Haroun and the Sea of Stories
|Haroun and the Sea of Stories|
|Genre(s)||Magic Realism Novel|
|Publication date||27 September 1990|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Dewey Decimal||823/.914 20|
|LC Classification||PR6068.U757 H37 1990|
|Followed by||Luka and the Fire of Life|
Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a 1990 children's book by Salman Rushdie. It was Rushdie's first novel after The Satanic Verses. It is a phantasmagorical story that begins in a city so old and ruinous that it has forgotten its name.
Haroun and the Sea of Stories is an allegory for several problems existing in society today, especially in India and the Indian subcontinent. It looks at these problems from the viewpoint of the young protagonist Haroun. Rushdie dedicated this book to his son, from whom he was separated for some time.
It was made into an audiobook read by Rushdie himself.
Plot summary 
The novel opens in the sad city in the country of Alifbay, where Haroun Khalifa lives with his father, a famous storyteller, and his mother. One day, Haroun arrives home from school to learn that his mother has run off with his upstairs neighbor. This neighbor had often been critical of Haroun's father, Rashid, because he did not understand the usefulness of stories. In anger, Haroun assails his father for the uselessness of his stories. This crushes his father. Haroun finds it difficult to concentrate on schoolwork and so his father decides to take him on a storytelling job he is performing for some politicos in the Land of G and the Valley of K. When Rashid attempts to tell his stories, however, no words come out, and the politicos get very mad.
Haroun and Rashid board a mail bus bound for the Valley of K. It is driven by a parrot-looking man named Butt who stutters and speaks in riddles. Haroun makes a deal with Butt to drive them on the dangerous road between the Land of G and the Valley of K so that his father can see the Valley of K before sunset in order to attempt to inspire him. Butt drives dangerously and Haroun is worried that he will die. When they reach the beautiful sights of the Valley of K, Rashid tells Haroun that it all reminds him of "khattam-shud," an ancient concept that means silence. When they reach K, Haroun and Rashid meet Mr. Buttoo, the politician, who takes them to his boat on the Dull Lake. As they depart on the lake, they are engulfed in a thick mist.
The mist smells very bad and Haroun realizes that it is a Mist of Misery brought on by his father's foul mood. When the sea begins to rock, Haroun tells everyone to think good thoughts, and when they do, the sea calms. Haroun and Rashid reach the yacht that will take them to their destination the next day. The yacht is very luxurious, but both Rashid and Haroun have difficulty sleeping. Just as Haroun dozes off, he hears a noise in his bedroom. He finds an old man with an onion shaped head, who disappears as soon as he sees Haroun. The old man drops a wrench, which Haroun confiscates. The old man materializes and tells Haroun he is Iff, and that he must have the wrench to turn off the Story Stream for his father, Rashid. When Haroun protests, Iff tells him to take it up with the Walrus in Gup City, Kahani. Haroun demands that the Water Genie take him there, and Iff reluctantly concedes in order to get his wrench back from Haroun.
The Genie tells Haroun to pick his bird and give it a name and it will materialize. He pulls out a handful of tiny magical creatures. Haroun picks the Hoopoe and Iff throws it out the window and into the water where it balloons into a huge bird. They climb on its back and accelerate into space. The Hoopoe looks and talks like Mr. Butt, so Haroun names it Butt the Hoopoe. They are able to communicate telepathically. Butt the Hoopoe lands on the Sea of Stories of Kahani, Earth's second moon, which moves so fast it is undetectable by human instruments. It evenly distributes Story Water across the earth. They land in the ocean so that Iff can give Haroun Wishwater and hopefully bypass meeting the Walrus.
Haroun drinks the Wishwater and wishes for his father's storytelling to return. He can only focus on an image of his mother, however, and after eleven minutes, he loses his concentration. Iff then gives Haroun a cup of water from the Sea that contains a story. Haroun drinks it and then finds himself in a coma. He hallucinates about a princess being trapped in a tower. As the hero climbs the tower to rescue the princess, he turns into a spider and princess hacks away at him until he falls to the ground. When Haroun wakes from his story, Iff tells him that someone named Khattam-Shud is poisoning the stories.
