Tolkien, Deleuze and the Djinn

The towers of Yemen

Tolkien and Thalaba the Destroyer

Lord of the Rings is clearly supposed to be a fictional version of the Moorish (Mordor) occupation of al-Andalus and Sauron, a villain version of Solomon, both with magickal rings, black cities, and two black towers, one with the flaming eye of Sauron. J. R. R. Tolkien definitely read djinn myths, and A Thousand and One Nights.

The Twili, and their futuristic realm were definitely inspired by the djinn and their city of brass. Tolkien borrowed from the city of brass, to explain the invasion of al-Andalus (another explanation for the Twili invasion in Twilight Princess as well) simply changing the names, to fit within his high fantasy universe. Tolkien drew from the story of the city of brass to inspire the bleak land of Mordor itself, and the almost futuristic city of the Witch King.

The Lord of the Rings is a brilliant trilogy of books and films, but it’s also enriching to know the tales and the history behind them. Tolkien also wasn’t the only one inspired: the story of the Berbers in Spain also inspired Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess. This dramatic part of history tends to inspire historical fiction and high fantasy.

The city of brass story contains a river of sand, like in Legend of Zelda (the Haunted Wasteland, in Ocarina of Time). The djinn lost city is beyond a river of sand. The black castle of the city of brass inspired Tolkien’s Mordor, and the two black Two Towers, as well as the realm of the Twili, in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.

The Two Towers represent the Berber lands and al-Andalus. Sauron’s black tower was a replica built, representing the occupied al-Andalus, and the original black tower was in the original land, with the flame of Sauron’s eye, at its top. The Return of the King represents the Kingdoms of Aragorn, and Castile reclaiming al-Andalus, and symbolically destroying Sauron/Solomon’s ring, i.e., Berber rule in Spain. Arwen and Aragorn’s marriage represents the paradigm shift of the historical reign of Ferdinand and Isabella.

Cities of copper and brass are found in the Maghreb and the Sierra Nevada, al-Andalus, in the story. The real-life cities of copper, and brass may have been old Phoenician settlements, on both continents. Phoenician labyrinths are found on the Iberian Peninsula. Without prior knowledge of the prior histories and cultures, of the region, local people may have considered these structures to be djinn labyrinths, on the Iberian Peninsula, and all over Eurasia, like in the story of Pan’s Labyrinth. Malaga and Almeria, and the Sierra Nevada are desert wildernesses in Spain, with a similar climate, to the nearby Maghreb.

Cities of brass, stoppers of lead, rivers of sand – the city of brass’s area sounds like an advanced pre-Adamite civilization. The core of the story – an archeological ruin found by Musa ibn Nusair in the Maghreb, is factually true. Tolkien was influenced by the city of brass myth, found in A Thousand and One Nights, and various myths and folklore cited in Thalaba the Destroyer.

Thalaba the Destroyer, his magic ring, and the djinn tales behind it, would go on to inspire both The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Like many heroes, in Greek mythology, Thalaba is hunted from birth, but remains “the Boy Who Lived” throughout. The end of Thalaba the Destroyer, with the final showdown, in the underwater cave of the djinn magicians, is like the climatic end of Wind Waker, where the underwater city of Hyrule Castle is broken down, and the ocean waves crash in and wash the rest away – except the hero survives in Wind Waker (although the spirit of King of Red Lions, the former King of Hyrule, vanishes forever).

While Western stories like Lord of the Rings and the Legend of Zelda have merit, their depiction of magick and djinn are limited by their mostly Western viewpoint, much like the Western poem of Thalaba the Destroyer itself. Djinn are nature spirits, as well as the agents of organized High Magick. One instance of “good” magick is where Aragorn, with the newly re-forged sword of Isildur, gains the respect of some ancient warriors, and commands a mountain cave of spirits, soldiers of Gondor, who were waiting for the true king, in Return of the King.

A golden map of Indonesia

Kelantan, The Land of Lightning

Kelantan probably inspired Faron Jungle and its villages and ruins, in Breath of the Wild. In-universe, the people of Faron Jungle are linked to the ancient creators of the Majora’s Mask and the Twili, in Twilight Princess – both of which are confirmed to be linked with the Sheikah. Breathe of the Wild (BotW) linked these hitherto unidentified cultures, in the game series, more explicitly to Southeast Asia, especially by including rubber designs from Indonesia and Malaysia.

