughter — and they are very attached to each other.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: The sorcerer's brother kills and impersonates the wise old woman Fatimah.
  • Disappeared Dad: Aladdin's father, a tailor, died of disappointment after Aladdin preferred being a juvenile delinquent to following him into the tailoring business. The sorcerer from Maghreb claims to be his father's estranged brother, but it's just a ruse to gain Aladdin's confidence.
  • Disguised in Drag: The evil sorcerer's more evil brother murders an old holy woman and disguises himself as her in order to worm his way into Aladdin's home. The genie of the lamp isn't fooled.
  • Don't Touch It, You Idiot!: Aladdin is warned to touch nothing in the cave but the lamp — after that he can take whatever else he wants. Atypically, he has no problem following this command; his troubles come when he's trying to leave the cave and has difficulty getting up the stairs because of all the pretty "rocks" he's stuffed in his pockets.
  • Driven to Suicide: After the evil sorcerer takes his lamp, his palace, and his bride, Aladdin says his prayers and prepares to drown himself. As he does, he rubs the magic ring on his finger, releasing the genie inside.
  • Ethnic Magician: The evil sorcerer is Moroccan, while the main characters are Chinese. Or at least Uyghurs or some other west Chinese Muslim ethnic group since ethnic Han Chinese aren't really a Muslim people.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Aladdin turns to petty crime, but his first instinct is always to make sure his mother is well cared for. Not that this stops him using her in his schemes.
  • Evil Chancellor: Though not the main villain (as he is in Disney's Aladdin), the Grand Vizier is still something of a Jerkass Obstructive Bureaucrat who wants to get rid of Aladdin so that his own son can marry the princess. (Of course, Jerkass Has a Point; see the entry for Cassandra Truth above.)
  • Evil Sorcerer: Two of them, the first one and his more powerful brother.
  • Genie in a Bottle: Both the genie of the lamp and the genie of the ring are bound to serve whomever possesses their containers. However, unlike many later incarnations of this trope in which whoever finds the genie only gets three wishes, in this story there is no limit to how many times Aladdin can call on either of his genies.
  • Go Seduce My Archnemesis: At Aladdin's urging, the princess pretends to be in love with the Evil Sorcerer who has taken her captive. She gets him drunk enough to lower his suspicions and then poisons him.
  • Greedy Jew: When he asks the slave of the Lamp for food, they receive it on gold platters, which Aladdin sells to a Jewish merchant who cheats him. He and his mother are so poor that even a fraction of their value is a lot of money to them, but eventually he meets an honest man who buys them at a fair price.
  • Guile Hero: Aladdin... eventually. He escapes his first misadventure by instinctively knowing his 'uncle' can't be trusted, and slowly develops the cunning to read the situation and act accordingly.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • Aladdin stupidly leaves the magic lamp out where anybody can get at it.
    • Then he forgets that he still has the magic ring, and is on the verge of drowning himself in the river when he accidentally rubs it and brings forth the other genie again.
  • Imagination-Based Superpower: The lamp and ring. In fact, this is the inspiration behind the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott.
  • Insane Proprietor: When Aladdin is out, the sorcerer disguises himself as an old woman exchanging old lamps for new ones. This creates a commotion, attracting the princess' attention. Then one of her handmaidens mentions they have an old beat-up lamp in their palace, and exchanges the genie's lamp for a regular lamp.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Aladdin himself, though part of it may be Values Dissonance — a lot of the heroes of the 1001 Nights won the day with callous or ruthless deeds. Most notably: in order to get the princess away from her betrothed Aladdin sends his djinni to kidnap and torment them every night, until they come to the conclusion that the marriage is cursed and split up — at which point he swoops in and romances her.
  • Love at First Sight: When the princess goes to the baths, the entire city is placed under lockdown, with anyone trying to look out punished by death. Aladdin, naturally, gets a good look at the princess and falls in love.
  • Make a Wish: The entire premise.
  • The Makeover: Aladdin goes from poor man to wealthy prince with the help of a Genie in a Bottle. Some versions even have it that Aladdin wishes himself to be turned handsome, which is part of the reason the Sultan turns him out.
  • Meaningful Name: Aladdin is the Anglicized form of Ala Al-Din which means "excellence of religion" or "light of Allah".
  • Modest Royalty: How Aladdin's mother catches the sultan's attention: though dressed like a pauper, she shows up every day at the audience until he finally wonders why she's there. Once called forth, she presents him with a big basket of enormous jewels, asking for her son to marry the princess.
  • Only the Chosen May Wield: The evil sorcerer discovers through his necromancy that Aladdin is the only one that can lift the door and gain entrance to the magic cave. This is why he goes to all the trouble of pretending to be Aladdin's Long-Lost Relative. The story does not explain exactly what is special about Aladdin or why he is the only one who can gain entrance to the cave.
  • Pretending to Be One's Own Relative: The Moorish sorcerer passes himself off as Aladdin's uncle so that he could trick him into entering the trap-filled cave that holds the lamp.
  • Race Lift: The origins of the story are usually ignored and the characters made Arab to fit in with the general "Arabian Nights" theme.
  • Rags to Royalty: Aladdin goes from a poor boy to the Sultan's son-in-law.
  • Ring of Power: Which has a Djinni of its own, although less powerful than the lamp's one.
  • Sealed Badass in a Can: The Genie.
  • Slipping a Mickey: This is how Aladdin eventually retrieves the magic lamp from the evil sorcerer.
  • Spear Counterpart: To "Cinderella", arguably.
  • Standard Hero Reward: Sort of — Aladdin's wishes for wealth and a neat palace make him a viable husband for the princess, but he's already married to her by the time he actually does anything heroic.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Aladdin eventually becomes a strong warrior and wins a major battle (though it's treated as an Offscreen Moment of Awesome).
  • The Trap Parents: The first evil sorcerer poses as Aladdin's uncle and promises to support him in order to gain his mother's trust, but it's just a ruse to get the boy in his power long enough for him to open the cave.
  • Treasure Is Bigger in Fiction: Aladdin fills his pockets with the jewels in the lamp's cave. They're so large that they weigh him down as he's trying to escape. Later, when he has access to the lamp genie, he is able to construct a palace where all the windows are made of jewels instead of glass. Justified since this is explicitly magical wealth; when the sultan is allowed a chance to finish the last window with his own resources, his jewelers tell him it's not possible.
  • Uptown Girl: Firmly in the Zany Scheme category, with Aladdin going to enormous lengths to get the rich princess.
  • Villain Ball: When Aladdin doesn't immediately hand the lamp over at the exit to the magic cave (he needed help getting up the last step), the sorcerer throws a tantrum and seals up the cave with Aladdin and the lamp still inside. If that wasn't enough, the sorcerer also loses the magic ring he lent to Aladdin, which has a lesser genie in it, resulting in Aladdin escaping the cave with two powerful servants and the sorcerer getting nothing.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: When Aladdin is in the magic cave, he passes a forest where enormous jewels grow on trees. He stuffs his clothing with the pretty rocks with no idea of their true value.

Alternative Title(s): Aladdin Or The Wonderful Lamp