By Sam Billington, Berkshire Center student
“PHENOMENAL! COSMIC! POWER!…itty-bitty living space.” – The Genie, “Aladdin”
Anyone who’s watched Aladdin or read 1001 Arabian Nights probably knows what a genie is. You may have seen the old sitcom I Dream of Genie, too. They’re bound to a lamp or person and forced to grant wishes with magical power. But who dreams up this stuff? That’s the focus of this article – the focus of this series of articles to be written.
If Wikipedia is to be believed (which isn’t always the case), the word genie comes from the Latin word genius, which means a sort of tutelary or guardian spirit thought to be assigned to each person at their birth. So, in a way, our modern geniuses (probably genii if you want to get technical and be smart) could be seen as miracle-workers in their own ways, and what is a granted wish but a miraculous happenstance?
However, genie is not the right word – again, Wikipedia gives us the origin. French translators of 1001 must not have been able to properly pronounce the true word, which is jinni or djinni, and which is an Arabic word (quel surprise). This is the singular, masculine form – djinn is plural, and djinniyah is feminine. So the I Dream of Genie genie is actually a genie, yah? (Pardon the horrific pun. No, put the knives away. Please.)
Okay, so we explored the etymology. What is a djinni anyways? Again, Wikipedia says that the term was used by ancient Middle-Eastern cultures for any spirit that was lower than an angel. So, demons, fae (or fey, or just fairies if you prefer), and elementals (spirits composed of a primal element, like fire and earth) were all considered djinn. They are powerful beings of magic, and supposedly King Solomon dealt with them routinely. The strongest type of djinn, the ifrit (or efreet), have a culture closely related to Arabic culture, and may be as good or evil, as heretical or doctrinal, as any human (though they were often portrayed as evil beings most commonly).
There are more djinni (genies) of fame located even in modern pop culture than just in Disney movies. Ifrit is not only the strongest type of djinni in legend, and associated with fire there, but has that connotation in the Final Fantasy games, and even in the Dungeons and Dragons game (though they are called by their other spelling, efreeti, in the 4th Edition). Satan is a djinn in Islam, and is called Iblis, the name of the fiery monster that tries to consume the world in the Sonic the Hedgehog game of 2006. Off-topic, this brings up the argument that Sonic may very well have fought the Devil and won, and considering common opinion, it may very well be called the Bible Tales of the modern era. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, look up the name on Youtube and watch the Angry Video Game Nerd’s review of this God-awful title. (Pun intended.)
One thing to be understood is that djinn do not grant wishes generally. You have to have some powerful magic to bind them to your will – or even best them in combat. Others are vain enough that you have to flatter them nigh endlessly before they’ll do something for you. So next time you find an old oil lamp in the shape of a “genie” lamp, don’t get your hopes up – unless you see a seal somewhere on it. That seal may belong to King Solomon – otherwise, it’s probably only good for an antique store.