The limits of Genie’s power in Aladdin, or, why Jafar is an idiot

He has a pretty good body for a street rat who never has anything to eat.

In Disney’s 1992 classic Aladdin ((Which, by the way, is the only source this post references. I haven’t seen the 1994 direct-to-video sequel or the spin-off TV series, and I don’t intend to.)), Robin Williams’ Genie can do pretty much anything – except, as he points out shortly after meeting the eponymous hottie, grant more than three wishes, kill people, or force them to fall in love. Those exceptions aside, his powers are pretty much limitless.

(Or are they? What would happen if Aladdin wished that the rule banning wishing for more wishes no longer applied? Surely Genie would have to grant it; that Aladdin can wish Genie free at the end of the film demonstrates that it’s possible for “commanders” to wish genies to overcome their limitations.)

So, on the face of it, it makes sense for the archvillain Jafar to wish to become the most powerful genie in the film’s climax. He thereby gains that limitless (for all intents and purposes) power. “Ah ha!” you might point out. “It’s actually stupid of Jafar to wish to become a genie, because genies can only wield the full extent of their powers when a commander wishes for them to do so!”

But we know this isn’t so: when Aladdin is trapped with Genie in the Cave of Wonders, he tricks Genie into freeing him without wasting a wish. This proves that, in the Aladdinverse, genies can use their powers under their own steam. They may not like doing so – even when Aladdin is unconscious and drowning, Genie doesn’t save him until Aladdin kind-of-but-not-really “wishes” to be saved – but there doesn’t seem to be any penalty for granting these “freebies”.

(If you wanted to fanwank a little, and I do, you could make out like there’s some “genie equivalence rule” which dictates that, since Aladdin scored a free wish from Genie, Genie is thereby obliged to “trick” Aladdin into making a wish – which he clearly does in the above scene, by almost literally putting the words of the wish into his mouth.)

The magic carpet really is magic: it transports Aladdin and Jasmine from Egypt to Greece to China in (what appears to be) a single night. I'd calculate its average speed if I a) were good at maths, and b) weren't so lazy.

However. Further analysis reveals that your initial impulse to believe Jafar is stupid is correct, albeit not for the reason you supposed. It is stupid of Jafar to wish to become the most powerful genie in the world – because he had already wished to become the most powerful sorcerer in the world, which is already powerful enough.

(Jafar’s first wish to become sultan of Agrabah was a total wash, by the way. First, why not just wish to become ruler of the whole world? Granted, we don’t know big Agrabah’s empire is, but it’s sensible to cover one’s bases. Second, why not just wish to become a sorcerer in the first place, then use all that sorcery to usurp the Sultan?)

It’s telling that, after Jafar becomes the most powerful sorcerer, one of his first acts is to strip Prince Ali of his ersatz royalty and transform him back into plain old Aladdin. In other words, Jafar undoes the effects of Aladdin’s first wish. In other words, he overcomes Genie’s powers. In other words, at this point of the story Jafar is at least as strong as, if not stronger than, Genie.

The fact that Jafar – who is ostensibly a clever man, having managed to rise to the position of Grand Vizier in the Sultan’s palace, though in hindsight he probably only managed that because he had that hypnosis-snake-stick-thing – is then stupid enough to allow some riff-raff street rat to trick him into eternal imprisonment in a lamp, basically stripping him of the benefits of all his wishes, means he deserves what he got.

(Note that when Jafar wishes to become a genie, he’s immediately trapped in a lamp, suggesting imprisonment is the “natural” state of geniedom. Thus, the freed Genie at the end of the film represents a perverted abomination of nature. Furthermore, is it reasonable to assume that Genie was also once a man who was somehow turned into a genie, or do genies exist as entities separate from humans? Sadly, the film provides few hints to the answer – unless you assume it’s set in the far distant future, and Genie was somehow trapped in his lamp sometime around the late 20th century and has languished there for millennia. It’d certainly explain all his relatively contemporary pop-culture references, which would be lost on Aladdin.)

So while from Aladdin’s perspective the moral of the story is “wishes can’t grant happiness”, from Jafar’s perspective the moral is “wishes can grant happiness, but only if you choose your wishes carefully, you idiot moron.”


