The Adventures of Amir Hamza and the Question of “The ‘Uncanny’”

Under the patronage of the Mughal court, the dastan of Amir Hamza remained the single most important and famous of the Indo-Persian epics in the Sub-Continent for more than three centuries before it was lost to the ravages of time and a lack of patronage. Only recently, in 2007, did the first complete and unabridged English translation of the one-volume Dastan-e Amir Hamza become available. The Adventures of Amir Hamza is a magic-filled epic saga loosely knit around the life and exploits of Prophet Muhammad's uncle who not only colonises most of the world of men, but also Qaf, the realm of jinn and talismans, all in the name of “True Faith”.

With specific focus on the varied world of the magical and its importance for the storytellers, this paper reads the translated version of The Adventures with reference to Sigmund Freud's 1919 essay, “The 'Uncanny'”. I argue that the creation of the uncanny effect is possibly the single most striking feature of the dastan of Amir Hamza. And while this effect is initially created by the “peculiarly directive power of the storyteller”, its impact and sustenance lies in the religious setting of the story. The knowledge of the uncanny phenomena (jinn, magic, telepathy and the evil eye) through faith, and the lack thereof in experience, results in the ambivalence that is the hallmark of the uncanny effect. And it is here, in this ambivalent space between the religious and the areligious that the dastan dwells, creating an unparalleled uncanny effect.