Why You Should Watch Aladdin

The children’s film, Aladdin, released at cinemas in South Africa aladdinrecently. It is based on the story Aladdin and the Magic Lamp and explores the themes of power and desire. The clever, satisfying ending makes the moral of the story clear for viewers: Your motives are powerful; be careful of them because, unchecked, they can lead to your destruction.

For parents keen to expose their children to films and stories that provoke interesting, worthwhile discussions I recommend Aladdin. But parental guidance is advised. This 2019 version is very similar to the 1992 animated one – funny, endearing and entertaining. However, this year’s film stars real people. Without the barrier of cartoon characters the romance between Aladdin and the princess Jasmine seems inappropriate for very small children. (Of course, this point is mild when you compare it to one of the older written versions of the story. In the latter, Aladdin spends the night with the princess after having lured an earlier suitor out of the way!)

aladdinBriefly, the story Aladdin opens with an unlikely hero: a poor, fatherless, young thief named Aladdin. The antagonist is a powerful man called Jafar, counsellor to the country’s Sultan. Jafar wants the Sultan’s powerful position for himself. Desire (for position and power). Aladdin – to put it crudely – wants the Sultan’s daughter (Jasmine) for himself. Desire (for riches and love). The source of empowerment in the story is a supposed magic lamp which contains a genie who is able to grant the lamp keeper’s wishes. Jafar and Aladdin vie for the lamp and this creates the conflict in the story.

Whilst the genie has the power to grant the wishes, the genie’s power is directed by the wishes and desires of the one who owns the lamp. He is enslaved to whoever commands him. As the story progresses it becomes clear that Genie’s enslavement is a picture of what our own desires do to us: they gradually enslave us.

As the struggle intensifies both Aladdin and Jafar become more desperate to have their thwarted desires met. And their desires escalate; instead of wanting only to be sultan Jafar eventually wants to become the most powerful genie in the land. (Think Saruman in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring). For his part Aladdin is tempted to go back on his word in order to get what he wants.

Conniving and betrayal make up both Jafar’s and Aladdin’s journeys until the final scenes of the film see Jafar’s wish to be the most powerful genie coming true. But the benefits of Jafar’s new position (in particular) don’t quite live up to his expectations!

The Christian Bible essentially teaches the same idea. Romans 6:16 says: Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness.

Watch Aladdin with your children and discuss how the different characters (including Abu, Aladdin’s monkey!):

  • are tempted,
  • what desires within the characters are stirred by those temptations,
  • and the consequences of giving in to those temptations.

Talk about Aladdin:

  • do you think he was a ‘better person’ than Jafar was?
  • were Aladdin’s desires ‘more worthy’ than Jafar’s?
  • could Aladdin have had the same end as Jafar did? How? Why?

Middlesex and the Subject of Intersex

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides is now one of my most memorable reads. I read this 2002 novel for the first time in 2015 and listened recently to the audio version. The latter was brilliantly narrated by Kristoffer Tabori. Tabori appears to know the text intimately and gives just the right inflection. Because of Tabori’s reading I realised just how funny Middlesex really is. One of the most amusing scenes comes right near the end when the main character’s father, Milton Stephanides, dies in a car crash while chasing another vehicle. Milton’s life stretches out before him in his last moments and, in some way, his thoughts act as a summary of the different strands the text of Middlesex explores.

These strands include the troubling subject of intersex conditions, cultural prejudices in Detroit USA, and the replacement of an older generation (and its viewpoint) by a younger one. The scene is also a fine example of the intriguing narrative technique used by Eugenides. Eugenides uses a combination of first person and third-person omniscient narrative viewpoint. This has the effect of casting Cal Stephanides, the ‘I’ in the book, as an omniscient narrator of his own life, from before conception to present day. So, in the scene when Cal’s father, Milton, meets his end, it appears as if Cal has entered his own father’s head. I loved this masterful narrative technique.

Of course, the opening scene of the book is one readers of Middlesex are also likely never to forget: ‘I was born twice: first, as a baby girl…. and then again, as a teenage boy…’ Readers immediately have an idea of the subject that is to follow. Eugenides employs this foreshadowing method throughout. It functions to draw the reader in, and in no way spoils the experience of this complex, highly thought-provoking novel.

It is thought-provoking in large part because of its treatment of the sensitive subject of intersex conditions. Middlesex attributes the abnormal development of intersex to incest. But then goes on to portray the main character (Cal Stephanides) as choosing to embrace the facets of his condition, rather than trying to change it.

One viewpoint that endorses embracing intersex conditions rather than trying to change them is the Christian ‘The Reformation Project’. The speakers in this Youtube video say that God created all variations of gender and should therefore be accepted as they are.

For a slightly different perspective a very thoughtful Christian talk from the Gospel Coalition on the subject can be listened to here. Andrew Wilson, the speaker, emphasises what a loving Christian response should be to intersex conditions and how to live with them.



Review of The Unravelling of Ingrid Steele

Ingrid Steele book picThis firmly South African novel is set in the fictional rural area of Dirkersfield, SA, and follows the adventures of main character, Ingrid Steele. Ingrid’s husband, Warren, has a mental breakdown and is admitted to hospital for psychiatric treatment. It is while he is there that Ingrid discovers a long-held family secret, one that has grave consequences for herself, her family and her community. As Ingrid “unravels” in the face of emerging truths she questions her Christian faith, the strength of her relationships, the taboo of mixed race romances in South Africa’s vulnerable new democracy, and the difference between infatuation and love. Author, Leanne Hunt, does well to weave these themes into a plot that delivers a number of surprises, thereby keeping the reader’s attention and providing food for thought. I loved the South African flavour of this novel and its thoughtful highlighting of difficult issues like racial prejudices and the AIDS pandemic. Visit for further information.

In the beginning Adam was dumb…

A review by Brenda Daniels

Drawn by the description (whimsical) and the author (Mark Twain) of The Diary of Adam and Eve, I attended opening night of this short play on 1 May. Whimsical means “playfully quaint or fanciful, especially in an appealing and amusing way”.

The character of Eve could certainly be described as whimsical, as could the language, and the use of the story of Adam and Eve to depict the frustrating, but tender relationship between men and women.

In this story, Adam and Eve each keep a diary, recording their observations and “experiments” as they progress. And progress they do, going from awkward and amusing attraction, to sweet, understanding family life.

Eve is the chatty one (to the annoyance of Adam), and seems instantly in tune with her intuitions about life and to a lesser extent love. Adam is altogether slow; in fact, the play could be called “In the beginning Adam was dumb…”

Despite the characters’ foibles, their humanness and inexplicable and growing fondness for each other is endearing. At one point Eve ponders why she loves Adam, listing his dubious qualities as she does so. She concludes that she loves him just “because he’s mine”. What a touching and enduring quality this is for relationships.

The Diary of Adam and Eve is short – only one hour – and light, something I particularly appreciated. If there were more pithy plays on offer I think I might go to one every night. Opening night of this play did reveal some shortcomings – a forgotten line, a few fumbled words, a video scene in the “garden of Eden” with an obvious jet aeroplane engine in the background! But I’m sure these can be ironed out with time.

The Diary of Adam and Eve is on at 7.30pm at Seabrooke’s Theatre, DHS, Durban until 3 May. It features Catarina Morgado as Eve, Jonathan Cohen as Adam and Mthokozisi Zulu as the Snake. Booking (tickets are R100) is through Computicket (0861 915 8000).

Tableau from the play; The Diary of Adam and Eve.

Eve, the Devil and Adam in the play, The Diary of Adam and Eve. (Photo: Val Adamson )