The story of Aladdin comes from The Arabian Nights or The 1,001 Nights, a collection of traditional stories from the Middle East.
In the story, a young boy is approached by a man who claims to be his uncle. Actually a powerful magician, the supposed uncle leads Aladdin to a cave containing a magic lamp. He tries to trick Aladdin into giving him the lamp, but Aladdin resists and keeps the lamp.
He accidentally calls forth the genie of the lamp and gets three wishes. He determines to marry the daughter of the sultan, and with the help of his mother and the genie, does so. The genie makes a wonderful palace fro Aladdin and his bride. However, the magician tricks the princess into giving him the magic lamp, and magically transports the palace to a wilderness.
Aladdin finds the princess through further magic and gets back the lamp, and after another couple of adventures which tend to get left out of most retellings, he gets rid of the evil magician. He and his bride live happily ever after.
You can read the story online. Listen to it at Storynory.
It’s also available in collections of the tales from The Arabian Nights.
Mary Engelbreit included this story in her Nursery and Fairy Tales Collection.
There is a reissue of the classic story illustrated by John Hassall, and a bilingual version in Spanish and English. Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp has the gorgeous illustrations of Edmund Dulac.
Philip Pullman has done a new retelling.
The Disney version will be the most familiar to most of our students, and there is a Step Into Reading version with the Disney illustrations as well as a picture book.
As you read the story, and especially if you read multiple versions and perhaps watch the movie as well, you will find that the story is long and disorganized. The magic lamp, which sends out a genie when people rub it, the tricky magician who gets the princess to trade her old lamp for a new one with the catchy slogan “New lamps for old!” and the three wishes are just about the only elements of the story that are always found in it.
In the original story, Aladdin’s bride creates problems with the genie. If you read the story with that element, compare it with The Fisherman and His Wife and The Three Wishes. The three stories come from different times and places, but all three involve wishes and a wife who creates problems with those wishes. Have students write about the three wishes they would make if they had magical wishes. For more advanced classes, have them write a story in which they have three wishes but things don’t work out well.
As it happens, Aladdin, along with Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves and Sinbad the Sailor, was added to the 1,001 Nights when a French translation was published in 1704. The story was originally set in China and the magician came from Africa. There is nothing in the story that connects with China or Africa. Probably very few people in France in 1704 had ever visited or learned much about either China or Africa, and this probably includes the translator of the book, Antoine Galland. China and Africa were probably just thrown in to serve as exotic locations.
However, the story is now usually told as though it were set in an Arab or Persian country. History of Yesterday has some speculations about how this might have happened. Author Prateek Dasgupta suggests that a Syrian immigrant was inspired by Versailles. See a slideshow of some of our photos of the French palace below.
Challenge students to think about how the story would be different if it were set in China, in Baghdad, Iraq (the film’s original setting, before the fictional Agrabah was chosen) or France. Ask them to create an illustration of a scene from the story in one of these three places. Have students research what these places were like in the 1700s and be prepared to provide references to defend the visual choices they make in their illustrations.
Reading Is Fundamental has an Aladdin lesson which sets the story in Morocco. This could be the starting point for a study of this North African nation.
The enchanted lamp is an essential part of the story. This was an oil lamp. Nowadays, almost all of us use electric lamps, but before electricity lamps were fueled by oils of many different kinds. Oil lamps have been found in prehistoric archaeological sites. Oil lamps were used in Mesopotamia and Ancient Rome.
Explore some of the common lamp fuels of the past:
- Whale oil
- Olive oil
- Sesame oil
Sort these lamp oils (and others your class discovers during their research) into animal, vegetable, and mineral. People used the kinds of oil available to them in the places where they lived. See if you can discover what kind of lamp oil was commonly used where your school is located.
In Arkansas, where we live, bear grease (the fat of bears) was at one time used for fuel.
Now we use electric lamps, but electricity is often produced by burning fuel, just as oil lamps produced light by burning fuel. See if you can discover how electricity is made where you live. Possibilities:
- hydroelectric power
- wind power
- nuclear power
- solar power
- natural gas
Almost all modern fuels are mineral fuels. The distinction among modern sources of power is not animal, vegetable, or mineral, but renewable or fossil fuels.
Aladdin’s lamp was genie-powered, but the type of fuel used for a lamp of this kind would depend on the location of the story.
Create a bulletin board showing what you learn about the ways people of the past got light.