Audiences are gearing up for the release of Disney’s live-action version of “Aladdin,” but the true origins of this tale are surprising — and sometimes disturbing.
What is the actual history of Aladdin?
While most people know it has something to do with 1001 Arabian Nights, few know the true origins of the story. So today, we’re giving you everything that you need to know about the real story of Aladdin.
Top 11 Things You didn’t Know About Aladdin
In 1992, Disney’s animated Aladdin hit the big screen, and audiences fell in love with the adventures of an orphan — the “Diamond in the Rough” — who crossed paths with a flying carpet, a powerful genie, and an independent princess.
The movie became a classic, spawning a Broadway musical and a live-action remake afterwards. But how much does the big screen Aladdin resemble its source material?
1. Disney Wasn’t Original.
While it may shock some people, it won’t come as a surprise to most people. Disney’s 1992 animated version of Aladdin’s story was not original.
Just like Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the 7 Dwarves, Cinderella, Robin Hood, and dozens of other classic so-called Disney stories, Aladdin was not a Disney story at all.
However, the magic of Disney lies in their ability to take timeless stories like the fairytales mentioned above, and transform them into a pop culture phenomenon. Many of the stories that they use as the sources for their blockbuster movies are extremely different from the movie we end up enjoying in the theater.
2. Aladdin is Only One of 1,001 Tales.
Aladdin is part of a centuries-old stories-within-a-story called The Thousand and One Nights (also called The Arabian Nights).
The heroine, Scherherazade, is married to a murderous king, who kills his new wives one day after wedding them. To save her life, she spins a story every night (“Aladdin” is one of many) for her husband, leaves out the ending, but promises to finish it later. Night after night, cliffhangers compel the curious king to delay Scherherazade’s death to find out what happens next.
Some of the most famous tales are not only of Aladdin but also Sinbad the Sailor and Ali Baba.
3. The Arabian Nights aren’t just from Arabia.
Dating back as far as the 10th century A.D., these tales have origins in North African, Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Indian, and East Asian cultures. In 947 Arab historian Al-Masudi, for example, describes a large collection of a thousand tales from all over the ancient world that he calls the Persian Hazar afsana (A Thousand Stories).
The stories circulated for centuries, with new folk tales and renditions being added to the mix over the years.
In 1712, French scholar Antoine Galland translated an Arabic version of the tales into French. Galland added several new stories told to him by a Syrian named Ḥanna Diyab from Aleppo; “Aladdin and the Magical Lamp” was one of them.
4. Aladdin doesn’t come from Agrabah.
In the both Galland’s text and Richard Burton’s popular 1885 English translation, Aladdin lives “in a city of the cities in China.”
Illustrations of the tales from the Victorian era depict the story and its characters as Chinese. The setting and the characters’ ethnicity begins to shift west to Arabia and the Middle East when the story is told on the big screen in the early 20th century.
5. Aladdin lives with his mom.
Unlike the Disney films, Aladdin isn’t an orphaned “street rat” just barely getting by, fending for himself, and dodging city guards in The Arabian Nights.
Instead, he’s a lazy kid who is a universal disappointment to his family. His father, a tailor, is dead, but his mother, a poor widow, still lives. Aladdin’s mother is the one who first rubs the lamp and releases the genie.
6. Aladdin is no “diamond in the rough.”
In Disney’s telling of the story, Aladdin is clever, resourceful, and loyal, but underestimated because he is poor.
In Richard Burton’s telling, the “hero” is shallow, lazy, greedy, and easily taken in by displays of wealth. His father dies because his son refuses to learn a trade.
7. There are not one, but two magical genies.
Aladdin employs two powerful genies who come to his aid in The Arabian Nights. One inhabits a magical lamp, and another a magical ring.
Both spirits come to Aladdin’s aid at different points in the story, granting him wishes and helping him out of tight spots.
8. There are three bad guys.
Disney’s Aladdin faces off against the evil vizier Jafar, but in the original text, there are three villains.
The first is an evil magician from Africa who poses as Aladdin’s long-lost uncle to trick the boy into retrieving the lamp. The second is the magician’s more evil brother. The third is the vizier’s son, rival to Aladdin’s affections for the princess.
9. The princess is already betrothed when Aladdin meets her.
After glimpsing the unveiled face of the sultan’s daughter, called Badr al-Budur (not Jasmine) in the story, Aladdin pursues her by lavishing presents on her father. The sultan accepts his gifts, but marries his daughter to the vizier’s son anyway.
Aladdin uses his genie to kidnap the groom and hold him in a cold, dark cell for two nights until the young man begs to have the marriage annulled, and the sultan complies.
10. There are way more than three wishes.
After Badr al-Budur is no longer married, Aladdin begins to woo her in earnest, using multiple wishes from the genie to dazzle her and her father with gold, jewels, a splendid palace, servants, soldiers and fine horses.
After the pair are wed, the wishes continue, and more fabulous treasures and wealth are accrued.
11. There is a sequel.
Like any good movie, the story of Aladdin does have a part two — of sorts.
After Aladdin and Badr al-Budur kill the evil magician (through a combination of seduction, poison, and stabbing), they begin to live happily ever after in China, until the dead man’s more powerful brother comes to China to get revenge.