Legends of the Fire Spirits by Robert Lebling – 3 Stars

Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar

Cover art thanks to Goodreads, click on it to visit book’s page there.

Non-Fiction

I own a print copy of this book.

Book Synopsis:

When Westerners think of a genie, the first image that comes to mind may be Barbara Eden in her pink harem pants or the illuminated blue buffoon from the animated Disney film Aladdin. But to the people of the Arab and Islamic worlds, the picture is dramatically different. Legends of the Fire Spirits looks beyond Westernized caricatures to immerse the reader in the vibrant lore of the jinn—the wondrous, often troublesome, and sometimes terrifying spirit beings of ancient Arab and Islamic tradition.

Robert Lebling delves into long-lost accounts, medieval histories, colonial records, anthropologist’s reports, and traveler’s tales to explore the origin and evolution of legends that continue to thrive in the Middle East and beyond. He cuts through centuries of Orientalists’ cultural presumption to craft a study that stands apart from the overwhelming body of literature concerned with religion in the Middle East.

A captivating synthesis of history and folklore, this is the most diverse collection of jinn lore ever assembled in one volume. From ancient scriptures to The Arabian Nights and beyond, and with a foreword by acclaimed filmmaker Tahir Shah, Lebling has constructed a comprehensive account that not only transcends geographical borders but also spans some four millennia.

My Review:

I recently developed an interest in learning more about Jinn or Genies and picked up this book in order to satisfy some of that curiosity and use as reference in the future.  On the whole I liked the book and it had a lot of useful information, coming to the subject with little for knowledge outside of Hollywood that is, but there were a couple problems I had with the book.  Still I think if you are researching the topic, this is a book you should look into.

I found this book was very useful in helping to separate how all the different cultures that have Jinn in their folklore differ and how they influence each other.  I also had not realized how many of these cultures continue to believe and have recent accounts of Jinn in modern-day.  There is a lot of interesting insight as to Jinn origins and the common themes about the being that are present in most cultures.  The very end, in one of the appendix the author even goes into how Jinn might be explained scientifically,  this section I wish had been given more page time or even its own chapter.

My issues with the book.  Too much repetition and it felt like he was going off topic sometimes.  The names were also awful,  while I am sure they are culturally accurate, they were difficult to understand and keep track of.  Most of the time I just ended up glossing over them and it make everything quite confusing.  The book was also a little dry, this might just be me though…  I’m normally a fiction reader and sometimes I found myself getting bored, especially when it felt like the author was repeating stories of information we already knew.   Still I am surprised at how quickly I read the book, most of the time non-fiction is a struggle for me unless it is a topic I am extremely fascinated by.

Good reference book, left wanting more though.  Would have been nice to have a section on pop culture’s influence on the Jinn legends for comparison, to see how accurate or inaccurate Hollywood has represented the beings.  Still I think it served as a good starting point.  Will be reading more on the topic.

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