Thursday, February 11, 2010

Literary Bite: Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Here I am, reporting to you from behind a white wall of snow.

I love fiction, but there's a level of reality that I appreciate in my fiction. Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie was my first foray into fantasy in quite a while. The book is officially a children's book, which explains why the style reminds me of
A Wrinkle in Time, or The Phantom Tollbooth, or The Princess Bride. Sometimes dialog rhymes, characters have semi-ridiculous names, and the realm of possibilities is expanded far beyond normal reality.

Rushdie writes the story of Haroun and his father, Rashid, who live in "a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad it had forgotten its name", which is located beside "a mournful sea full of glumfish, which were so miserable to eat that they made people belch with melancholy" in India. Rashid is a storyteller by profession, the "Shah of Blah," the "Ocean of Notions." But when he loses his "gift of gab" he and Haroun travel to Earth's other moon where the Ocean of the Streams of Stories is located, to retrieve his storytelling gift. In the course of this trip, they get involved in a battle between the dark side and the light side of the moon: those who protect the Sea of Stories, and the evil shadow-land of Kattam-Shud:
'Khattam-Shud,' he said slowly, 'is the Arch-Enemy of all Stories, even of Language itself. He is the Prince of Silence and the Foe of Speech. And because everything ends, because dreams end, stories end, life ends, at the finish of everything, we use his name. "It's finished," we tell one another, "it's over. Khattam-Shud: The End."

As you can see, the writing style is lyrical and poetic. I found myself repeating some sentences out loud to myself, just to appreciate the art of the writing style. It brought me back to when I was a kid and my parents would take turns reading books to my sisters and I before bed.
The Phantom Tollbooth is in my dad's voice, and ALL of Brian Jaques books (and countless others) are intoned by my mom. There's just something truly wonderful about being read aloud to.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a bit of an allegory, but it doesn't overwhelm the story. There is a message about the importance of free speech and personal liberty, and most importantly Rushdie emphasizes the importance of storytelling and creativity. The book opens with Haroun asking his father "What's the use of stories that aren't even true?" and the rest of the book seeks to prove the value of stories

Rushdie's fourth novel,
The Satanic Verse, provoked violent uprisings in Muslim countries due to its criticism of the Prophet. As a result, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, a call to all Muslims to kill Rushdie. This is the first incidence of a modern government calling for the killing of an individual in a foreign country. It is also the first time a book, other than the Bible, caused an international diplomatic incident.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories was written while Rushdie was in hiding, so you can see where the personal freedoms themes come from.

Biography of Salman Rushdie

Essay on The Allegorical Defiance of Censorship in Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories

A Study Guide