This classic retelling of the ever-popular Middle Eastern folktale has entranced readers for over a century. Originally published in 1914 as part of Sindbad the Sailor and Other Stories from The Arabian Nights, this beautiful version by Laurence Housman features eight full-color images by Edmund Dulac, one of the era's most famous illustrators.
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About the Author
Laurence Housman (1865–1959) worked as a book designer and illustrator for publisher John Lane and is best known for his work on Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market. Later in his career, he pursued his interest in writing, becoming a successful author and playwright.
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Know, O King, that, once upon a time, in a far city of Cathay, there dwelt a poor tailor who had an only son named Aladdin. This boy was a born ne'er-do-well, and persistently resisted all his father's efforts to teach him a trade by means of which he would be able in future to earn a livelihood. Aladdin would sooner play at knucklebones in the gutter with others as careless as himself than he would set his mind to honest business; and, as to obeying his parents in the smallest matter, it was not in his nature. Such was this boy Aladdin, and yet — so remarkable is the favour of fate — he was strangely predestined for great things.
Stricken with grief because of the waywardness and idle conduct of his son the father fell ill and died, and the mother found great difficulty in supporting herself, to say nothing of the worthless Aladdin as well. While she wore the flesh off her bones in the endeavour to obtain a meagre subsistence Aladdin would amuse himself with his fellow urchins of the street, only returning home to his meals. In this way he continued until he was fourteen years of age, when his extraordinary destiny took him by the hand, and led him, step by step, through adventures so wonderful that words can scarce describe them.
One day he was playing in the gutter with his ragged companions, as was his wont, when a Moorish Dervish came by, and, catching sight of Aladdin's face, suddenly stopped and approached him. This Dervish was a sorcerer who had discovered many hidden secrets by his black art; in fact, he was on the track of one now; and, by the look on his face as he scrutinised Aladdin's features, it seemed that the boy was closely connected with his quest.
The Dervish beckoned to one of the urchins and asked him who Aladdin was, who his father was, and indeed all about him. Having thus learned the whole history of the boy and his family the Dervish gave his informer some coins and sent him away to spend them. Then he approached Aladdin and said to him, "Boy, I seem to recognise in thee a family likeness. Art thou not the tailor's son?" Aladdin answered him that he was, and added that his father was dead.
On hearing this the Dervish cried out with grief and embraced Aladdin, weeping bitterly. The boy was surprised at this and enquired the cause of such sorrow. "Alas!" replied the Dervish with tears running down his cheeks, "my fate is an unhappy one. Boy, I have come from a distant country to find my brother, to look upon his face again, and to cheer and comfort him; and now thou tellest me he is dead." He took Aladdin's face in his hands and gazed searchingly upon it as he continued: "Boy, I recognise my brother's features in thine; and, now that he is dead, I will find comfort in thee."
Aladdin looked up at him in wonder, for he had never been told that he had an uncle; indeed, he was inclined to doubt the truth of the matter; but, when the Dervish took ten pieces of gold from his purse and placed them in his hand, all doubt was out of the question, and he rejoiced at having found so rich an uncle. The Dervish then asked him concerning his mother and begged him to show him the way to her house. And, when Aladdin had shewed him, he gave the boy more gold and said, "Give this to thy mother with my blessing, and say that her brother-in-law, who has been absent forty years, has returned and will visit her to-morrow to weep with her over the place where his brother is buried." With this he departed, and Aladdin ran to his mother to tell her the news.
"Mother! Mother!" he cried excitedly, bursting in upon her, "my uncle hath returned after forty years; he wept when I told him my father was dead; he salutes thee and —" "My son," she broke in, "what are these wild words? Thou hast no uncle, and the only one thou ever hadst died many years before thou wast born." "Nay, nay;" returned Aladdin, "this is my father's brother; he recognised my father's features in mine and wept, and gave me this to bring to thee, with a message that he would come to see thee to-morrow."
He handed her the gold, and, as the widow took it, her doubt was lessened considerably. "I wonder," she cried. "Can it be that my husband's brother did not die after all, or that he has risen from the grave? In either case he is rich and generous."
On the morrow the Dervish sought Aladdin in the street where he had seen him the day before, and found him there among his disreputable friends. Taking him aside he kissed him and embraced him; then, placing ten gold pieces in his hand, he said, "Hasten now to thy mother and give her these gold pieces and say that her brother-in-law would come to sup at her house this night."
