Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin are the co-editors of the new collection The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories, available March 14 from Solaris Books, and featuring magical tales by Neil Gaiman, Nnedi Okorafor, Jamal Mahjoub, K.J. Parker, and more. Today, they’ve joined us to talk about the collection and share a few more favorite djinn stories.
Jinn are the ideal literary “other.” They’re close enough to human to represent all our flaws and potential, but far enough away to allow us the distance to observe them. In The Djinn Falls in Love, one of the recurring themes is that connection between humanity and jinn—how we are emotionally entangled with our fiery counterparts. (Thus the title!)
Jinn are also fascinating in how they connect, not only with people, but with places. Stories abound—both historical and contemporary—of jinn possessing a location, whether that’s finding an abandoned property and making it their own, building empires and magical kingdoms on the “other side” of the world, grudgingly sharing an apartment with its human dwellers, or simply clinging to a dark corner and refusing to move. In this collection, the jinn settle in to abandoned rooms, bustling cities, even a spaceship. Like humans, they’re adaptable, and always looking for a home.
Here are a few more of our favorite stories about this magical mirror images of humanity.
In “Old Souls,” collected in We See A Different Frontier, J.Y. Yang writes about the relationship with literal spirits of place—sentient representations of parts of a city’s past that need to be cleansed, often brutally, so progress can be made. It fits with the anthology’s post-colonial theme, and, although never named as such, Yang’s spirits seem a form of jinn.
The djinns (the word is spelled a variety of ways, depending on the culture and whims of he storyteller) in Jamal Mahjoub’s Travelling with Djinns are purely metaphorical—the spiritual weight carried by a journalist as he spans Europe, son in tow, in the wake of his dramatically failed marriage. As well as proving that even adults can have “coming of age” stories, Mahjoub discusses the notion of self as it relates to one’s sense of place. Who are we if we have no home, or, worse, nowhere to go? People and jinn both need roots.
In Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni, turn of the century New York is just as much a character as the two titular ones. The growing, beautiful city, filled with the life and fire of its new inhabitants (human and supernatural) is a glorious setting – and the characters finding their place within it as just as important as finding their connection to one another.
In Saad Hossain’s “Djinns Live by the Sea” in The Apex Book of World SF 4, an industrialist befriends the djinn who has been haunting him, and asks of him a physical secret: access to an ancient buried kingdom of djinns, one of their great secrets, a space entire species died to create. What is this secret worth to a man who has everything he needs, and nothing much that he cares about? What is it worth to a djinn who is in exile? Once again, we see humans and djinns as two halves of one desire, two sides to one life.
Monica Byrne’s debut novel The Girl in the Road is also about haunted spaces between people. Two women travel towards each other from opposite directions in time and space, each aware of her ghosts, unaware of what new spaces await her. Meena, in particular, is travelling along a floating pontoon bridge that is like ‘a poem, not a physical thing’, existing in a space that is literally in between others, a place where she can author ‘her own madness’.
Booker nominee Mohsin Hamid’s latest novel Exit West is a story featuring doors in permeable places that act as thresholds to other lands, doors found in a violent country filled with refugees where the two lead characters watch their loved ones die in terrible, senseless carnage as the city’s situation worsens. It’s a story about displacement and identity, a story about trying to settle into a space in which you may not belong, if everyone is a migrant ‘through time’.
And, finally, the new anthology, Spirits of Place, edited by John Reppion and featuring work by Alan Moore, Iain Sinclair, Maria J. Perez Cuervo and Vajra Chandrasekera. A sprawling collection of narratives about space, setting, and spirituality, it touches on everything from secret libraries to radio signals. Ultimately though, its entries are all linked by the belief that places—like people—have spirits. The jinn would agree.
Do you have a favorite jinni story?