Before we begin discussing fairy tales lets discuss what fairy tales are? A fairy tale is a complex genre to understand. A fairy tale generally has mythical creatures like dwarfs, elves, fairies, goblins, talking animals, witches, and usually magic. These are however different from legends and fables (where talking animals mimic the human world to teach a moral). The root of the genre is from oral stories passed through cultures and is seen as a subclass of folk tales. Many scholars have tried to classify fairy tales. The most prominent ones being Brothers Grimm who were the first to try and preserve the features of oral tales. Then there is the popular Arne-Thompson-Uther cataloguing system or ATU Index. It basically puts all tales under different categories. You can read about it in detail Here.
For our discussions we have stuck to the Brothers Grimm’s tales as they are closest to the original oral tales. Majority of tales found in all books are prototypes of Grimm’s tales.
Why are we discussing them? The morals in a story, the characters and situations are a reflection of the times in which they are written. The fairy tales, somehow got stuck and no one paid them much attention. The world moved forward but the tales are still centuries old hence the themes needed to be revisited.
Aladdin and the Magical Lamp! A magical story told often to children, of how a poor boy found a magical lamp and ended up being the Sultan after marrying the beautiful daughter of the previous Sultan and lived happily ever after. So, was the story as happy as it sounds? Let’s begin at the beginning.
Once upon a time lived a careless and idle boy named Aladdin. He did nothing but roamed the streets with other boys like himself. His father, a poor tailor unable to amend his son’s ways died in sorrow and his mother couldn’t do much either.
So, as you can see, Aladdin was the kind of boy we wish our children wouldn’t grow up to be. Why then has he been made the protagonist. Well, maybe the story will show how he amends his ways. Shall we find out?
One day an evil magician arrives from Africa and manages to convince Aladdin’s mother that he is a relative of her dead husband and she must send her son with him so he can teach him to earn his living and amend his ways. The poor mother sends him with a complete stranger in the hope that her son will come back wiser. The magician however has other plans. He wants Aladdin to steal a magical lamp from a cave, a dangerous job, but he doesn’t mind sacrificing the boy. He gives Aladdin a magical ring to assist. Aladdin is stuck in the cave but is clever enough to not hand over the lamp, so the magician locks him in there. After despairing for two days, he is able to move out with the help of the ring and the lamp. Now he is in possession of two magical objects.
Alright. A lazy, careless boy has been given magical objects. Why? Perhaps to teach him responsibility?
He comes home and hands over the lamp to his mother who finding it dirty begins to clean it. As she rubs the lamp a genie appears and instantly bows in front of Aladdin calling him master.
Now, as the legend said, anyone who rubbed the lamp would be the master, but not the mother of course. She is a woman. How could a genie take orders from a woman? That can’t happen so Aladdin is the master. What happens to Aladdin’s character after this? Does he realise his responsibility? No. He becomes lazier, never lifting a finger to work, but ordering the genie to do his work, from getting food to clothes everything. Talk about teaching work ethics to children. So, the story has gender bias and Aladdin is not proving to be an idol either.
Moving forward. The Sultan’s daughter has to go visit the sauna in the market, (Wondering why she doesn’t have one in the palace) hence the entire town is shut down so no one can peek at the princess even though she is wearing a veil. The princess reaches the sauna and removes her veil and lo and behold Aladdin has been peeping and falls in love with her instantly.
Let’s just stop here. The story is going all wrong! Aladdin wasn’t just careless, idle and lazy he was a peeping Tom too.
Now that he loves a girl, he has to have her. He convinces his mother to take rare jewels, provided by the genie, to the Sultan, who would be pleased to see them and then she is supposed to ask for the princess’ hand in marriage.
Now, the mother finds nothing wrong in the plan. Of course, her good for nothing son is a perfect match for the princess. His attitude is not wrong either, according to his mother, who does nothing to correct his course but goes along with the plan, without teaching him that the girl’s consent was the most important thing.
The Sultan too, on seeing such precious gifts promptly agrees to marry his daughter to Aladdin.
