Haroun and the Sea of Stories

by Salman Rushdie

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Last Updated on August 15, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 348

The Power of Storytelling and Imagination

Two closely related themes of Salman Rushdie’s children’s book are the power of imagination and the power of words, both of which are contained in stories. As the central character is the son of a storyteller, the relationship between parent and child is another important theme. The situation that the author establishes concerns a city that has lost its name and, by extension, its purpose. Taken together, the separate themes are subsumed within an overall theme of the role of writing or storytelling in society—an appropriate subject for a writer whose work had recently been banned when this book was published. This fact is transformed in Haroun and the Sea of Stories into lack of speech, through the sudden partial muteness of the storyteller after his wife leaves him. The title character, Haroun, is the son; he demands of his father, Rashid Khalifa: what is the point of telling stories that are not true? This encourages the reader to address the relationship between truth and fiction; the author suggests that fiction often contains more truth than supposedly accurate accounts which instead distort the facts to fulfill political agendas.

The vital role of storytelling is conveyed through association with water; both are necessary for life, the author suggests. The water metaphor is conveyed not only in the “sea of stories” of the title, but in the idea that Rashid’s storytelling powers are conveyed by “story water,” which therefore needs a plumber to be restored.

Rushdie merges fact and fiction in the satirical aspects of the novel. Although it is clearly intended for children, the novel also includes references to geography and history that have figured into Rushdie’s life and cultural heritage. Especially critical of politicians, the novel shows Rashid as capable of speaking “truth” through vapid political rhetoric but not “fiction,” the imaginative, creative process that is his real gift. Contemporary political conflicts, such as the dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, appear in scarcely disguised form, as Haroun and his father travel to the Valley of K.

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