Haroun, Butt the Hoopoe, and Iff the Water Genie fly to the Land of Gup, where they meet a Floating Gardner and a pair of Plentimaw fishes. The entire land is preparing for war. The Chupwalas have stolen Princess Batcheat from Gup. In addition, they have polluted the Sea of Stories so that many do not make sense anymore. Prince Bolo, General Kitab, and the Walrus announce their plans for war to the Pages of the Guppee Library (or, army). They bring in a spy with a hood over his head. When the hood is removed, Haroun sees his father.
Rashid tells everyone that he transported to Kahani and was in the twilight strip when he saw the Princess Batcheat captured. The Chupwalas have come under the spell of Cultmaster Khattam-Shud who wants to sacrifice her to an idol to silence. Prince Bolo and General Kitab declare war on Chup and Rashid offers to guide them to the Chupwala encampment. One of the soldiers in the army, Blabbermouth, takes Haroun to his room. They become lost and Haroun knocks the hat off Blabbermouth's head. Long hair falls out and Haroun sees Blabbermouth is a girl. She then gets angry and makes him promise that he will not tell anyone. She then shows him a juggling act, so that Haroun would ' [K]now who [he was] dealing with here.'
The army sails towards Chup, chattering about the causes for the war in a way that Haroun thinks might be mutinous. They enter the land of Darkness and land on the beach. They explore the interior and come upon a dark warrior fighting his own shadow in a kind of seductive dance. The man realizes he is being watched and comes to find the trespassers. The shadow begins to speak. It croaks out unintelligible words until Rashid realizes the warrior is speaking in an ancient gesture language called Abhinaya. Rashid knows this language and he interprets the "words": his name is Mudra and he had been second in command in Chup. He is now fighting against Khattam-Shud in order to bring peace back to Chup. Mudra agrees to help the Guppees defeat Khattam-Shud.
Haroun volunteers to spy for the army because of his love of stories. He, Iff, Butt the Hoopoe, Mali, and the Plentimaw fishes begin to trek towards the Old Zone. The water becomes so poisonous that the fish cannot go on. The remaining crew is suddenly ambushed and captured in a Web of Night. They are taken to a giant, black ship. On the deck are cauldrons of poison used to pollute the Ocean of the Streams of Story. To Haroun, it looks like everything is impermanent, like a shadow. Khattam-Shud appears and he is a tiny, weaselly, measly man. Haroun realizes that this is Khattam-Shud's shadow that has detached from its owner. The Cultmaster tells them that stories are inefficient and useless and that is why they are being destroyed.
The ship's hull is full of darkness and machines "Too Complicated to Describe". The Cultmaster shows them where they are building a great Plug to seal the Story Source at the bottom of the Sea. Haroun sees roots growing through a port window and Mali appears, latching onto the generators and breaking the machines. Haroun breaks free, puts on a protective wetsuit, and dives down into the Sea where he sees the Plug being constructed. He returns to Butt the Hoopoe and takes out a vial of Wishwater given to him by Iff. He drinks it and wishes that the axis of Kahani would spin normally. A few minutes pass and then the entire land is bathed in sunlight. All of the shadows on the ship begin to fade away and soon everyone is free and the poison is removed.
In Chup, Khattam-Shud sends an ambassador to the Guppee army. The ambassador begins to juggle and pulls out a bomb. Only Blabbermouth's quick action keeps everyone from being blown up, but it is revealed that Blabbermouth is a girl in the process. Bolo tries to fire her, but Mudra asks her to be a part of his army because of her bravery. The battle between the army commences. Because the Guppees have had such open and honest communication, they fight as a team. The Chupwalas, because of their silence, distrust each other. The Guppee army overwhelms the Chupwala army. As the battle ends, there is a great earthquake and the moon begins to spin. The statue of Bezaban falls and crushes the real Khattam-Shud. Peace is declared and everyone receives a promotion within their rank. Haroun prepares to leave and is told that he must see the Walrus because Haroun destroyed the Egghead's machinery by making Kahani spin.
