Look in the mirror if you want to get the general idea of what a genie looks like. Supposedly, they look very much like humans. No, I haven’t ever seen a jinni. Or have I? There was this one contractor who tossed those split rails around like they were toothpicks on a canapé tray. The jinn are renowned for their talent and capacity to build things. This fellow was constructing a fence. Large, rounded and efficient biceps flexed and contracted, flexed and contracted, flexed and contracted; muscle and flesh glistening with sweat in the heat of the noonday sun…. hmmm….but I digress. The point is that the form of a jinni may be similar to that of a human, according to oral tradition and historical narrative, such as the stories in the Arabian Nights. You just may not be able to see him or her.
Scholars who have studied the jinn refer to the Koran which states that the jinn are known as the hidden. That they can’t be seen by humans. That their substance is vaporous or ethereal.
Surely he (Shaitan) sees you, he and and his tribe,
from where you see them not. [7:27]
Sort of gives them an advantage, doesn’t it? And how convenient for those days when a genie just doesn’t have time to wash her hair. As often happens in the Arabian Nights, a jinni is able to assume the form of a human or to actually inhabit the body of a person or an animal, including snakes, scorpions, horses, camels, cattle, sheep, or birds. [from The Jinn by Mustafa Ashour: Dar Al Taqwa, London, 1989]
There are certainly stories in the Bible about demons inhabiting snakes and animals. In three books of the New Testament–Matthew, Mark, and Luke–there’s a story of Jesus driving demons into a herd of swine. The demons were bedeviling a couple of unfortunate humans, disrupting the local peace. Their subsequent forced dive from a cliff was probably deserved. I contend those two malcontents were probably genies. We just don’t call them that. But the Western description of demons clearly overlaps with the Eastern sensibility around the jinn. Genies have been “demonized” in Western culture, yet not all genies are bad. And, frankly, I bet they prefer a two-legged body to a four-legged, hoofed sow. Nobody enjoys eating from a trough.
Despite the now famous cartoon renderings of genies as blue and balloon-like, the West concedes a human body for the jinn.Voluptuous and attractive are possible genie physical attributes. Yes, that’s right. The genie in I Dream of Jeannie may be known to you and me as Barabara Eden, but she does a fine imitation of a genie. It just so happens that I own the entire DVD collection of the series. Really, it’s all in the name of research and not a juvenile appreciation for retro decor and pratfall humor. (Okay, okay. I confess. At one point, I had a crush on Major Roger Healey.) Nevertheless, in my professional genie depiction opinion (and I’ve depicted many a genie in my books), the physical rendering of genies in this show is authentic.
Ultimately, whether our stories, beliefs, and characters originate in the Middle East or the East Coast, we’re more alike than we might like to admit.
So, there’s your answer. If you’ve been up nights wondering what genies look like. Wonder no more. Genies look like us. Now, instead of chasing wisps of smoke and trying to catch a genie in a bottle, tune in to TV Land for a random episode of I Dream of Jeannie. Meanwhile, if you happen to see a real genie, don’t bother them with wishes. That’s a myth.
Meet some real genies in The Genie Ignites, from Boroughs Publishing Group.