The Marid And His Slave

Position and Context

Mr. Macafee, Olivia, and Den are driving to the Lorns' to bargain over the Chinese egg. Den sees a white cloud pillar which reminds him both of the princess’s tower and the mast of Brandon’s ship. The cloud tower turns from white to black, and this reminds him of this story, ostensibly from the Arabian Nights, possibly because the cloud resembles a picture of a jinni. While the frame story, in which a fisherman has a jinni for his slave, does appear in the Arabian Nights, this particular story does not.

The Story

This story is introduced by having a fisherman asking a jinni, who is his slave, for a tale to distract him from his cares. The tale is about a marid, named Naranj, and his slave, a man named ben Yahya. The marid makes a living by turning stones to kine, which his slave then butchers and sells, and by turning roots from the fields, which the slave gathers, into sherbet. One day the slave is carrying a great jar full of sherbet when he sees a pear on a branch above him. He climbs on the jar to pick the pear, but is distracted by the sight of a beautiful woman behind a wall, with whom he falls in love. He falls to the ground, breaking the jar and losing the pear, the sherbet, and his view of the woman.

When the marid hears about this, he reveals that he was watching, and that the woman is also his slave. The marid makes a deal: if Ben Yahya serves him absolutely faithfully for thirty years, "as the windlass serves the well or the oar the ship," then the marid will free both him and his love. When the thirty years are up, the marid snatches him up and flies far away, to a "land of great mountains, all of marble and jasper and lapis lazuli, with lions about their feet, and black apes upon their slopes, and snow upon their summits," containing a walled city called "the Haunted City." He leaves Ben Yahya at the gates of this city, says the woman is within, and vanishes. At this point, the story is interrupted, as all Arabian Nights stories are, with And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.

Notes

A marid is a particular type of jinni.

Significance

The marid Naranj represents Julius Smart. His name means “orange” and he turns roots (potatoes) into sherbet (imitation frozen orange juice).
The slave Ben Yahya represents Weer. Ben Yahya means “son of John” in Arabic.
The fall off the jar parallels the coldhouse incident.
The slave's service is to be done with no thought of remuneration, as the windlass "drinks not of the water" and the oar "has no profit in the voyage."
The Haunted City in the story may be cognate with Weer's afterlife as a ghost.

Interpretation

Weer is working in the factory owned by his uncle Julius when he lets the boy die in the coldhouse. Although he was a worker in the factory before this incident, afterwards he may have lost any chances of promotion, and been stuck in a low-paying position for many years. We know that he was relatively poor until he inherited the company; and elsewhere in the book, when Weer says that middle management was not fond of practical jokes, he may have been referring to this incident. The feud with Uncle Julius would have kept him from appealing to higher management, although presumably the coldhouse incident was covered up because he was a relative of the president. Why didn't he leave the company altogether? During the Depression, it would have been hard to find a job, especially without good references. He also may have been afraid of exposure.

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