In the Walrus's office, Haroun learns that it is all a joke and that he is not in trouble. All his friends are there with him. The Walrus tells him that for his bravery he is to be given a happy ending to his story. Haroun doubts that this is possible, but he wishes for his city to no longer be sad. He wakes up back in the Valley of K where his father is preparing his political story. As he stands up to give it, his father tells the story of Haroun and the Sea of Stories. It is a story that the crowd loves and they turn against their autocratic leader, Mr. Buttoo.
When Rashid and Haroun return home, it is raining and they walk through it getting soaked. All of the people in the sad city are dancing and Haroun asks why. They claim that the city has remembered its name, Kahani, which means "story." Haroun realizes that the Walrus has put a happy ending into the raindrops. When he arrives home, he finds his mother there, telling them that she made a mistake in running off with Mr. Sengupta. The next day, Haroun awakes to find it is his birthday and his mother singing in another room in the house. The novel concludes with an appendix explaining the meaning of each major character's name.
- A work of magic realism, the story begins and takes place partly 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". This city is thickly populated by people, of whom only the lead character Haroun and his parents are ever happy, while in the north of the city are factories wherein sadness is allegedly manufactured and exported. The factories produce air pollution that is only relieved during the monsoon, which also heralds the arrival of pomfret into the nearby waters.
- Most of the Earthly locations present in the book are located in the fictional nation of Alifbay, which is a combination of first two letters of the Arabic script based Urdu alphabet, Alif and Bay and therefore contains many places named after letters, such as the "Valley of K" and the "Tunnel of I (which was also known as J)".
- In the center of the Valley of K is the Dull Lake, which is said in the novel's appendix to be named after the Dal Lake in Kashmir. This implies that Kashmir is the place on which K is based. The Dull Lake itself is the location of the Moody Land, a landscape whose weather changes to reflect the emotions of the people currently present in it. It is the place where the lead characters go at the behest of a corrupt politician, and where their adventures begin.
- The larger part of the plot occurs on a fictional satellite of the Earth's, named Kahani, whose orbit is controlled by "Processes Too Complicated To Explain". These processes enable it to fly over every single point on Earth. Kahani consists of a massive Ocean which is composed of an infinite number of stories, each story taking the form of a current or stream of a unique color. The colors encompass the whole visible spectrum and extend beyond into spectra that are not known to exist. Various islands and a continent are also shown on the moon. The name "Kahani" itself means "Story" in Urdu and Hindi, and is ultimately revealed to be the name of the sad city; a revelation that removes the sadness from the city's people.
- The Moon Kahani is, throughout most of the plot, divided into two sections equal in size, one of which is kept in perpetual daylight and the other in perpetual darkness. The two are separated by a narrow strip of twilight, which is marked by a force field named Chattergy's Wall. The daylight side is called Gup, a Hindi and Urdu word (meaning "gossip", "nonsense", or "fib" in English) and the night-darkened side is called Chup (meaning "quiet"). Inhabitants of Gup value speech and are called "Guppees", meaning "talkative people", while inhabitants of Chup are stated to have historically valued silence and are called "Chupwalas", meaning "quiet fellows". The "u" in "Gup" rhymes with the "u" in "cup", the "u" in "Chup" is pronounced similarly to the "oo" in "good", and the "w" in "Chupwala" resembles a sound lying midway between the English letters "w" and "v". At the South Pole of Kahani is a spring known as the Source of Stories, from which (according to the premise of the plot) originated all stories ever communicated. The prevention of this spring's blockage therefore forms the climax of the novel's plot.
Characters In the book 
Haroun: The main character/central consciousness of the story. A young, curious, courageous, outspoken child. He struggles throughout most of the story with a form of attention-deficit disorder caused by his mother running away with Mr. Sengupta at exactly eleven o'clock, and under its influence he is unable to concentrate for a longer period of time (not more than eleven minutes). But he eventually overcomes his disorder at the climax, never to suffer from it again.
Rashid: Haroun's father, also known as the Shah of Blah and the Ocean of Notions for his ability to create fascinating stories impromptu. Rashid is a professional storyteller who is sometimes hired by corrupt politicians to persuade constituents that they should be re-elected. His attachment to his wife and to his practice of storytelling, is probably his greatest psychological weaknesses; when either of them is lost, he becomes depressed and tends to lose the other. In the story, to recover the latter, he travels to Kahani by means known as 'Rapture', through which he is able to travel inside his dreams and wake up in the world, his dream has created. This method consists of consuming "moonberries, comet's tails, planet rings, [and] primal soup". Having reached Kahani, he alerts the Guppees about the location of their Princess Batcheat and later joins their army to rescue her from the Chupwalas who had captured her.
