The best-known version of Aladdin in the modern West only bears a passing resemblance to the real story of Aladdin from Arabian Nights. For example, the original had two genies, only one of whom was trapped in a lamp, Aladdin wasn’t an orphan beggar, and the genie wasn’t, well, blue.
One key difference is what Aladdin asks the genie of the lamp for in the original story. It isn’t as simple as getting three wishes or asking to become a prince. In fact, Aladdin asks the genie of the lamp for a number of things, including to be transported into the princess’ bed.
Aladdin and the genie in the ring
The original story of Aladdin begins with a man claiming to be Aladdin’s uncle leading the boy into the desert and showing him a cave said to hold great treasure. He gives Aladdin a ring for courage and tells him to search for a lighted lamp inside this cave and bring it back to the entrance. Aladdin agrees, delves into the cavern, but hesitates when his uncle tells him to throw the lamp to him before exiting. Furious, the man (who wasn’t Aladdin’s uncle) seals the boy inside the cave.
Aladdin is trapped underground for two days, and all he does is cry and lament at his terrible fortune. Fed up with the darkness and solitude, he at last clasps his hands to pray for escape. When he does, he accidentally rubs the ring, which frees the genie trapped inside.
The genie emerges, announcing he is the Slave of the Ring and will obey Aladdin in all things. Here, Aladdin makes his first of not just three wishes, but many. Aladdin asks the genie to free him from the cavern, and immediately the earth shakes and an opening appears. Aladdin rushes home and faints at the door.
The genie of the lamp
Aladdin brought back a few treasures from his time in the cave, including the lamp. His mom finds it and decides to sell it at the market. She goes to clean it with a rag, and as soon as she rubs the lamp, a hideous genie appears and asks her what she wants. She faints, but Aladdin snatches the lamp and makes the casual wish for some food. The genie obeys, bringing them a hot meal on fancy silver plates.
Aladdin and his mom live for years with the genie of the lamp, repeatedly wishing it to bring them food and selling the silver plates after they’ve eaten. One day Aladdin catches a glimpse of the Sultan’s daughter and immediately falls in love. This is where Aladdin starts asking the genie of the lamp for more than just hot meals.
Asking the genie of the lamp for more
After seeing the princess, Aladdin’s first big wish is to be married to her. He then asks for a scented bath, a wonderful horse, a collection of slaves, and a fine palace of marble, jasper, and agate (which was built in a single day). Later, when Aladdin’s life is at stake, he asks the genie of the ring to save him. The genie says it’s not in his power and that Aladdin should ask the genie of the lamp instead.
This is actually an interesting point that’s lost in most retelling of Aladdin. In ancient Arabic stories there are more than just one kind of genie (djinn): there are many, each with their own characteristics and abilities. Clearly the genie of the ring didn’t possess as powerful of magic as the genie of the lamp.
Finally, late in the story Aladdin makes one last wish to the genie of the lamp: for a roc’s egg to hang in the palace. At this the genie lets out a tremendous shriek, proclaiming that the roc is the genie’s true master. He warns Aladdin of other dangers to his life, then disappears.
There is plenty of speculation about this final exchange between Aladdin and the genie, as the story doesn’t make it clear why a roc’s egg is the genie’s master. The meaning of the conversation is pretty clear, however: genies may grant wishes, but at the end of the day, humans are not their absolute masters. Higher powers exist, higher than even genies themselves.