Jinn and Other Sprites: Background information when reading The Golem and the Jinni

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The Golem and the Jinni

by Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2013, 496 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2014, 512 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Jinn and Other Sprites

Print Review

Most Westerners are generally introduced to genies through the story of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp from The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (aka The Arabian Nights). In it, Aladdin is tricked into obtaining an old oil lamp in which a jinni has been imprisoned. Through various twists and turns in the story, the jinni is released from his confinement and eventually helps Aladdin obtain his greatest wishes: wealth, fame, and the love of a beautiful princess.

Aladdin's magic lamp The English word for these beings – genie – comes from the French word for spirit: génie (the result of The Book of One Thousand and One Nights being first published in Europe in French.) The Arabic word for jinni comes from janna, which means to conceal or hide, and refers to the hidden nature of jinn. In Arabic "jinni" is singular while "jinn" is the collective noun.

Stories of jinn date from pre-Islamic Arabian folklore and these beings have a deep cultural and religious significance for much of the Middle East. While some archeological references to jinn exist, most of our information about them comes from the Qur'an. According to it, jinn were fashioned by Allah before humans, one of three types of sentient beings He created (the third being angels). They are made of smokeless fire and inhabit a universe parallel to our own. They have various powers, which include flying and shape-shifting, although these capabilities are not universal among jinn, and only the most powerful can grant wishes. They are invisible to humans in their natural form, but can choose to change into a shape that can be seen if they wish. They are said to inhabit the unclean places of the earth such as garbage dumps and graveyards. Like humans, jinn have free will and can be good, evil or somewhere in between; often they are known to be mischievous.

In Islam, jinn have evolved to become more analogous to demons, with the Devil as the most powerful of these beings. One traditional story has a jinni named Iblis refusing to bow down to Adam when Allah ordered the angels and jinn to do so. As a result he was expelled from Paradise and his name was changed to Shaytan (Satan).

Many Middle Eastern cultures also have stories that associate the building of the First Temple in Jerusalem with jinn. Israel's King Solomon is considered a major prophet in Islam and is referred to as Sulayman the son of David. Both cultures have legends about a fabled ring he was said to have worn on the forefinger of his right hand that could be used to command jinn. The ring was marked with The Seal of Solomon, which is generally believed to have been the first Star of David. The Testament of Solomon, a work purporting to be a first-hand account of the building of the temple (but which is actually dated between the first and fifth centuries CE - more than a thousand years after Solomon's death), contains numerous conversations between King Solomon and various jinn about details of the temple's construction.

Different types of jinn occur throughout Arabic folklore and tradition. Some believe that every human has his or her corresponding jinn as a constant companion, called a qarin. Other kinds of jinn include:

  • Marid
    The most powerful type of jinn. These can be compelled to grant wishes (although only under great duress). They are known to be arrogant and proud and are generally considered the oldest of the jinn.
  • Ifrit
    Enormous winged creatures of fire that live underground. They have a highly structured society with rulers and tribes. They are very powerful and while they can be good or evil, they're generally depicted as wicked and openly hostile to humanity.
  • Jann
    Live in the desert and often take the form of a whirlwind or white camel, and unlike ifrits are generally more likely to help than hinder a human in distress. They are less common than ifrits.
  • Ghul or Ghoul
    Evil demons that live in graveyards and consume human flesh. They will lure people, particularly children, into the desert and devour them - often taking on the shape of the person most recently eaten. Ghuls are strongly associated with death and are almost all female.

Article by Kim Kovacs

This article is from the June 19, 2013 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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