Soraya: Rashid's wife, who is tired of his imagination and leaves him for the dull and dreary Mr. Sengupta, a neighbor. That she is becoming alienated from Rashid is implied early in the story, where she is said to have abandoned her daily songs. At the end, she returns to Rashid, after being disgusted by Mr. Sengupta's obnoxious behavior, and revives her affection for her husband and son. Upon her return, the depression overwhelming Rashid and the unusual syndrome manifested by Haroun both dissolve and do not reappear. Her name is probably Persian in origin.
Mr. Sengupta: The dreary man who is Haroun's neighbor, and who elopes with Soraya. As a rule, Mr. Sengupta despises imagination and stories, which sets the stage for his later appearance on Kahani as antagonist Khattam-Shud, to whom he is evidently identical. Khattam-Shud's defeat seems to correspond with Soraya's desertion of Mr. Sengupta, who does not appear again in person. His name is a legitimate Indian Bengali surname.
Miss Oneeta: Mr. Sengupta's obese, talkative, self-important, overwhelmingly emotional, generous wife, who is so disappointed in her husband after he has eloped with Soraya. In her dismay, she disowns him and her married name. It is she who reveals that Soraya's has deserted her family and that her act has given Haroun his disorder, and also announces her return.
Mr. Butt: The mail courier, a reckless driver who, when requested to provide transport for Haroun and Rashid (who is expected to speak at an election of public officers), ignores all other demands so as to take them to their destination before dusk. He is implied to be the counterpart of the Hoopoe, who also serves as Haroun's transportation.
Snooty Buttoo: A corrupt politician who hires Rashid to convince constituents that he (Buttoo) should be re-elected. Buttoo is a class-conscious, pompous, arrogant, self-assured, insincere and a callous person whose chief hold over his constituents is that he has been re-elected before. To persuade Rashid to sympathize with him, he offers both Rashid and Haroun a stay on a luxurious houseboat called 'The Arabian Nights Plus One'. When Buttoo learns that Soraya has deserted Rashid, he dismisses Rashid's misery, remarking that "there are plenty more fish in the sea", as if to indicate that in Soraya's absence Rashid may find another companion.
Butt the Hoopoe: A machine in the form of a Hoopoe (a bird) who becomes Haroun's steed in Kahani. He possesses a mechanical brain which is capable of almost all known mental feats, including telepathy. The latter is used throughout his role, producing a recurrent joke wherein his spoken lines are followed by the statement that he "spoke without moving [his] beak". This ability also appears in scenes wherein he replies to Haroun's unspoken thoughts, which sometimes move in synchronity with the narration. He is shown to be capable of flying at impossible speeds, traveling between Earth and Kahani, and answering to any name preferred by his rider. Because he shares with Mr. Butt the idiosyncrasy of saying "but but but" at the beginning of sentences, in addition to some superficial details of appearance, he is called by the same name. At his introduction, he is described as "the bird that leads all other birds through many dangerous places to their ultimate goal".
Iff: A "water genie" from Kahani who accompanies Haroun in Kahani. Iff's task is to control Rashid's supply of Words, which appears in the form of waters transmitted to Rashid via an invisible faucet by a means that is never revealed, but which is called a "Process Too Complicated To Explain". Iff himself is a benevolent character having a blue mustache and beard; an effusive, somewhat cantankerous personality; and a habit of speaking in lists of synonyms.
Prince Bolo: A possible parody of the archetypal awe-inspiring hero or Prince Charming, Bolo is the fiancée of Princess Batcheat (see below) and the only person to believe that she is a beauty. Bolo is a reckless, slightly stupid, melodramatic figure who is nominally the leader of the charge to rescue the captured Batcheat from Chup, but who wields little authority; who is prone to becoming excited at the least provocation; who is obsessed with rescuing Batcheat, so that all other things appear to him as of little significance; who frequently draws his sword when it is unwise to fight; who extends diplomatic immunity to an assassin bent on killing him; and who gives the impression to readers of being somewhat out of harmony with the realities of his situations.
