Aladdin and Paris

Publication day for Twenty-One Nights in Paris is approaching more quickly than I can prepare for, since I’m busy whipping the ‘P’ book (spring 2023) into shape. But I’ve just taken the time to write the publication day blog post for my publisher and you guys can have a sneak peek on here! Here’s a little background about the influence of the story of Aladdin on Twenty-One Nights in Paris.

With the city as my muse, I began planning Twenty-One Nights in Paris more with vibes than anything else. I knew I wanted a fairytale mood, where you feel the magic of life’s chances and coincidences and a love story with epic obstacles (to overcome on the way to a touching ending – because you know I like to end things with warm fuzzies). As I developed the characters, I realised I’d created a set-up somewhat similar to the love story in Aladdin.

I was quite tickled to realise this and leaned into it (any excuse to rewatch the films!), adding characters (see if you can pick the genie and Jafar) with nods to the Disney adaptations. I liked the similarity especially because the character of Sacha, with his cultural influences and passion for history, had already led me to folklore as an influence for the book, and I had already created him with Middle-Eastern heritage, a ‘real’ Parisian.

Folklorists classify approximately 2,500 typical storylines that appear in various forms and repeat throughout European and Near Eastern folklore, creating a cultural treasure that is shared remarkably widely between cultures. The Aladdin story is classified by the tale of the genie in the lamp granting wishes, which is not something I focussed on in Twenty-One Nights in Paris (except for a few nuggets), but I love the synergy here between the elements of folklore and the familiar themes and tropes in romances.

The story of Aladdin gets even more interesting. Although associated with the Thousand-and-One Nights, the extensive collection of Arabic folk tales that proliferated in Europe in the seventeenth century due to a French translation by Antoine Galland, the story was not originally in that collection. It is first recorded as told by a Syrian traveller in Paris in 1709. The storyteller, known as Hanna Diyab, is not credited and what little is recorded about him suggests he was treated poorly at the French court, a bit like Sacha is treated with prejudice by Ren’s snobbish family (and shows he is the bigger man in the situation, eventually rewarded with his wonderful happy ending).

The original story of Aladdin, of course, is somewhat different to the Disney films and the character arc of Princess Jasmine escaping from the confines of the palace walls (something I used as an influence in Twenty-One Nights in Paris) doesn’t feature, but that’s the beauty of stories: despite the repetition of themes and motifs, plot elements and tropes, they are new every time they are told.

There’s something very human about these story elements and that also fits one of the themes in Twenty-One Nights in Paris: despite wealth and upbringing, power and advantage, we need to remember we’re all human first, and that’s an experience we share.

The cover of Twenty-One Nights in Paris by Leonie Mack, out 6 October 2022
My aesthetic board for Twenty-One Nights in Paris, with Sacha and Ren, a carousel, a bicycle, statues from the portal of Notre-Dame de Paris and impressions of Paris at night.

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