Re-reading Aladdin turned out to be a greater pleasure than I'd expected. Hard to believe, I know, but I'd forgotten how the magician Mustapha came to meet young and lazy Aladdin for the first time, how he got the boy to enter bejewelled caves to steal a glowing lamp, and how he left the boy to die there when he refused to hand the lamp to Mustapha at the cave-mouth. Aladdin, of course, did not die. Instead, he uses a ring Mustapha lent him to summon a genie to get him out of the mess he got himself into and later discovers another - more powerful - genie when his mother rubs that wonderful lamp so desired by Mustapha to get it to shine. Through the powers of the genie of the lamp and the genie of the ring, Aladdin acquires wealth and the love of a beautiful princess, defeating evil Mustapha along the way.
What really surprised me on reading the unabridged version of Aladdin in The Blue Fairy Book was how - for lack of a better word - global it was. The tale is of a Persian Aladdin, an African Mustapha, and though the Princess appears Persian as well, she and Aladdin apparently settle down in a palace in China. How had such details escaped me in the past? Possibly, issues of ethnicity/nationality were not at the forefront of my mind. Nor gender apparently; I was struck this time by how little choice the princess had in her choice of groom, though of course she and Aladdin are deemed to be in love by the end of the tale.
But the most interesting underlying theme that I discovered was one which allowed the tale to end with Aladdin succeeding to the Sultan's reign, leaving behind a line of kings of his own when he dies. I was forcibly reminded at this point that fairy tales often provided relief (metaphorically of course) from those stuck in cycles of poverty by allowing magic to equalise power between the poor and the rich. Aladdin's lamp (or it's genie, to be precise) made up quite cleverly for his lack of a royal lineage by substituting it with great wealth, allowing him to buy his way into the position of Sultan.
I don't think the issues I've noted above would have come across to me quite so clearly when I was a child. I think I was (understandably enough) fascinated more with puffs of smoke and magic, huge hideous genies and shining golden lamps than I was with issues of gender or power; well, to be honest, I think those earlier facets of the story still fascinate me rather more than they perhaps should:)
But I suppose that's not entirely unexpected. I reckon there is no facet of Aladdin that is more important than the other, more worthy of being in the tale than any other, more capable of drawing an emotional response from a reader than any other; all bits and pieces of the tale work in perfect harmony to paint us a richly coloured picture, one that I feel would touch a chord even today with modern audiences.
I guess, the power of fairy tales like Aladdin never really die because they are textured so clearly with the truth of what it can mean to be human in our very complicated human societies that they enchant and educate all at the same time, whatever age a person might be, whatever background they hail from. I doubt I will ever not learn something new when re-reading a fairy tale such as Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp.
And that, my friends, really is magic:)