So Aladdin left him and ran home to his mother with the gold pieces and the message. Then the widow busied herself and prepared for the coming of this new-found relative. She bought rich food, and borrowed from the neighbours such dishes, utensils and napery as she required. When the supper was ready, and the widow was about to send Aladdin to hasten the guest, the Dervish entered, followed by a servant bearing fruit and wine, which he set down, and then went his way. The Dervish, weeping bitterly, saluted the widow and immediately fell to asking questions about the departed, finally desiring to know which was his empty seat. On being shown it he prostrated himself and cried, "Alas! that I should return to find his place vacant. Oh! woe; there is no power nor strength but in God!" And he ceased not to weep until he had convinced the widow that his grief was genuine.
Then, when he was comforted and they all sat at supper together, the Dervish told them how he had journeyed from a far land with one thought only: to see his brother once again; and how, with a great joy, he had chanced to find Aladdin, in whose face he had recognised his brother's likeness — a joy so suddenly turned to sadness and grief on his learning that his only brother was dead. At his words the widow fell to weeping, whereupon the Dervish, to change the subject of talk, turned to Aladdin and asked him if he knew any art or trade. At this Aladdin hung his head, and, as he was too ashamed to answer, his mother dried her tears and answered for him. "Alack!" she said, "he is nothing but an idler. He spends his time as thou didst find him, playing with ragamuffins in the street, and is never at home except at meal times. And I — I am an old woman and ugly through toil and hardship, and grief at his behaviour. O my brother- in-law! It is he who should provide for me, not I for him."
"I am grieved to hear this of thee," said the Dervish, turning to Aladdin; "for thou art no longer a child, but a man of ability and kindness; and thou shouldst work to provide for thine aged mother so that she may live in comfort. Now, tell thine uncle what trade thou wouldst follow, and he will start thee in it so that in time thou mayst be able to support thy mother and thyself. Come, my son!" But Aladdin was still silent, and it was clear that he had no mind to work at any trade. Seeing this the Dervish made a better offer. "Wouldst thou like to be a merchant?" he asked. "If so I will give thee a shop with all kinds of merchandise, and thou shalt buy and sell and get gain, and rise to a position of importance."
Now Aladdin regarded a merchant as a well-dressed, well-fed being, who did no work to speak of, but, from the profits on his wares, lived in a state of perfect delight. So the suggestion pleased him, and he replied with a smile that, above all things, he would like to be a merchant. "It is well, O Son of my brother!" replied the Dervish. "Then, to-morrow, I will take thee to the market and purchase a fine dress for thee, so that thou wilt be well received amongst thy fellow merchants; and, on the following day, I will stock a shop and set thee up in it; for this is the least I can do to show the great affection I bear for the memory of my late lamented brother."
At this Aladdin clapped his hands with glee, and his mother was rejoiced. If at first she had been disposed to doubt the Dervish she now accepted him unreservedly as her brother-in-law, saying within herself, "Who but the boy's uncle would behave with such great kindness towards him?" And she chid her boy for his own good, and counselled him straitly to obey his uncle in all things. The Dervish also gave Aladdin much sound advice on the conduct of trade, so that the boy's head was bursting with buying and selling, and he could not sleep that night for dreams of rich stuffs, and bales of merchandise. At last, when the Dervish arose and took his departure, promising to return for Aladdin on the morrow and take him to buy his merchant's dress, the wizard felt that he had proved himself undoubtedly the best of brothers-in-law, and the best of uncles.
True to his word the Dervish came on the morrow, and Aladdin, holding him affectionately by the hand, went with him forth to the market. There they entered a shop full of the finest materials, and the Dervish asked to be shewn some dresses such as a wealthy merchant might wear. The owner of the shop laid a great variety before him and the Dervish said, "Now, my son, choose what dress you like." This delicate favour of choice pleased Aladdin greatly, for it seemed that he had now at last reached the age of discretion. He picked out one that he liked, and the Dervish paid the price without any attempt at bargaining. Then they went together to the Hammam, and, when they had bathed and rested, Aladdin clothed himself in his new dress and came forth in great delight, kissing his uncle's hand and thanking him again and again.
The Dervish then showed Aladdin the market and the traffic in goods, saying that he must study all these things in order to be apt in his profession. From the markets they passed on to the mosques and other fine buildings in the city, and thence to an eating-place where the finest food was served on silver dishes, and the sherbet was of the rarest kind. Here they regaled themselves sumptuously, and rested. And, whenever Aladdin thanked his uncle for his kindness, the Dervish replied, "Nay, boy; am I not thine uncle? Would that I could do more by my brother's son."
When the afternoon came they strolled in the beautiful gardens, and the Dervish delighted Aladdin by showing him the pleasure grounds and the magnificent palaces. And so they wandered on, hand in hand, until they came to a garden full of every delight, where crystal streams flowed between glorious banks of flowers, and fountains played and sparkled in the sunlight. There they sat down by the side of the running water and made merry, so that none observing them could doubt that they were kind uncle and glad nephew.
