The Legend of the Jinn by Ross MacKenzie
Published on: 05 February 2020 Author: Ross MacKenzie
"Your wish is my command...." Evernight author Ross MacKenzie writes about the legend of the mythological Jinn.
Picture this: You find yourself wandering between the labyrinthine displays of an old antiques shop. All around you there are treasures, some glittering, others ravaged by time. The place is alive with the whispers of a thousand memories and lives and stories.
You turn a corner and find, sitting upon a table, what looks to be a brass oil lamp. You do not own anything like this; it is perhaps not to your usual taste. And yet something about it fascinates you, draws you in.
You reach for the lamp, pick it up, feel the deceptive weight of it in your hands. And then you take your sleeve and try to polish away a streak of dirt.
Perhaps a bang, and some perfumed smoke.
When the smoke clears, a huge, barrel-chested man stands before you.
‘I am the Genie of the Lamp,’ he tells you in a booming voice. ‘You have freed me, and so your wish is my command…’
I’d hazard a guess that this is scene feels quite familiar to anyone who, like me, was brought up immersed in Western culture. My first encounter with genies was through the classic Disney animation Aladdin, starring the wonderful Robin Williams as the voice of the big blue Genie who took a boy from the streets and made him a prince.
It is an enchanting idea, isn’t it? That any of us could stumble upon an all-powerful being who will grant us three wishes and forever change our lives.
What might you wish for? Good health? Riches beyond imagination? Immortality? Or might you be the person who thinks they’ve spotted a loophole - the clever clogs who wishes for more wishes? There’s always one, just as there’s usually an antagonist who wants to gain control of the lamp, and the Genie, in order to complete his/her plans for world domination.
But that’s not all there is to the tale of the Genie.
Being a writer, I am a curious person. I like to find things out. I gather information - most of which gets locked away in a vault somewhere in my head and will probably never see the light of day.
It was this curiosity - and the desire to feature a Genie in my new novel Evernight - that led me to find out more about what a Genie really is, and where it comes from. It has been a most interesting journey. A few things I learned:
1. Genies - or Jinn/Djinn, to use the original term - are supernatural beings originally found in cultures in the Middle East and Africa. For the most part, they bear little resemblance to the benevolent, wish-granting Genies of the lamp, though they invariably do possess amazing powers.
2. In some ancient cultures, Jinn are evil spirits capable of demonic possession. In others, they are blamed for mischief, health problems, and bad luck.
3. Jinn are commonly thought to be capable of shapeshifting. They can take human or animal form.
4. There are parts of the world where many people believe that Jinn are not mythological at all, but real, living, breathing creatures.
5. I was fascinated to find out that the Jinn appear in the Quran as beings created by God from smokeless fire, able to exist both in our familiar world and other domains, and that they have free will and are neither benevolent or malevolent. As far as I could tell, it was also Islam-associated mythology that introduced the idea that Jinn can be magically tethered to objects - like lamps - and controlled by magicians.
This rich history (one could fill books and books with Jinn-related research) lit a fire in my mind, and many of the ingredients I read about came together to make something new in my head, my own version of what a Jinni might be.
Shadow Jack, the Jinni who features in Evernight, does not grant wishes. He is a menacing character. Of that there is no doubt. He can become a raven or a black dog at will. He is vastly powerful and blindingly quick.
But most of all, he is neither good nor evil. Magically trapped in a ceramic urn for millennia, Shadow Jack must obey the commands of whomever possesses this vessel, and his behaviour reflects that of his master.
In Evernight we find Shadow Jack under the control of Mrs Hester, a White Witch and a nasty piece of work who sends her Jinni off on all manor of murderous and bloody errands. He has no choice but to obey, of course, but all the while we see him wishing desperately for the day he can be free.
The most interesting characters I’ve ever read about are whole and rounded, neither completely good nor completely bad. I hope Shadow Jack is such a character. Even as I wrote about his unspeakable acts, I felt sorry for him. I wanted him to be free, and longed for the chance to see another side of him. This is what him so interesting to me, and I hope what will make him interesting to the reader.
I intend to go back and read more of the history of the Jinn. I encourage you to do the same; their place in mythology and religion is unique and so much more fascinating than the tale of the Genie of the Lamp - as wonderful as that is.
That’s not to say that next time I find myself holding an old oil lamp in an antiques shop I won’t give it a hopeful polish. You have to, don’t you? Just in case...