Princess Batcheat: A damsel in distress. Batcheat is the daughter of King Chattergy, ruler of Gup, and the fiancée of Prince Bolo, whose affiliations are unknown. She is somewhat foolish; romantic; reckless; and completely infatuated with Bolo, who is the only person to think her beautiful; all other characters have low opinions of her nose, teeth, and singing voice. Most references (including, in one passage, those of the narration) to any of these conform to this pattern: "... that nose, those teeth — but there's no need to go into that". The narrator evidently follows his own advice, for no graphic description is given of Batcheat's face at all. Her name is a multi-faceted pun: being pronounced "Baat-cheat", it is to be translated as "conversation", whereas non-Hindi speaking readers would identify the meaning by relating it to Prince Bolo's obsession for the Princess. When Princess Batcheat is captured by Chupwalas during an excursion to the border between Gup and Chup, they plot to sew her mouth shut and rename her Khamosh, meaning "silent", but never carry this out.
General Kitab: Literally "General Book". General Kitab is the commander of the Guppee Army, called the "Library". It consists of a multitude of Pages. The General participates in every debate regarding the worth of the cause on which the army has embarked, and frequently foments such debates on purpose to resolve all conflict of interest or opinion. The whole army, therefore, takes part in every campaign of a gigantic Rogerian argument, whose sole aim is to produce conciliation and eventual unity among the Pages. Because Guppee laws permit an unlimited freedom of speech, these debates are unrestrained to an extent that would (as Haroun remarks) be considered insubordination in the reader's real world. General Kitab himself is often flustered and embarrassed by Prince Bolo's impetuosity, to which he responds by using colorful language and attempting to rectify a damaged situation.
King Chattergy: Princess Batcheat's father and Prince Bolo's father-in-law, a symbolic figure who forms the nominal head of Gup's government but has little real power. He is given very little role in most of the story. The Wall dividing Gup from Chup is named after him, although he is stated to have had no involvement with its creation. His name is a legitimate name in India, though usually spelled Chatterjee.
Blabbermouth: A female Page of the Library of Gup. Blabbermouth is a talkative, ill-tempered, contemptuous, stubborn, unscrupulous, quarrelsome girl who despises Princess Batcheat, disguises herself as a boy, and is skilled at the art of juggling, which Haroun compares to storytelling. Blabbermouth joins the army of Gup to march on Chup, but is later exposed as a girl and expelled from the army by Bolo. She then becomes aide to Mudra, an ally of the Guppees, with whom she is implied to be infatuated. Haroun is said to have a soft spot for her, but never confesses it. He is, however, extremely pleased after she kisses him.
Mudra: Second-in-command to Khattam-Shud, who becomes disgruntled with his master's policies and defects to the Guppee side. His shadow, like the shadows of each and every person in Chup, can behave independently of himself and is therefore his sidekick. Mudra himself is an able warrior skilled in the art of hand-to-hand combat. He is described as having green paint and exaggerated features covering his face; as being clad in bulky armor that increases his appearance of size; and as having eyes that are white at the pupil, grey at the iris, and black at upon the larger surface of the eyeball. Such eyes are common to all Chupwalas, and are entirely blind in bright light, being given their vision by the reflection of darkness from objects. Mudra is nearly mute, being able only to communicate his own name and the fact that he "speaks" by means of Abhinaya, a type of sign language used in classical Indian dance. His own name is said in the appendix to be the generic term for all signs used in this language. After the climax, Mudra becomes President of Chup. The question of whether or not he reciprocates Blabbermouth's infatuation is never answered.
Khattam-Shud: The villain of the story, whose name means "completely finished". He represents silence, and is therefore said to be invoked at the termination of every story told. As a character, he is the "Prince of Silence and the Foe of Speech" feared by most Guppees. He is the ruler of Chup, the Kahanian counterpart of Mr. Sengupta, and the founder of a religion whose supreme commandment is abstinence from speech. The corporeal Khattem-Shud gets crushed by the head of the Statue of Bezaban at the end of the story.