The most ancient archeological finds, in Malaysia, are in Kelantan. Many prehistoric settlements are in Kelantan also, and ancient Hindu temples can be found there. Kelantan culture, specifically Yak Mong theater, is recognized by UNESCO, as a valuable part of world culture.

The Malay Sultanate of Patani was ruled by four successive queens, holding off an invasion, from Siam, for about 300 years. Raja Hijau (the Green Queen) ushered in a golden age for Patani. European visitors to Patani, in the 1600s, were impressed by Raja Hijau and her realm. Raja Biru (the Blue Queen) incorporated Kelantan into Patani. Raja Ungu (the Purple Queen) fought off Siam successfully.

The four queens of Patani – green, blue, purple, and orange/yellow – may have inspired the story of the poe sisters, in the Forest Temple, of Ocarina of Time, and in the Ghost Hunter’s house – not just Little Women, as in the English translation, a book which only supplies the poes’ names. The ruins of this ancient kingdom of Patani, explain the poe sisters’ haunted house or temple, in the south of Hyrule, which became the Faron Jungle, inspired by Kelantan (linked with Patani, in the past) in Twilight Princess and BotW. Nintendo tried to reference the history Southeast Asia as far back as Ocarina of Time, and Majora’s Mask, and clarified those references, by the time of BotW.

The cave of the djinn

The ninja-like Garo, in Ikana, are more like Yemeni ghouls, than Japanese ninjas, in the way they dress, and how they disappear, much like a villainous version of Ocarina of Time’s Sheikh. Garo are also attracted to warfare and bloodshed. Ikana is based on a mix of Middle Eastern desert locales, with an ancient Egyptian mummy theme (gibdos) and ancient stone towers, based on ancient Yemen, or Saba, where King Solomon’s Queen of Sheba came from.

Ghouls are also reminiscent of the Yiga, in Breath of the Wild, who pretend to be travelers, but then show their true face and attack. In BotW, the Sheikah/Yiga people are more explicitly connected to medieval Japanese culture. However, unlike the Garo, Sheikah/Yiga appear all over the map. Yiga have their hideout in a desert cave, but originally they were Sheikah, and come from Sheikah villages, instead of the desert. Garo only appear in the desert of Ikana, much like the infamous ghoul.

One final tidbit: both the Hermopolitan and Gnostic Ogdoads, of ancient Egypt, and Neoplatonic thought, inspired the legend of the seven and then eight goddesses, in the sand, a side-quest in Breath of the Wild.

Deleuze and Skyward Sword

I don’t think Miyamoto, Nintendo’s creator, has necessarily read Deleuze, but here are two passages from The Logic of Sense, followed by how their Deluzian logic applies to The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword:

From p. 131,132: “the hero of Seneca’s tragedies and of the entire Stoic thought is Hercules. Hercules is always situated relative to the three realms of the infernal abyss, the celestial height, and the surface of the earth. Inside the depths, he comes across only frightening combinations and mixtures; in the sky he finds only emptiness and celestial monster duplicating those of the inferno. As for the earth he is its pacifier and surveyor, and even trends over the surface of its waters [like Jesus]. He always ascends or descends to the surface in every conceivable manner. He brings back the hellhound and the celestial hound, the serpent of hell and the serpent of the heavens. It is no longer a question of Dionysus down below, or of Apollo up above, but of Hercules of the surface, in his dual battle against both depth and height: reorientation of the entire though and a new geography.”

From p.139, 140: “It is Dionysus, present beneath Socrates, but it is also the demon who holds up to God and to his creatures the mirror wherein universal individuality dissolves. It is the chaos which brings about the undoing of the person. Classical discourse was held by the individual, Romantic discourse by the person. But beneath these two discourses, overturning them in various ways, the faceless Ground speaks now while rumbling.”

Within this logic, the Link of Skyward Sword functions like the Stoic Hercules. The sky around Skyloft is largely empty (unlike the Great Sea in Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker). The heights, or the ascent, also holds monsters such as the infected Levias, and the monsters in the chamber holding the Triforce. In the depths, there are monsters, in dungeons down below the surface, including one monster that is like the Hydra and Cerberus, as well as the ultimate monster, Demise/the Imprisoned, whose groundless, chaotic rumbling emerges from the infernal depths.

Before it was named, the inhabitants of Skyloft also called the land below the Surface – it was an impenetrable width. Skyward Sword’s Link is the first Hero of Hyrule, the Legend of Zelda’s series first Hero of the Surface, a Hercules-like figure, fighting chaos, like the concept of chaoskampf in comparative mythology.