After they had rested the Dervish suggested a walk, and he led Aladdin through garden after garden until they came to the confines of the city, beyond which stood a high hill. "Shall we return, O my uncle?" said Aladdin, who was in no mood for climbing the hill. "There are no more gardens outside the city." "Nay," replied the Dervish, "on the hillside is the loveliest garden of all. Bear up, my son, and be a man; we shall soon be there." And, as they went, he beguiled the boy with anecdotes, so that Aladdin forgot both the length of the way and his weariness.
At last they came to a place on the hillside where the Dervish paused and looked about him, saying to himself, "This is the spot I have journeyed so far to find." But to Aladdin he said, "Rest here awhile, O my son, and, when thou art refreshed, gather some wood and we will make a fire; then, if thou wish to see a most wonderful thing, I will shew thee that which will take thy breath away."
At this Aladdin's curiosity was excited, and, with no thought of resting, he began at once to gather wood. When he had collected a sufficient quantity the Dervish lighted the fire, and, taking from his wallet a little box, drew some fine powder from it and scattered it over the fire, uttering an incantation. Immediately, amid rumblings of thunder, the earth reeled and opened. At this Aladdin fled in terror, but the Dervish, powerless to effect his purpose without the boy's aid, flew after him in a rage, and smote him over the head, so that he fell to the ground stunned.
When, presently, he regained his senses, he sat up and cried out, "What have I done, O my uncle, that thou shouldst strike me?" "Nay, my son," replied the Dervish, "I intended not to hurt thee. Come, now, be a man, and obey my wishes if thou wouldst see the wonderful things that I will shew thee." With such words as these he banished Aladdin's fears and smoothed him over. Then he directed him to the opening in the earth, where there was revealed a slab of marble with a brass ring let into it. The Dervish stooped and began to draw figures upon the ground, saying as he did so, "Obey me, Aladdin, in all that I say, for so thou shalt become richer than all the kings of the earth. Know, O my son, that beyond that slab of stone lies vast treasure which none but thee can acquire and live. Therefore, advance, my son, and take the brass ring in thy hand, and lift the slab from its place; for it is predestined that thou art the only one on this earth that hath the power to do this thing." And Aladdin, stirred to great wonder by the words of the Dervish, would have done his bidding with alacrity, but, on looking at the marble slab, he saw that it was far too heavy for him.
"Never can I raise that alone, O my uncle," he said. "Wilt thou not help me?" "Nay," answered the Dervish, "it will yield to no hand but thine. Grasp the ring and repeat the names of as many of thine ancestors as thou canst remember, beginning with thy father and mother; for thine ancestors are my ancestors, O my son! By this the stone will come away quite easily in thy hand as if it were a feather. Am I not thine uncle, and have I not said it? And did I not cleave the hillside with my incantations? Wherefore, pluck up courage, and forget not that all the riches beyond that stone are for thee."
Thus encouraged Aladdin advanced to the stone, repeating the names of all the ancestors he could remember; and, taking hold of the ring, lifted the heavy slab from its place with perfect ease, and threw it aside. Then within the aperture lay revealed a stairway of twelve steps leading into a passage.
While Aladdin was gazing at this wonder the Dervish took a ring from his finger and placed it upon the middle finger of the boy's right hand, saying impressively as he did so, "Listen to me, O my son! fear nothing in what I am about to bid thee do, for this ring will be thy protection in all dangers and against all evils. If thou shouldst find thyself in evil case thou hast only to —, but of that I will tell thee presently. What is more important now is this. In order to come at the treasure, O my son, steady thyself and listen attentively, and see to it that thou fail not a word of these my instructions. Go down the steps and traverse the passage to the end, where thou wilt find a chamber divided into four parts, each containing four vessels of gold. Touch not these on thy life, for if so much as the fringe of thy robe cometh in contact with any of them, thou wilt immediately be turned into stone. Linger not to gaze upon them, but pass right through to the end, where thou wilt find a door. Open this, repeating again the names of thine ancestors, when lo, thou wilt behold a beautiful garden before thee. Take the pathway that is ready for thy feet and proceed forty nine cubits until thou comest to an alcove, where is set a stairway of forty nine steps. Look not to ascend that stairway: it is not for thee nor me; but direct thine attention to a lamp hanging above the alcove. Take it from its fastening, and pour out the oil therein; then put it in thy breast securely, and retrace thy steps to me. Is it clear to thee, my son?"
"O my uncle, it is quite clear," replied Aladdin, and he repeated the instructions he had received. "Pull thy wits together then, my son," said the Dervish, well pleased; "and descend, for verily thou art a man of mettle, and not a child. Yea, thou, and thou only, art the rightful owner of all this great treasure. Come now!"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp"
Copyright © 2019 Laurence Housman.
Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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