Short story: Tuned In

Horror Filming, *samuel123

Horror Filming, by Samuel123

It took months for my sons to convince me to subscribe to a pay television service, which I’ve always maintained is a dreadful waste of money, though I must admit that when they finally bought me a subscription I was rather looking forward to all those additional channels on my television set.

A large carton containing the set-top box was delivered to my home. Installation was simple enough. Though the set-top box came with a thick instruction book it was really just a matter of plugging a slender white cable into the back of the set, then switching it all on. I eased back into my cracked-leather sofa, the remote control that had come in the box held aloft in readiness.

The electronic program guide flickered into life on my TV screen. More than 100 channels to choose from – where to start! I decided to partake in the news, but even the selection of news channels was vast. I chose one at random. Sky News.

“… the attack by Ablahelzareth the Thousand Eyed Spawn continues into its third day,” intoned the reporter, who seemed to be standing somewhere around Circular Quay, “with the eldritch abomination continuing its assault on the Sydney Harbour Bridge…”

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Behind the reporter was the bridge, but it was being attacked by something… huge, by some behemoth rising up out of the harbour, tremendous streams of water sluicing off its swathes of horny toad skin. Thick long tentacles twisted up around the bent struts of the bridge, slathers of dripping viscous goo bubbling on to the surface of the road, barbed hooks scoring jagged cuts in the metal struts. Scores of pustulant eyeballs the size of cars protruded on stalks from all of the monster’s asymmetrical body, swivelling and blinking redly in the sun.

Parts of the creature’s massive bulk hung impossibly in the air. Several naval ships were positioned in the water around the beast, though none of them seemed to be doing anything. There appeared to be birds circling the creature, but as I squinted at them – my television set is very high-definition – I realised they were huge bat-like creations, squawking and swooping and spattering filthy dung over the sleek grey boats.

The entire image sucked and dragged at my eye, almost seeming to distort the edges of my TV set. Just looking at colossal monstrosity piqued vulgar flavours in my mouth, sent images of warped geometric shapes spiralling through the dark recesses of my mind.

I had caught the train over the Harbour Bridge not an hour earlier coming home from work. There was certainly not… some enormous monster hanging from it then.

I blinked. Gritted my teeth. The supposed reporter continued to yammer on in clipped tones, as if the horrific beast were no more consequential than a bad traffic jam. What was this horrible program? The abomination had to be some kind of ghastly computer effect, clearly, probably promoting one of those terrible new movies Hollywood makes, but what was it doing on a so-called news channel?

With a shaking finger I switched to CNN. Some kind of panel show, featuring perfectly coiffed Americans ensconced in a bright studio, came to life on the set.

“The Democrats are in crisis,” said one lady with a rock-hard blonde bob and an especially hard-curled accent. “Even if no one wants to admit it President Obama has ca-learly been driven to insanity since he laid eyes upon Yog-Sggauthnth the Great Goat-Headed Ruler of the Frozen Yonic Void -”

“Oh, please,” snorted a weaselly looking man in an ill-fitting suit. “Obama is very experienced with multi-dimensional eldritch abominations -”

“Yes, but -” the woman tried to interrupt, but the man pressed on.

“- and staring into Stygian waters seething with the trillion offspring of cruel dimensional abnormalities is a sight… is a sight he is well equipped to handle!” he said, by the end shouting to the heard over the blonde woman.

Another woman leapt into argue – something about the inability of any human mind to comprehend the sheer spectacle of the old ones from beyond the stars, regardless of its party affiliations – but what she said made not a lick of sense to me. I must confess that while I’m not as up on American politics as I ought to be, I’m not a complete dunce, and I couldn’t follow a word of this.

“1000-Eyed-Spawn continues Sydney assault,” read one of the headlines crawling along the bottom of the screen.

Annoyed, I brought up the electronic program guide again. A home renovation program would do the trick. Not that I’d be able to do much with their advice – what with my apartment being so small, lacking even a garden or second bedroom to do up – though I counted the genre among my favourites nevertheless.

An episode had only just begun. A strapping young lad holding a hammer was surrounded by the other presenters, explaining this episode’s project. By the look of all the tools and materials stacked behind them – vast sheets of corrugated iron and mounds of severe grey cinderblocks – I guessed it to be a big one.

