Tahir Shah – Jinn Hunter: Book One: The Prism

CaptureQuirky. Strange. Off-the-wall funny in places. Reading Tahir Shah’s opening gambit in a trilogy series on the life and times of a reluctant Jinn Hunter is to say the least a joy to read. If you’ve wandered through the pages of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, their mad-cap adventures into symbolic logic and non-sense realities, then this is a book for you. It’s hard to place it as children’s literature, or even the faddish Young Adult YA type fiction, instead it seems to be a real throw-back to those ancient tales of the desert, The Arabian Night’s Tales that Andrew Lang, Sir Richard Burton, and in our modern age the likes of Muhsin Mahdi, Malcom Lyons, and so many others have translated. And, yet, not quite; not quite like these endless tales and narratives. A little something different and strange…

Tahir Shah himself, whose father was the Sufi teacher and writer Idries Shah, born in London grew up in largely in the county of Kent, where his family lived at Langton House, a Georgian mansion in the village of Langton Green near Royal Tunbridge Wells. He mingled at an early age with many of his father’s famous friends like the poet Robert Graves, and Doris Lessing whose Canopus in Argos: Archives series would be heavily influenced by the Sufi traditions of Shah’s father. During his childhood, Shah and his sisters would be taken to Morocco for extended periods, where his grandfather lived until his death in November 1969. Described in his book The Caliph’s House, the journeys introduced Shah to “a realm straight out of The Arabian Nights.” Tahir Shah is a prolific author of books, documentaries, book introductions, peer reviewed academic articles, and book reviews. The vast majority of Shah’s books can be considered travel literature, most of it collected in The Complete Collection of Travel Literature: In Search of King Solomon’s Mines, Beyond the Devil’s Teeth, House of the Tiger King, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Travels With Myself, Trail of Feathers. (wiki)

Shah’s style is one of simple prose and overwhelming humour. He has said that his style of using short blocks of text, with a concluding denouement was influenced by Iron & Silk by Mark Salzman, which he first read in 1988; and that he writes with the intention to educate and inform his readers, while at the same time amusing them. In this capacity, one could liken Shah’s work to the literary devise employed in several books by his father, Idries Shah,who used the wise fool Mulla Nasreddin to illustrate deeper ideas in human understanding. (wiki)

Legends of the Djinn

For a few months now I’ve been gathering both primary and secondary literature on the strange history, legends, and mythologies surrounding the various forms of daemons, demons, asuras, yokai, and jinn who inhabit the imaginaries of different ancient peoples. What piqued my interest in finally settling on an advanced study of the jinn was the almost encyclopedic knowledge one discovers in pre-Islamic and Islamic literatures about these remarkable creatures. Unlike the notion of demons in Western religious consciousness the jinn are not considered completely evil, rather they exist in a separate realm that impinges on ours in what is termed the ‘eighth climate’. The more I studied the literature the more I realized how fascinating this ancient history became, riddled as it is with all the various pagan and monotheistic religions from times out of mind.

What eventually led me to investigate Tahir Shah’s work was a book by Robert Lebling – Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar. Shah would say in his forward:

The Occidental world has never found it easy to grasp the strange netherworld of spirits that followers of Islam universally believe exist in a realm overlaid by our own. Although descended from an Oriental family with its roots in the mountain fortress of Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush, I was born and brought up in the West. I thought I knew the East. I was well accustomed from childhood to understand the finer points of Arab etiquette, and I had been taught its tales, gleaned from Alf layla wa layla (The Thousand and One Nights). That fabulous treasury of stories had introduced me early on to the extraordinary possibilities of a world peopled by invisible legions of Jinn. So when we came to live here at Dar Khalifa, the Caliph’s House, I felt as if nothing could surprise me.1

In his forward he describes his first encounter with jinn not as a legendary and mythical creature, but literally as a living being impinging on his life in this very house. The owners informed him of the jinn inhabiting the property and that it would behoove him to bring in an exorcist to get rid of the mischievous creatures. So he invited a local exorcist who brought a group in and performed various rituals over a period of a few days. Shah whose wife was getting impatient at having to wait so long to enter and live in her new home brought him to ask the leader of the exorcists when they might be finished:

I whispered sternly to the leader of the exorcists that they could leave. He laughed a wild hearty laugh, and I swear his eyes flashed red with fire. He would quit our home, he said, only when the jinn had been sucked out of the walls and swallowed. I explained that my wife was growing impatient and that she was uncomfortable at having the walls and floor strewn with freshly purged blood. The leader of the exorcists caught my glance in his. Widening his eyes in the most terrifying manner, he told me that he had never been in a house so consumed with evil spirits. (p. xi).

Jokingly after the exorcists cleansed the home and left Shah would tell friends: “I bragged out loud that the house was now squeaky clean, that the last thing we ever needed to worry about again was the prospect of being tormented by Jinn.” Shah’s fascination with this, already piqued by his father’s vast knowledge of these ancient traditions was only furthered by this incident. So that his own scholarly need to know more eventually led him to the work of Lebling:

Long before I moved to Morocco, I had searched for a readable book about Jinn and their world. But there wasn’t one. When I asked friends who were scholars in Islamic culture and tradition, they recommended barely readable texts written by academics for academics. Years passed. Then, through a kind of magic that was from the realm of Jinn themselves, Robert Lebling contacted me out of the blue. He spoke of a work, a great labour of love, which would reveal to the West all it needed to know about Jinn. (p. xiii).

I’ll leave the readers to pursue that on their own. Shah’s novel takes up this theme in a lighthearted way, presenting us with a protagonist who in most ways is an odd-ball, a creature who in his life on earth is a quirky genius or savant of sorts. He sees patterns everywhere. The blurb pretty much tells you all you need to know about this entertaining work:

Oddball and loner Oliver Quinn was raised by his uncle, the proprietor of New York’s most bizarre emporium of Oriental rugs, Ozymandias & Son. Zoned out more than he’s zoned in, Oliver perceives patterns in everything – from fallen autumn leaves in Central Park, to the freckles on a stranger’s face. When his uncle gives him a mysterious paperweight said to have been in the family for centuries – since it was discovered by a farmer on the Mongolian Steppes – Oliver’s life changes in the most extraordinary way. Gaining entry into the secret Realm that shrouds all our lives, he learns what he imagines to be reality is no more than a fragment of what actually exists.

In a multiverse, where every permutation is not only possible but certain, our world is an insignificant backwater. With the veil lifted, Oliver is introduced to a parallel life form with which we share the multiverse…The mysterious and all-powerful race of Jinn. Far from the loveable blue-skinned giants projected by Hollywood, Jinn are capable of wreaking terror on an unknown scale. When they go rogue, as they frequently do, they must be captured. This perilous task is entrusted to the bravest fraternity of warriors in existence – the Jinn Hunters.

Stumbling into the secret heart of the Realm, Oliver learns of the Prism. A vast penitentiary fashioned from sheets of impregnable glass, it contains legions of incarcerated Jinn. But, as Oliver soon comes to understand, his arrival is no accident. Having brooded for an eternity – since being imprisoned by King Solomon – the most evil Jinn in all existence has just escaped… Nequissimus. The future of the Realm rests on Oliver Quinn, whose ancestral bloodline is primed to capture the great Jinn, thereby saving not only humanity, but the entire multiverse.

This summation is only the beginning. The rest is up to you… enjoy the ride. Pick up a copy of The Jinn Hunter on amazon.

  1. Robert Lebling. Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar. Counterpoint; First Edition edition (March 8, 2011)

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