by Michael O. Tunnell
“No woman in their world had ever ruled in a man’s stead, so strong were the traditions” (Tunnell, 62).
So remember when I said I went to a library in December and noticed a book that seemed to be a continuation of Histoire d’Aladdin? This is the second one, i.e. the one that actually caught my attention. Amusingly, the summary on the inside flap sounded much more intriguing than the plot of the previous one, so I was definately pumped to read it.
To start, I feel that this book is conflicted about its message. It indicates that Aminah is addicted to using magic because she uses it so often. But because she uses it to help good people, the story wants us to want her to keep using the magic.
Of course, by the end, she seems to have stopped. At least until she finds someone else to help. (This time it’s Arthur, and she thinks he should be king).
I know I said last time that I liked how it ended with Aminah using her wishes for Ella but that had to do with the narrative similarities between Cendrillion and Historie d’Aladdin – poor person gets magical help and wins a royal marriage and privileges. Plus the French connection. So it got a chuckle out of me.
But this…while there’s nothing wrong with Aminah using her wishes to help Arthur, I’m not settled on her appearing in every tale with magic in it to help everyone. It makes her feel all powerful. Which feels contradictory to the use of magic.
There was no lesson about the limits or dangers of magic. Other than Aminah becoming dependant on it, but still with the affirmation that she is the best owner of the lamp because of how she uses it.
And I’m just – why?
Aladdin improves the lives of beggars in the city he and Aminah are from without use of the lamp. At the end of the story, he refuses to take back the lamp and use Jinni to fight Badr so as to reclaim the city from her (maybe) tyranny. He decides to try to figure it out without magic.
I like that, but the part I’m stuck on is how he affirms that Aminah is best suited to use the lamp because…of how she uses it? Because she uses it for good and many other people wouldn’t.
Okay, I can’t completely disagree with that, but it just felt strange to me.
Although there was a lesson at the end about how true magic is faith in and love for your friends, family, etc.. Which, despite the actual nice sentiment and my actual agreement with it, felt a twinge hacked on. I felt like the story told me that, rather than leading me to believe it as the story progressed.
I still can’t like Hassan. I certainly don’t dislike him, but his and Aminah’s relationship feels…taken for granted. It’s there, so they love each other. Even if Hassan is uncomfortable with how she uses magic or even if Hassan has to jokingly threatened Idris to keep his hands and lips off Aminah when he vists. Like, c’mon Hassan, have a little faith in your fiancée. Unless that’s regular man behavior?
Additionally, the structure of events – stealing the lamp, taking the enchanted coffer, Idris leaving the palace, Badr’s guards looking for the lamp – was confusing to me. (Idris ends up in the palace as the Royal Storyteller by getting Badr’s attention when she’s going back from where she was sent at the end of the last book.)
Speaking of Idris, I loved when he and Aladdin started conspiring together. Give me a story about the two of them. I’d read that. (Yes, I’m biased, I admit it. Literary-style Aladdin plus a storyteller from the same poor background with previous bad choices in romance who each had a brief encounter with the lamp – I’m for it.)
On that subject, there were a lot of little bits I kept thinking would maybe amount to something. In particular, I wondered if Aladdin’s mother was going to have some part to play. But nope. Which makes sense, since this is Aminah’s story, not Aladdin’s.
An additional positive note: this book had a great opening – it’s starts with Idris telling the story which is a narrative style I love. It really added to the excitement for me.
One of the more intriguing aspects is still Badr and her desire for power. She wants to rule (which I can’t entirely fault her for). The trouble is how she feels about others, especially poor people. She sees them as expendable trash, which doesn’t bode well for their future under her rule.
But one tiny consistent quality is her inability to destroy or kill Aladdin. The first time occurs after she’s returned home and she and Aladdin have argued about the lamp and berated each other. Her husband has left by the point this exchange happens:
“‘Then he must be eliminated,’ said Saladin. ‘A sad accident, of course.’
‘No!’ Badr turned away. ‘No,’ she related softly. ‘I will not kill him. I’ve made threats, I know, but… We’ll keep close watch on him. If he becomes a stumbling block, we can restrain him.’
Saladin stepped around to face her. ‘But…I thought you wished to be free of him.
She shrugged. ‘Perhaps.’ Then Badr stiffened, and her eyes narrowed. ‘Yes, I do. Two sultans cannot rule the same city. But nevertheless–'” (65).
Similarly, at the climax when Badr has captured everyone and plans to have Aminah and company killed, she removes Aladdin from an immediate death sentence:
“‘Leave Aladdin,’ Badr said to her Captain of the Guard. ‘He needs to witness his dear wife’s rise to power. Then I’ll decide his fate.'” (188).
What’s fascinating is how she doesn’t seem to want to harm him in the same dismissive manner she has to everyone else, yet she doesn’t seem to like him much either. I’m just interested in what she feels for him exactly.
I’m not sure she loves him, but she seems to want him to see her ruling. To show him she’s capable of it? To prove that she’s more powerful than him? Who knows, but I’d be curious to see this aspect explored more.
There were also pirates and thieves which felt more random than anything.
I think, overall, I liked it well enough. As I’ve said, Badr is a fascinating antagonist, I still like Aladdin (cause I’m me) and Idris is still a great character. I’m mostly neutral on Aminah, and Jinni is definitely likable (even if his knowing the future gig always reminds me of Disney’s Genie).
So, yes, I liked it. But it certainly wasn’t anything astounding. And I still like The Land of Green Ginger better.
source edited for better definitions
No words (wasn’t looking)
“Aladdin nodded, and it was clear to Aminah that his sacrifice was as great as hers would have been” (213-4).
Tunnell, Michael O. Moon Without Magic. New York: Dutton Children’s Books, 2007. Print.