The Eggheads: Originally a derogative name for an enthusiast in some subject, the term here describes the technicians of Kahani, who are white-coated, completely bald, enthusiastic, cheerful, and intelligent. The Eggheads of Gup City are said to be the inventors of all "Processes Too Complicated To Explain", by which impossible feats such as Kahani's bizarre orbit, the creation of artificial happy endings for stories, and the transmission of "story water" to Earthly storytellers are easily accomplished. They are quite in awe of their superintendent, the Walrus, for his possession of a mustache.
Walrus: The superintendent of the Eggheads, distinguished from them by his possession of a small mustache which gives him his name.
Plentimaw Fish: Large, shark-like Angelfish living in the waters near Gup, which is built on several islands. The name is derived from their multiplicity of mouths, through which they constantly ingest the stories conveyed by the waters. Inside their bodies, the stories are then mixed, producing new stories that join the canon of all the stories ever told. It is never suggested that the stories they ingest are destroyed or weakened. A typical Plentimaw Fish is extremely talkative through all of its mouths, though pollution in the Sea of Stories can cause it to speak through only one at a time. Plentimaw Fish mate for life and always travel in pairs, which then speak in rhyme. The name is also used to assonate with Buttoo's statement that "there are plenty more fish in the sea", whereas the angelfish-like physique of the two recalls to Haroun's mind (and therefore to the reader's) Rashid's reply that "[one] must go a long, long way to find an Angel Fish", which Haroun can be said to have done by traveling to Kahani. The two Plentimaw Fish present in the story, Goopy and Bagha, travel with Haroun, Iff, Butt, and Mali (see below) to the Old Zone.
Mali: A 'Floating Gardener' composed of interwoven flowering vines and water plants that behave as a single organism. He is one of many, whose task is to prevent stories from becoming irretrievably convoluted and to cut away weeds that grow on the Ocean's surface. Floating Gardeners are divided into a hierarchy of classes, of which Mali belongs to the First Class; presumably the highest. Mali, and presumably other Floating Gardeners, is virtually invulnerable, being able to withstand any and all attacks made against him by the Chupwalas. Though normally taciturn by human standards, he is shown singing rhymes when defying the attacks. He helps cleanse the waters of the poison.
Allusions/references to other works 
"Sea of the Rivers of Story" is the English equivalent of Kathāsaritsāgara, the title of an 11th century collection of Indian legends.
Another obvious reference is to the stories of One Thousand and One Nights. Haroun, the son of Rashid Khalifa refers to Harun al-Rashid, a caliph who ruled from 786 to 809 and who features frequently in Thousand and One Nights stories.
When the character Mudra is first encountered, the noises he emits are the gurgling sound "Gogogol" and the coughing noise "Kafkafka", which are obvious references to writers Nikolai Gogol and Franz Kafka, whose names they are distorting. Rushdie makes another reference to Kafka when Iff describes the Plentimaw Fish in the sea, who swallow stories, as hunger artists.
A reference is made to the folktale Rapunzel in the book's fourth chapter.
"Goopy" and "Bagha" clearly allude to the characters Goopy and Bagha created by Bengali author Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury. His grandson, the academy award winning director Satyajit Ray, directed two films with Goopy and Bagha as protagonists.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations 
- A play based on the book was adapted for the stage by Tim Supple and David Tushingham. It had its stage premiere in 1998 at the Royal National Theatre in London.
- An opera, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Charles Wuorinen with libretto by James Fenton, written in 2001, was premiered at the New York City Opera in Fall 2004.
- In LOST, after Juliet detonates Jughead, Jack is in the sideways universe and looks around to see Desmond Hume on Oceanic 815 reading the book. The book mirrors the conflict that Jack is soon to experience.
- British Council Contemporary Writers, Salman Rushdie
- Lurie, Alison (1990-11-11). "Another Dangerous Story From Salman Rushdie". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-05-04.
- Actually meaning "speak!", since bolo is the imperative form of Hindi bolna "to speak".
- This being a pun once again, meaning 'gossip'. S.v. 'gap', McGregor, R.S. (ed.): Oxford Hindi-English Dictionary. Delhi: Oxford UP, 2002.
- Haroun and the Sea of Stories - New York Magazine Classical Music Review