Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 522
HAROUN AND THE SEA OF STORIES is a novel in the form of a fable, a postmodern allegory disguised as a children’s book whose seriousness cannot be separated from its joyous celebration of the storyteller’s art. The hero of the book is himself the son of a storyteller, as is the reader acrostically inscribed on the dedication page, Rushdie’s own son, Zafar, from whom he has been separated since the late Ayatollah Khomeini issued his death sentence against the author of THE SATANIC VERSES (1988). Haroun’s troubles begin when his mother leaves her husband, Rashid Kalifa, for a man opposed to fable, more firmly grounded in fact. Distraught, Rashid, the Ocean of Notions and Shah of Blah, loses his gift of gab, his ability to tell stories. In a dream, Haroun comes to the rescue. Guided by a Water Genie named Iff and traveling on the back of a mechanical bird named Butt, he goes to Kahani, Earth’s other moon, to convince the Wizard of Oz-like grand Comptroller of P2C2Es—Processes too Complicated to Explain—to restore his father’s supply of story water. Nothing is simple, however, not even on Kahani, where war is about to break out between the gentle, credulous, light-loving, ever chattering, and the shadowy Chupwalas, led by the fearsome Khattam-Shud, “the Prince of Silence and the Foe of Speech,” whose very name means “the end” and whose plan, the opposite of Haroun’s, is to put an end to all stories by poisoning the sea and plugging its source. Haroun, of course, saves the day and thus precipitates a flood of happy endings.
Moving along at a breathtaking pace and filled with enough fabulous characters to fill an imaginary menagerie, HAROUN AND THE SEA OF STORIES is delightful and also like any fable instructive, but instructive in a postmodern sense. The lesson it teaches is anything but simple, nor can it be reduced to the level of the merely personal or political. Drawing on an intertextual range of reference too long to be named, this work celebrates the variety and “turbulence” of the spoken and more especially the written, novelistic word. Its happiest ending may well be the means it uses to defeat the darkness, silence, and conformity which Khattum-Shud comes to represent: a playful, generous superabundance. That, however, should come as no surprise, for as an Anglo-Indian novelist, as well as a secularized Muslim, Rushdie understands variety and understands too that a word, particularly a novelistic word, is not a meaning but an intersection of forces, a story, or better, a complex of stories.
Sources for Further Study
Booklist. LXXXVII, October 1, 1990, p.203.
The Economist. CCCXVII, October 6, 1990, p.110.
Guardian Weekly CXLIII, October 14, 1990, p.27.
Kirkus Reviews. LVIII, September 1, 1990, p.1201.
London Review of Books. XII, September 27, 1990, p. 13.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. November 11, 1990, p.3.
The New Republic. CCIII, December 10, 1990, p.37.
New Statesman and Society. III, September28, 1990, p.33.
The New York Times Book Review. XCV, November 11, 1990, p.1.
Newsweek. CXVI, November 5, 1990, p.81.
Publishers Weekly CCXXXVII, October 12, 1990, p.47.
Time. CXXXVI, October 8, 1990, p.23.
The Times Literary Supplement. September28, 1990, p.1036.
The Washington Post Book World. XX, November 4, 1990, p.1.