“… fortifying your home against the plagues of horror that burst forth from the dark side of the moon is something you and your family can do in a weekend,” said the man with a grin.

“We’re gonna tell you how to build the home of your dreams,” added the woman standing next to the man, who had her hair pulled back in a ponytail, “that’s safe from the creatures of your nightmares.”

And she winked at the camera.

Hmmm. This was not at all promising. I lifted the remote again and circled through the channels to land on The Simpsons. Not my favourite television program, I admit, but my sons have watched it for years and I must admit to having enjoyed some of the episodes.

It was an older one, judging from the cruder look of the animation – the family had a strange bug-eyed look. They sat in their brightly coloured home watching television.

“Beer. Need beer,” Homer said.

“The Outer Gods took all the beer,” Marge said glumly.

“D’oh! Stupid Outer Gods,” said Homer. Suddenly a tentacle snapped through the window – sending the dog and cat fleeing – and wrapped itself around his neck! “I mean,” Homer managed, turning purple, eyes bulging comically, “woo hoo…” And the tentacle released him.

And it wasn’t even one of those Halloween episodes! Furious, and sick of tentacles, I switched off the television. Something had clearly gone terribly wrong. This… silliness was certainly not what I had signed up for.

I marched to the phone and dialled the pay television hotline.

“I would like to complain!” I announced, once I was through the maze of automated voices.

“Certainly, sir,” trilled the girl on the other end. “What seems to be the issue?”

I explained, sternly and clearly, that all my pay television channels were infested with tentacles and monsters and certainly not the informative and entertaining programming I expected, and given the price I had paid (I didn’t deem it necessary to mention that my sons had actually paid) I demanded a higher standard.

“I absolutely understand your complaint,” said the girl politely, once I’d finished. “Fortunately your problem is quite common among the newer set-top boxes, and very easy to fix.”

“Common? So the boxes are defective?”

“Oh, no,” she said. “Some of the boxes are shipped from the factory in China with incorrect default settings, that’s all. All you need to do to receive programming from our universe is reset the -”

“Pardon me? Our universe?”

“That’s correct,” said the girl, who at least sounded like she was born in this country. “Some of the set-top boxes, such as yours, are inadvertently tuned in to parallel universes when they’re manufactured. Those are realities that sit alongside our own, but are different in subtle and -”

“I know what a parallel universe is,” I snapped. “I wasn’t aware it was possible to receive programming from one.”

“Oh, yes, the technology in our set-top boxes is very advanced!” she said. “For example, would you like me to explain how you can record up to five programs at once to watch at your convenience, using -”

I interrupted her to explain I was perfectly capable of learning how to record programs on my own in due course, and that in the meantime I would very much like to set the box to tune into my universe.

So I followed her instructions: I switched off the box, flipped a switch on its backside, waited five minutes – filling the time by boiling the kettle – then fired it up again. The television set leapt into life. I scrolled through several of the channels: past an old British sitcom, a black-and-white movie, a soccer match. It all looked normal enough, but I kept my finger on the redial button of my phone in case I needed to complain again. Finally, I settled back on one of the news channels.

A reporter stood across the water from Manhattan, the skyscrapers of the city rising up behind him.

Above the skyscrapers hovered an enormous ship, low enough to almost brush the tops of the buildings. It was almost as wide as the island and stretched nearly half its length, rising hundreds of metres into the air and casting a shadow across perhaps the whole of New York City.

An alien spacecraft.

I leaned forward in my chair.

“… a seventh Araxerxian starship entered Earth’s orbit today and set a course for Tokyo, though ambassadors for the alien visitors still refuse to explain the purpose of the starships, or whether any more are to be dispatched from the mothership in the Kuiper Belt.”

The reporter stopped, straightened hair whipped by the wind, glanced momentarily back at the huge ship over Manhattan. He looked suspiciously similar to the reporter I’d watched earlier, though I supposed they all had a certain sameness about them.

“President Obama will meet will Araxerxi from the New York ship on Monday, with hopes of continuing talks that stalled after China’s attempted nuclear attack on the Beijing ship…”

I leaned back in my chair and sipped my tea. Yes, that was better.


The image I stole borrowed from *samuel123; you can see the high-res version at deviantART.

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Tuned In by Sam Downing is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.