Ok it is supposed to be ‘totally understandable’ that the girls had no opinion about who they are married to, but her father agrees to marry her to the next rich guy who comes along. So, we are basically telling our boys that you can get any girl as long as you are rich and our girls that you should marry the first rich guy you meet, his character isn’t a big deal. Not sure what children will pick up from this story. Young impressionable minds will see Aladdin as a perfect person.
Now the Vazir is against this marriage not because he wishes the princess well, but he wants his son to marry the princess and cleverly manages the same. On the wedding day Aladdin’s mother tells him that Sultan has broken his promise and married his daughter to the Vazir’s son. Aladdin is infuriated. He wants revenge.
You think he will fight for the lady he loves. He doesn’t need to. He has the genie.
He orders the genie to bring the palace of the newlyweds to where he lives. Then he enters their room, the groom is too scared by everything happening around him and hides somewhere. Aladdin sleeps soundly on the bed with the princess crying all night next to him.
Alright. Should we be reading this story any further. Aladdin just kidnapped the girl, scared her husband (who is an equal coward) and sleeps soundly. Of course, the girl is a virgin, that’s the whole point of kidnapping. He couldn’t have married her if she had spent some time with her husband, additionally Aladdin repeats his action the next night too till the cowardly husband refuses to be with a girl who has been spending nights with a stranger. And it leaves the girl with no option but to marry Aladdin.
Why are we telling this tale to our kids again? Does this story contribute in any way towards teaching them a single value that they can use in their life? This tale needs to be rewritten if at all we want to read it to our children. We must give credit to Disney who in their recent movie tried to give voice to the Princess and showed Aladdin feeling sorry for lying to her, but the books in print haven’t yet been changed. It is argued that this story teaches children to understand that anyone can achieve greatness, but we believe that the story is only looking at the end and giving the means a miss.
Lets rethink this story. Shalini’s poem is sure to make you re-evaluate and look beyond the narrative that looks simple on first read.
I am poor I am jobless,
In dire straits I must confess.
An old mum who takes care of me,
As I loiter in the streets and climb a mango tree.
We live without food and live in rags,
Mother stitches bags as I relish my fags.
You must be feeling sad to hear all this,
Ahh ! give that overwhelm a miss.
Oh Pity! Why art thou here?
Aladdin shall get it all.
For he shall have a genie waiting for him at call.
Mum does the cleaning, while I lie straight,
Now is this called a dearth of fate ?
I am a man and I don’t do a homely chore,
I go out to work as per the famous folklore.
But as I told you I am jobless,
So I better go out for a game of chess.
Mother, the woman, cleans the lamp,
I, the man, become the master and walk the ramp.
Oh equality! Why art thou here?
Aladdin shall get it all.
For he now has a genie waiting for him at call
Genie feed me my meal, digest it for me if you can,
Wait for my further orders as I unfold my upcoming plan.
A hearty meal and a bloated stomach,It’s time for your master to sleep,
Don’t let a fly come near me, as I relish my slumber deep.
Now take me to the market quickly, this is my brand new wish,
Wave your hand, as you don’t have a wand, let it go swish swash swish.
Who is this dame, appearing charming through her veil,
Genie get me married to her else you shall go to jail.
Oh perseverance why art thou here?
Aladdin shall get it all
For he has a genie waiting for him at call
My girl, she got married to someone else today,
The Vazir’s lad I hear from hearsay.
Should I just let it be and say okay it’s fine,
No! I gave her those exclusive jewels, I must stand first in line.
Genie! Get me my girl, get her palace get everything,
While I quickly run to the market to fetch an elegant wedding ring.
The girl is here, the girl is mine, my well thought ploy was a success,
Who cares for the Vazir’s son, who held a measly role in the tale of Aladdin and his princess.
Oh shame why art thou here?
Aladdin shall get it all.
For he owns a genie waiting for him at call.
Do leave a comment if you agree and even if you don’t. Would be a pleasure reading your point of view. We give Aladdin a thumbs down.
The facts and pictures provided in all posts have been taken from the internet. The authors claim no resposibility of them being true. The views and opinion, however, are our own. The first source of reference for fairy tales is Brothers Grimms fairy tales.
This post is part of #BlogChatterA2Z -2021.