Aladdin (1905). Philadelphia: Henry Altemus Co.
Over the course of its long, complicated history, the story of Aladdin has undergone a transformation as tumultuous as the tale itself. Emerging from Middle Eastern oral tradition, Aladdin has made its way across the globe, changing slightly with each transmission. The story was introduced into Western discourse in the early 18th century, when French translator Antoine Galland inserted it into his translation of One Thousand and One Nights, despite the story’s absence from the original Syrian manuscript. Galland’s popular publication spurred a host of subsequent adaptations of varying consistency and cohesion.
This 1905 version comes at a crossroads in the tale’s transmission history. The author of this book is not specified, but its plot and style align closely with Andrew Lang’s well-known 1898 translation. This text resists Galland’s original in several important ways, but remnants of the early European tradition remain. For example, while the story is believed to be of Middle Eastern origin, the earliest Western versions were set in China and include allusions to India and Africa. With subsequent translations, however, many of the less “Arabic” references have slowly dropped out.
The illustrations in this book attest to its incongruent cultural identity. While Aladdin and the princess are notably depicted as Caucasian, the villain, an African magician, displays grotesque, exaggerated features. Most of the background characters, included to create a landscape for the text, have stereotypical Middle Eastern features. And the genies, characters whose identities have changed the most with every new sociocultural adaptation, look like a mashup of cultural types.
Adela Baker and Sarah Chauhdry
Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1959). Anne Terry White (author). Vera Bock (illustrator)
Anne White’s 1959 American version of Aladdin has a nearly identical plot to Antoine Galland’s original 1710 French edition. In both versions, Aladdin is a lazy boy who gains wealth and status after summoning the “jinnis” of the ring and the lamp. Aladdin seeks help from the jinni of the lamp to marry Princess Badroulbadour, and when the lamp and the Princess are captured by a magician, he calls on the jinni of the ring to help him get them back. Readers of this edition of Aladdin may have relished the fantasy of climbing to the top of the social ladder due to its parallels with the American Dream, especially in wake of the Great Depression. In White’s book, the jinnis act as passive vessels through which wealth flows, which may be a reflection of the post-World War II economic prosperity that the U.S. experienced while most other countries struggled amidst the postwar devastation. Furthermore, the yellow palette in Vera Bock’s illustrations may reference the color of gold.
In this edition, we can see the influence of Orientalism, a mode of discourse that stereotypes the East as a single entity. Similar to the 1710 version, White’s book blends elements from east Asia and the Middle East. The characters’ names are of Syrian origin, and references to Allah indicate that the characters are Muslim. The story, however, is set in China, occasionally referred to as “Chinaland.” Bock’s illustrations also emulate the style of Chinese artwork. Merging these distinct Asian cultures may be indicative of Americans’ insensitivity toward the richness and diversity of Asian societies.
Lauren Lee and Jenny Ghose
Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp (1982). Sir Richard Francis Burton (translator). Leonard B. Lubin (illustrator)
The origin of Aladdin is disputed amongst historians, but many believe that the story first appeared in One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of stories that originated in the early 9th century. However, the first literary version of Aladdin can be traced back to a French author, Antoine Galland, who claimed to have heard the tale from a Syrian storyteller while on his travels.
Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp, by Sir Richard Burton, is one of many adaptations of Galland’s Aladdin, and it follows the plotline established when the story first entered the Western literary community in the early 18th century. In this particular version, published in 1982 by Delacorte Press, Aladdin is a fatherless pauper, who encounters a wizard from Morocco, and experiences conflict over a magical lamp with untold power.
Burton was famous for his translations of many texts, including One Thousand and One Nights, and for his travels throughout the Middle East and Africa. His extensive interaction with African and Muslim cultures inspired him to adapt the French version of Aladdin in the 19th century. Like previous Western versions of Aladdin, Burton’s tale is set in China, but he adds and accentuates African and Middle Eastern elements of the story. Some of his additions include describing the antagonist wizard as being of African descent, references to travel between China and Africa, and the royal palace being transported back to the wizard’s homeland in Morocco. The details of the palace illustrated here reflect both the African and Asian elements of Burton’s Aladdin.
Alex Baum and Matthew Gratowski
Disney's Aladdin (1992). A.L. Singer (author). Kenny Thompkins (illustrator). James Gallego (illustrator)
Following the Gulf War in the early 1990’s, political tensions between the United States and Middle Eastern countries grew rapidly. After the World Trade Center bombings in 1993, Islamophobia — the fear of Muslim culture and identity — gained traction in mainstream Western culture. In 1992, Walt Disney Studios, with its propensity to capitalize on the political happenings of the age, released the animated film Aladdin, a rags-to-riches story of a young man hoping to gain the love of a princess in the imaginary country of Agrabah. In the same year, Disney Press produced a textual adaptation of the film, which attempts to immerse its readers in a new culture: the Papyrus font creates an atmosphere of ancient Mesopotamia, decorative bordering mimics oriental rug patterns, and the pop-out illustrations engulf the reader in a “whole new world.”
At first glance, the adapted text appears to show Islamic culture in a positive light; the titled hero, Aladdin, and the princess, Jasmine, provide a progressive representation of the Middle East — they are even role models for American children. However, upon further inspection, it becomes clear that the text is critical of Islamic culture. The portrayal of Muslims as “barbaric,” as shown in the illustration of a marketplace vendor threatening to cut off Jasmine’s hand as punishment for committing thievery, fuels the growing anti-Islamic ideology of the early ‘90s. Children who learn to be afraid of Islamic culture through Disney’s Aladdin could pass on their sentiments to their peers, parents, and, eventually, their own children, contributing to a cycle of Islamophobia that leads to the present day — almost a quarter of a century later.
Kelly Milliner and Thomas Milliner
Aladdin: A Magical Retelling in Three-Dimensional Scenes (2011). Niroot Puttapipat
In this fanciful edition of Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp, Niroot Puttapipat crafts a version of the narrative notable for its unique structure and for its depiction of global folklore. The book includes much of the traditional 18th century tale, although it modifies the original plot to make it suitable for young readers. This multicultural iteration, in alignment with the original tale, exhibits the impact of international circulation. Cathay (from the Arabic “Khitan”), the setting of this narrative, is actually located in Northern China. While Disney’s popular rendition is set in the Middle East, the setting of Cathay gestures toward Muslim and Chinese cultural influences. Islamic influences are also apparent in the characters’ names, such as Princess Badoura. Simultaneously, in this edition, the colors of the ornamentations and the outfits of the characters’ exhibit Chinese cultural ties.
The book’s interactive quality coupled with its complex three-dimensional structure enhances the theme of magic inherent to the story. The text is at first hidden, and then later revealed under a set of flaps decorated by silhouettes of characters. This book’s loyalty to the original tale offers a contrast to Disney’s iteration of Aladdin. Amayas, from whom the Disney character Jafar was adapted, and the Genie of the Ring, one of two genies in this version later omitted by Disney, are just two of the surprises present in this telling. Explore Puttapipat’s captivating world, but if you find yourself in a cave of treasure, do not touch anything except the lamp.
Sarah Shim and Jacob Margolies