I’ve written a lot of books with strong mythological bones in them. Greek, Norse, Russian, Aztec, Spanish, Indian. Much like Pokemon, I intend to explore them all, sooner or later. And for my new book Raziel’s Shadow, I have journeyed into Arabian myth and legend.
[ Note: I am aware that, like many cultures today, Arabian culture is vast and complex, and while some modern Arabs may see their own ancient stories as mythological or folkloric, others may see them as living aspects of their beliefs and world-views. My use of these ideas, images, and stories is not meant to belittle or appropriate them, but to explore and perhaps introduce them to readers in an engaging manner. I certainly hope I succeeded. ]
The advent of Islam in Arabia, much like the advent of Christianity in Europe, involved the incorporation of “pagan” or other external concepts of the divine or supernatural world into the new religious framework. This included two very important classes of beings: angels and djinn.
Angels are fairly familiar to us westerners. They tend to have wings (often more than two), and sometimes have strange numbers of feet, hands, eyes, and tongues. Sometimes they carry flaming swords or trumpets or books. And they all have jobs, though few have names. Officially, only a few angels are named: Gabriel (Jibril), Michael (Mikail), Raphael (Israfil), and Azrael among them.
Angels, of course, serve God in countless functions to make the universe work and carry out special tasks, ranging from teaching people to destroying cities. In the Arabian interpretation, angels are beings of light, lacking in free will, and serving both cosmic and personal functions.
Djinn (or jinn) are a bit more complicated. Djinn are beings of smokeless fire (and humans are beings of clay), but djinn have more in common with humans than angels. Djinn have free will, they live in societies, worship God (or not), and generally act like people. Key differences usually relate to the djinn’s supernatural abilities, such as invisibility, shape-shifting, and traveling at great speed. In this tradition, Satan (Shaytan) was a djinn, not an angel.
But beyond this notion of djinn as merely “invisible and somewhat magical people”, they also existed in several classes of monstrous creatures, which you may recognize from various fantasy games and movies. Ifrits are powerful creatures of fire, marids are enormous creatures of the sea, ghuls are bestial eaters of the dead, and Shaytan (aka Iblis) had no power at all except the ability to lead others into evil.
And I thought that was all fertile ground to explore in my new book, a classic quest through demon-infested lands to save a kingdom (and the world!).
[ Learn more about Raziel’s Shadow ]