Before writing The Dream of a Thousand Nights and its precursor, “The Prince and the Jinn,” my only experience with Jinn (also “Djinn” or “Genies”) was from reading “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp” or watching reruns of “I Dream of Jeannie.” Okay, so mostly fantasizing about Larry Hagman! (Anyone still remember “I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts?”) So let me tell you what I’ve learned about the Jinn and their origins and about how I created the Jinn of “Dream.”
The Jinn in the short story that inspired “Dream,” “The Prince and the Jinn,” which I co-authored with my friend and fellow author, Venona Keyes, was a pretty traditional one (well, except that he has a happily-ever-after at the prince’s side!). Three wishes, a brass lamp — you know, the Aladdin myth. But the history of the Jinn in Arab folklore and Islamic teachings is quite different from the Disney version.
In ancient middle-eastern teachings, Jinn are supernatural beings who occupy a world parallel to the one inhabited by men. In the Islamic Qu’ran (the sacred text), the only two of Allah’s (God’s) creations that have free will are humans and Jinn. There isn’t much in the Qu’ran about the Jinn, although the text explains that the Jinn are made of smokeless flame or “scorching fire.” Jinn, like human beings, can be good, evil or somewhere in between.
The word “Jinn” comes from the Arabic root that means “to hide” or “to be hidden.” The English word, “genie,” is derived from the Latin word, “genius,” which was a guardian spirit thought to protect every human from birth. The French used the term “genie” as a translation of the Arabic “jinni” because it sounded similar. The English adopted the French word and, viola: “genie.”
There are many interpretations of the physical attributes of the Jinn. Many portray the Jinn as having two different sexes, like humans. The Jinn are often shown dressed wearing vests and sashes, with their long hair tied high up on their heads. According to various stories, Jinn could exist independently or be bound to any particular object (hence the “genie in a bottle” or “genie in a lamp” from folklore).
Archaeologists who study ancient Middle Eastern cultures often refer to any spirit which is less than an angel as a “jinni.” Some traditions divided Jinn into three types: flying Jinn, Jinn who look like snakes and dogs, and those who wander ceaselessly. The Jinn live in a civilization that resembles the human world, with kings, laws, weddings and other rituals. Ancient scholars believed the Jinn to be treacherous and dishonest creatures. Some people believed the Jinn could magically whisper into human souls and convince humans to submit to their evil desires.
The Jinn in The Dream of a Thousand Nights resemble the Jinn of ancient tradition in many ways. They appear human, tend to have long hair (and in the case of Tamir, wear their long hair tied in a high ponytail), and can be good, evil, or somewhere in between. They are often reviled by humans for being fickle and untrustworthy. The Jinn in “Dream” are created to serve and pleasure humans – that is the entire reason for their existence. I loved the idea that Jinn are made of fire, which led me to think of them as overtly sensual and sexual creatures who are nearly irresistible to humans. I also gave the Jinn a hierarchical society, with a Jinn regent to whom all the Jinn answer, just as the humans in the story answer to the King of Tazier. And, most importantly, the Jinn are capable of love, even though they believe that to love a human is among the greatest of sins. “Dream” is a story about that love, and one Jinn’s punishment for loving a human more than himself.