The Genie and the Fisherman

The Genie and the Fisherman

The genie shifted uncomfortably, tried to stretch the ache from his limbs and failed. ‘Why?’ he thought – not for the first time, not for the second time, not for the nine hundred and ninety ninth time – ‘why did I join the others in the rebellion against Solomon? Why did I allow myself to be captured and dragged in chains before the prophet? How did I allow the son of David to confine me in this bottle and throw it into the depths of the sea?’

He had tried to keep track of time, but had given up some time around the four hundredth year. Fear had given way to despair and despair had given way to anger, an, all consuming, anger that had burned brighter and fiercer as the years of his confinement had rolled by.

It was cold, cramped and dark in the bottle. The genie could see nothing, could feel nothing, could smell and taste … nothing. The only sense left to him was sound – the continual murmur and susurration of the sea, the distant moan and grumble of whales, clicking of dolphins and the occasional ‘tick, tick, tick’ as a crab, or some other oceanic crustacean, explored the outside of his prison with its claws or antenna.

And now there were new sensations – the sound of the bottle grinding against stones, the sense of being dragged across the seabed, lifted and shaken violently. He could hear new sounds – a mumbling voice, the distant mewing of seabirds, and now – oh sweet relief – a bright shaft of sunlight stabbing down into the bottle as the lead seal was prized open.

With a huge sense of relief, the genie shot from the bottle as a jet of oily, black smoke which spiralled skywards. As it reached the clouds he coalesced and took on a solid form – arms and legs which he could stretch luxuriously, a strong body and a fierce face, full of terrible splendour.

The Fisherman and the Genie, from Tales from Arabian Nights, illustration by Joseph Smith.

Looking down, the genie saw a man dressed in ragged clothing with a dripping net draped over one shoulder standing on the sand at his feet. The fisherman looked no bigger than a beetle, he had only to lift his foot and he could crush the life from him. And then the genie remembered just why he had been confined, he gave a deep bow and cried out, “There is no god but Allah, and Solomon is his prophet.”

The fisherman’s mouth flopped open like a stunned fish and he gave the genie a quizzical look. “What are you wittering on about Solomon for? Solomon has been dead these eighteen hundred years!”

“Then congratulations little man, today is the day you die!”

“Why?” spluttered the fisherman, “I freed you from confinement, you should be grateful. You should, at least, grant me three wishes!”

So the genie told the fisherman the story of his confinement. “When I was first confined,” he continued, “I promised that, whoever rescued me would be showered with riches. A hundred years passed and I promised that I would open the earth for my rescuer and reveal all of its treasures. Then four hundred years passed and I grew angry, so I promised that I would kill the man who set me free, but I will, at least, let you choose the manner of your death.”

The fisherman looked shocked for a moment and then a sly look passed over his face. “Oh great and magnificent genie, I think that you are, truly, the father of all liars. How could someone as large and powerful as you fit into so small a space – even your little toe is far too big to fit!”

“Prepare to be amazed, little man,” boomed the genie in a smug voice, “watch and marvel.” With that he turned back into the column of smoke which wound its way back down into the bottle. He was just beginning to feel pleased with himself when all went dark as the lead seal was snapped back onto the bottle. ‘Bugger! That’s how I came to be confined last time,’ remembered the genie, ‘all men are cunning, devious and definitely not to be trusted.’ To make the genie’s position even more uncomfortable, the fisherman began to regale him with the story of a King called Yunnan who was killed after having the doctor who cured him of leprosy, executed.

“So you see,” said the fisherman as his tale finally wound its way to its ending, “Allah killed Yunan because he killed the doctor. And because you threatened to kill me I’m going to throw you back and warn everyone who fishes in this bay to do the same if they catch you.”

The genie was, by now, in a panic, he couldn’t face the thought of one more day at the bottom of the sea. “Please, please,” he begged, “punish me with kindness as the saying goes. Set me free again and I’ll see that you gain a great reward.” Having sworn strong oaths not to harm the fisherman, to the genie’s relief, the bottle was un-stoppered once again. Being, finally, free the first thing that he did was to kick the bottle out to sea, where it sank without a trace after a very satisfying splash. To his great delight, he saw that the fisherman had pissed himself with fright and he laughed.

“Follow me, little man,” said the genie, and he led the fisherman around the outskirts of the city. After a short walk, they climbed a mountain and found an area of desert bounded by four mountains. In the middle of the desert was a lake full of fish – red fish, white fish, blue fish and yellow fish. On the lake’s shore, he told the fisherman to cast his net; the man caught four fish – one of each colour.

“Take those to the Sultan and he will give you a great reward, but first promise that you will not fish in this lake more than once a day. I beg you to excuse my lack of manners – I have spent the last eighteen hundred years on the seabed and have forgotten how affairs are conducted in the world of men.”

With that, the genie stamped his foot, the ground split open and with a great sigh of relief he sank into the bowels of the earth.