The Princess and the Lamp was inspired by a road trip to Canada...
A few summers ago, my family took a road trip from Oklahoma to Ontario for a cousin's wedding. My sister downloaded an audiobook of the Arabian Nights for the twenty hour drive, and we had a lot of fun listening to it. The translation was in a very formal, old-fashioned prose style read by an equally formal narrator. Characters dealt each other “mighty blows” and said things like “from the time she woke up to the time she laid her head on her pillow, she has not uttered a single word” in answer to the question, “has she spoken today?”
Our favorite was Aladdin. If you haven’t read the original version of this story, it is well worth it. You can find it for free here.
There are lots of things that stand out about this story. Especially if you’re used to the Disney version. There are multiple genies, and they are quite terrifying. The sultan’s default reaction to not getting his way is to threaten to cut off people’s heads. But the one element that stuck in my head the most was the fact that the princess had married the vizier’s son before she met Aladdin. Aladdin is not the charming street rat in this version that he is in both Disney retellings. In fact, I find him quite manipulative and a little stupid. He is so obsessed with the princess, whom he has only seen once in the street, that he uses the genie to break up her marriage then wins both her and her father over by building a magnificent palace with magic. The princess seems quite content with this turn of events. She immediately falls in love with Aladdin and forgets her first husband.
This seemed so unrealistic that it stayed lodged in the back of my mind for two years. I couldn’t shake my curiosity about Badroulbadour’s reactions. How did she actually feel about her first husband? Was it an arranged marriage that she was glad to be rid of? Or did she actually love the vizier’s son? What happened to him after the marriage was dissolved?
When I decided to retell Aladdin for the Once Upon a Short Story collection, I knew it was finally time to answer those questions. I transformed the princess from a passive prize to a strong-willed woman who knows what she wants and goes after it without holding back. That seemed a more realistic personality for an only child born to extreme wealth and used to getting her own way. She didn’t seem the sort of woman to marry a man she didn’t love, so how did she come to be engaged to the vizier’s son?
And if she actually loved him, how would she react towards the man responsible for breaking up her marriage?
And what would she do when she discovered magic?
Answering those initial questions set this story in motion, and Badroulbadour took it the rest of the way.
The Princess and the Lamp is now available on Amazon.
A. G. Marshall
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