Tuesday, 8 March 2016

The Spirit in the Glass Bottle: Thoughts and Facts

Once upon a time

I wanted to try something different, so leafed through my collection for an obscure fairy tale. To dabble outside my comfort zone, I zeroed in on male protagonists. Even though I hadn’t a clue what I’d be getting into, I settled on the tale with the most intriguing title: ‘The Spirit in the Glass Bottle’.

Between the student and the genie, I had to leap for the genie. The thought of designing Mercurius was scary, but the possibilities seemed too wonderful to miss. Luckily for me, I was getting into One Punch Man. This testosterone-pumped anime somehow made the muscly, menacing and monstrous look unbelievably fun to draw. My forte has always been cute and pretty girls, so it really changed how I saw myself as an artist.

‘The Spirit in the Glass Bottle’ may look small and insignificant, but if you give it a chance, you’ll reap the rewards.


Here are the original Arabic terms for (what we Westerners call) genies:
Jinni – male spirit
Jinniya – female spirit
Jinn – spirits
‘Ifrit – type of jinni that’s usually evil
‘Ifrita – type of jinniya that’s usually evil

Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm learned about ‘The Spirit in the Glass Bottle’ from a tailor in north-western Germany. The story was published in the Grimm Brothers’ first edition of Children's and Household Tales: Volume 2 in 1815.

According to Bruno Bettelheim, the idea of trapping a spirit inside a bottle goes back to ancient times. Judean-Persian legends see King Solomon, ruler of ancient Israel, banish wicked spirits inside small vessels and tossing them into the ocean. Over the centuries, there have been many tales that look at what would happen should an individual release an imprisoned spirit. Bettelheim refers to several such stories in The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.

Because of my fascination with early fairy tales, I'll be summarising the Arabian Nights tale ‘The Fisherman and the ‘Ifrit’ as a bonus for my next post. It makes for an interesting comparison with ‘The Spirit in the Glass Bottle’!


Mercurius is the flashiest character in ‘The Spirit in the Glass Bottle’, but before his thunderous entrance, you’re introduced to very relatable characters. There’s a father who has no faith in his son’s abilities. There’s a son who must prove himself in the working world. This family dynamic is all too familiar. When a vengeful spirit is thrown into the mix, the story becomes decidedly unfamiliar. There’s an eruption of craziness that catches your adult self out and places your child self centre stage.

Personally, I was struggling to keep my adult self and my child self apart throughout the fairy tale. My adult self agreed with the father’s common sense, but my child self loathed his constant put-downs. My child self rejoiced in the son’s good fortune, but my adult self cringed at any silly mistakes he made.

The tale is about the child and the adult. It’s about a child who overcomes his parent’s negativity (and outwits an abominable genie) by trusting his own instincts and intelligence. The story empowers the underdog and therefore has the potential to empower the reader.

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