immigrants to this country brought not only their history and their philosophies, but quite literally smuggled in their gods and demons as well. Neil Gaiman, who will be in town July 7 at the Michigan Theater, has gotten good mileage out of this idea. Helene Wecker changes it a bit and in very interesting ways in her first novel, The Golem and the Jinni.
The golem is a legendary creature from the Jewish Diaspora. In those stories, certain rabbis, trained in the arcana of sacred texts, could shape clay and bring it to life. The creature would be devoted to its master's will, had the strength of many men, and would defend the master from all attacks. It's easy to understand the uses of such a creature, real or not, in defending a community that was under regular attack.
The jinn are the magical creatures of the Arabic-speaking desert people (one of them is called a jinni or, yes, a genie, although a different creature from the one Barbara Eden played throughout the childhood of many boomers). Although the jinn could assume many forms, they were actually made of fire and lived just outside the usual limitations of human sight. Again, it seems the perfect magical creature of a desert people. Humans were usually the objects of the jinn's pranks, but particularly powerful wizards might be able to capture a jinni and force it to fulfill their wishes.