Genies are not quite as easy to explain as mermaids. Mermaids are pretty and girly and I spent a lot of time drawing mermaid fashion catalogs. Genies, on the other hand, grabbed me right away for one reason: they were trapped.
I have always liked people that are trapped. I guess as a fiction writer, it makes sense. Protagonists are supposed to want things, and a character who is trapped has a very obvious thing to want: freedom. Not only that, but almost everyone person feels trapped at some point in their lives, in school or work or a bad relationship or in our own tortured minds or whatever, so almost everyone can identify with this feeling. So when I saw Aladdin, my genies were not big and blue and voiced by Robin Williams, they looked like any other human except they were immortal and bound to their lamps. My protagonist at the time was a free genie named Genie Lampe (okay, I was 10, sometimes my creativity wasn't really swinging yet) who had a girlfriend named Jeanette (again, with the creativity, yes, I know) who was NOT free, so he was always trying to free her and they could only spend time together when she didn't have a master. They lived in New York City, a place I knew nothing about, but I assumed that it was a weird enough place for genies to live. I spent a lot of time drawing the genies throughout history, wearing Victorian clothes, or riding camels at the pyramids, or whatever.
Also, in pure 10-year-old me fashion, Genie soon left Jeanette for a mermaid named Melody and he had kids with both women, and his best genie friend Elliott (hey, how did he get a normal name?) married a human, and it was a big mess and everyone was always getting drunk because I thought that was hilarious. (My mom watched soap operas when I was that age, so that tended to be my model for storytelling.)
Anyway, if you're thinking these genies don't sound very accurate to any kind of lore, you'd be correct. But it wasn't for lack of trying. I went to the library and looked for books on genies. I didn't realize there were any in 1001 Nights, so I never read that. There was a book of genie short stories called "Aladdin: Master of the Lamp" which I read a bunch of times, but I quickly realized that these genies were not mine. I had my own thing going. In a way, the lack of stories telling me how to write genies was part of what made them fun. Then I moved on to something else anyway.
With Magic Under Stone, I decided to revive the genie idea. Now they were called "jinn", and I had to seriously consider the logistics of genie-dom. Where does the lamp come from, and where do the genies come from? Are they born babies enslaved to a lamp? That would be weird. Do they materialize, already grown? I didn't really like that idea either. I read all the lore I could find on the internet, and although I made up a lot to suit the story's needs, I also worked many bits of it in. It is said, for instance, that jinn live in communities and prefer remote places. I have long been fascinated by the Silk Road area of the world, those countries I can barely spell like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and I decided that if jinns were from that world's equivalent of Arabia, it was reasonable enough to expect that over time some of them might have scattered there. Ifra, the jinn character, grows up in an area based on this region, and is free until the fateful age of sixteen, where he is bound to a lamp and forced to grant wishes unless freed. To explain why, I came across various tidbits about King Solomon, whom, it was said, was given a ring by the Archangel Michael and with it, enslaved many jinn to build Solomon's Temple. In Magic Under Stone, it is said the race of jinn did something to infuriate a king who was favored by the angels, and the king cursed the jinn to serve the race of men, enslaving them in the ruins of his castle in a collection of vessels of decanters--a nod to King Solomon, if not quite the same story.
Figuring out the rules of jinn and Ifra's background proved to be one of my favorite parts of writing Magic Under Stone, and Ifra actually turned out to be my favorite character in the story! I'm rather sorry I didn't get to write more about him. But I hope readers of Magic Under Stone will like him and his history as much as I do.
Jaclyn Dolamore is the author of Magic Under Glass and it's sequel, Magic Under Stone, as well as the companion, Between the Sea and Sky. She also has a story in the anthology Corsets & Clockwork (which I have yet to read; I need to get on that!)
(Each of those links leads to my review of the respective book!)
You can find her around the interwebs here:
And make sure to enter to win a copy of Magic Under Stone here! (ends 5/5/12)
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