Tell Me a Story by Amy Friedman and Meredith Johnson

The Fisherman and the Jinni (An Arabian Tale)

Once upon a time, an old fisherman and his wife lived by the sea. Each day, he cast his net into the sea four times, drawing out of the water what he could. He did well enough, but one day, he cast his net and hauled up a dead horse. Horrified, he threw out the net again. The second time, he pulled up only an urn filled with sand. The third time, he pulled up shards of a pot.

"Bring me good fortune," he prayed to Allah. "This is my last throw. I must have better luck." And he cast his net.

This time, a small copper bottle was trapped in the net. The fisherman noticed the flask was sealed with a stopper on which holy words were written. Curious, he opened the bottle and found it empty. "Just my luck," he muttered and prepared to toss it away when smoke poured out, and a monstrous-looking jinni appeared out of the smoke.

"Mighty Solomon, thank you for releasing me!" the jinni roared.

The fisherman was terrified. He was not King Solomon. Shivering, he said softly, "King Solomon died 1,000 years ago. I'm only a poor fisherman."

The jinni began to laugh. "Well, if that is so, prepare to die!"

"But, sir! I saved you -- you owe me gratitude."

The jinni howled. "Solomon imprisoned me, and for the first 100 years, I vowed whoever released me would live happily ever after. No one came. In the next 100 years, I promised three wishes to whoever freed me. Still no one came. I have had another 100 years to grow angry. I shall kill you!"

The fisherman thought fast. "Kill me if you must, but in the name of Allah, tell me how a great jinni like you fit inside such a small bottle. I believe you came from somewhere else."

"You're a fool!" the jinni spat. "You saw me emerge from this bottle."

"There was smoke in my eyes," the fisherman said.

"Then first, I'll show you my magic, and then I'll kill you," and with that the jinni evaporated into a cloud of smoke and poured himself into the bottle."

The fisherman quickly stopped up the bottle.

The jinni's voice, tiny and tender, called, "Please, I will reward you richly if you free me."

"You wanted to kill me," said the fisherman, "and now I shall throw the bottle into the sea."

"Please, it was only a test. I promise, in the name of Allah, I shall reward you."

"I'm no fool," the fisherman said, "this is merely another tale of the ungrateful king."

"I don't know that story," said the jinni. "Will you tell it to me?"

So the fisherman told the story of a king who had a terrible disease no one could cure until a doctor appeared and healed him. In gratitude, the king made him the royal doctor. But this aroused the vizier's jealousy, so he whispered to the king, "That man could poison you."

Fearing the doctor's power, the king sentenced the doctor to death, but just before he was to die, he told the king of a magic book he possessed that contained all the wisdom of the world. The king looked through the book, but the pages were blank. It turned out the pages were coated with poison, and the king died.

"And that," said the fisherman, "is how Allah will repay you if you kill me."

"Our story is not like that," said the jinni. "It's like the prince and the ogre." And so he told a different story.

The afternoon went on that way, the men trading tales.

Just before sunset, the jinni said, "Please, I promise I will help you if you release me."

And since they had become friendly, the fisherman let out the stopper. The jinni then led the fisherman into the woods.

Soon they came to a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. "Throw your net in here once a day and take whatever you catch to the sultan," the jinni said. He then stamped his foot, the earth opened, and he disappeared.

The fisherman caught four fish, each one a different color and each one more beautiful than the last.

But he knew he must keep his promise, and so he took them to the sultan's palace, where there seemed to be much sadness.

"Those fish, where did you find them?" the sultan asked. "Can you take me there?"

The fisherman agreed to take the sultan to the lake, of course, and so the sultan told the tale of the sorceress and the Prince of the Western Islands.

"The prince married the sorceress, believing her to be a good woman. But she put his kingdom under a spell, turning the surrounding town into a lake, the Western Islands into mountains, the sea into a desert, and the people of the islands into ruby, yellow, blue and white fish that inhabited the lake."

The sultan, who had never been able to find the lake, found it with the fisherman's guidance. And near the lake, they also found a gloomy castle, where they found the sorceress inside.

The sultan used his wiles to destroy the sorceress, and when he did, the lake turned back into a town, the mountains turned back into islands, the desert turned back into a sea, and the fish turned back into people.

Where once there had been only gloom, the castle filled with flowers and light and joy, and the people began to praise the sultan.

"It is the fisherman we must honor," the sultan said, and so the people cheered the fisherman.

So the sultan bestowed many riches on the fisherman and his wife.

The old fisherman and his wife spent the rest of their days in comfort. He no longer needed to fish, though some days he could not resist.