I don’t agree with or endorse all of Deleuze’s writings, or all of The Logic of Sense, but I did find these parallels interesting.


The Legend of Zelda video game series.

Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar by Robert Lebling

The Moors in Spain by Stanley Lane-Poole

The Logic of Sense by Gilles Deleuze

See Also:

Breath of the Wild and Djinn Folklore, my essay on Scribd

Djinn and the Nature of the Physical World, my essay on Scribd

Ocarina of Time to Skyward Sword Revisited, my essay on Scribd

My notes on Breath of the Wild

My essay on Deleuze’s Logic of Sense

My research project Headspace, which contains more notes and essays on Legend of Zelda and Lord of the Rings

Please do not repost without my permission, but you can support my writing here! Originally written 4/23/21. Copyright, All Rights Reserved. All art, not from the author, belongs to the original artists.

10,000 Year-Old Scorpion

a good rocket for space a bad rocket for world destruction

There is a market value, pressure or a share for having all our media – film, video games and even books – start to look the same, like they all came out of a shared internet or digital machine. A valid point on the digitalization (and I would argue game-itization) of almost every aspect of our culture – ATMs, phone games – can be made. Almost every social network, from Facebook, to LinkedIn or Steam, edges you along with “achievements,” goals taken straight out of the world of gaming.

Web pages in Web 3.0 are starting to look alike, with the same slick interface straight out of the latest blog templates – just check out Tumblr, Blogger, Gmail (anything made by Google – search, etc.), Twitter, Pinterest, Storify, Instagram, Bing and the latest victim – LinkedIn.

There is talk of a technological singularity – which is very well possible. Instead of having a separate phone, tablet, music player, computer, game console and TV to sync every day, to the cloud (or worse, with cables) why not just have one portable, convenient gadget that does everything? There’s a market for that.

Consumers will pay for the convenience, the same way today people pay for the convenience of ready-made food (fast food) and ready-made computers and operating systems, that come with all the programs you want built-in, already installed.

It’s all about convenience – why do it yourself when you can just pay someone with the specialized knowledge or you can pay for a ready-made device or software that does it for you? I’m not making a right or wrong judgment here, just an observation on the way things seem to be going or the way they are.

Before that technological singularity, a media singularity will come first. Movies are adapted from books. Comic books and video games are made for and from movies. A video game can spawn comics, books and movies, in a media circularity that never ends. Through this process, all media forms will begin to look alike and borrow from each other, such that you no longer really have a piece of entertainment anymore – an individual film, book, video game, etc. – you have a franchise, a brand. This brand system already exists and has existed for centuries now (remember those advertising Mad Men in the 1950s?). It is simply exponentially faster with the new distribution pipes of the digital age.

You can deploy a brand into almost any kind of entertainment or medium and get the maximum amount of market share and the maximum amount of profit – so long as there is a desire for those products. It’s convenient. There’s a market share for that. Why have fans of a certain franchise or brand – say Star Trek, Taylor Swift (individual celebrities are brands too – hence why many artists go by one name, like Madonna) or Twilight – fantasize and write fan fictions about a movie when the movie/book/film/video game/soundtrack can be made for them and be available on their iPad/Smart TV/Xbox/Steam Big Screen/etc.?

The technological and media singularities reinforce each other and make for maximum convenience and therefore maximum profit. It just comes down to what people want. If people want convenience, products, goods and services are going to be made for that desire for convenience and they will be profitable because people want that convenience. If people don’t want those products, they won’t exist.

It’s a bit circular and chicken-and-egg, but this is how the “industries” – the film industry, the video game industry, the toy industry, the computer industry (Apple), the high-end “gamer” video card industry – all work: give the people what they want and make a profit off it. This is like the profit structure of World of Warcraft (although I disagree on whether video games can be used to ‘train’ people)

The moral, ethical and political questions then arise of “well should it work this way,” “could it work another way,” “would it work better another way” etc. or statements like “perhaps it works fine this way” and “it is morally and ethically right for it to work this way (people have the freedom to choose)”, etc. The better ethical, moral and political and economic questions should be concerning what people want and why they want it, and can people freely choose what they want.

That’s what’s at the heart of it, that’s what’s at stake. That’s how these products, services and trends are made. We can’t turn around and think that they appeared out of thin air. They weren’t made and foisted on us – at least not theoretically. No, what we’re getting – from the 1950s, the 1800s and perhaps longer than that – is what we want.