Haroun and the Sea of Stories

views updated

Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Salman Rushdie


(Full name Ahmed Salman Rushdie) Indian-born English novelist, short-story writer, essayist, critic, editor, playwright, travel writer, and author of young adult novels.

The following entry presents commentary on Rushdie's young adult novel Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990) through 2006.


Rushdie is among the best-known representatives of postcolonial fiction in modern British literature. After being forced into hiding to escape the ire of Islamic fundamentalists due to the controversy surrounding his 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses, Rushdie penned a fairy tale for children, Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990), as both a bedtime story for his son and as an allegorical response to his situation. His only work for young readers, Haroun and the Sea of Stories has been viewed by critics as Rushdie's rebuttal of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's attempts to silence his examination of the Islamic religion in The Satanic Verses. While the story is fraught with overt literary themes, it is nonetheless a fable that simultaneously presents a tender vision of a father-son bond and a compelling adolescent quest to repair a rift in that relationship. While Haroun and the Sea of Stories is not among Rushdie's most well-known books, it is nevertheless viewed as an important piece of his canon as well as an engaging work of children's fiction.


Born on June 19, 1947, into a middle-class Muslim family in Bombay, India, Rushdie attended the Cathedral Boys' High School. His education continued in England at the Rugby School and later at King's College, Cambridge. After earning an M.A. with honors in 1968, he performed for one year at an experimental theater and then worked as a freelance advertising copywriter during the 1970s. His first novel, Grimus, was published in 1975, and was followed by Midnight's Children (1981). The latter received wide critical praise and earned Rushdie the Booker McConnell Prize. Rushdie gained international notoriety in 1988 with the publication of The Satanic Verses. Devout Muslims, outraged by a perceived belittling of the Islamic faith within the novel, staged public demonstrations and placed bans on its importation. Eventually, a fatwa, or death sentence, was issued by Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruholiah Khomeini, calling for the execution of Rushdie. It was not until a public pardon of sorts was issued by the Iranian government in 1995 that Rushdie felt he could safely emerge from hiding. Despite lingering death-threats, the author returned to the public stage with a determination to use his work as a platform for the exposure and denouncement of institutional violence and intolerance. Rushdie's Midnight's Children was named the best novel to win the Booker Prize during the award's first quarter century. The Satanic Verses and The Moor's Last Sigh (1995) both received the Whitbread Prize and were also short-listed for the Booker Prize. In 2003 Midnight's Children was voted by the British public as one of the nation's 100 best-loved novels.


Likely inspired in part by such enduring works of children's literature as The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, Gulliver's Travels, and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Haroun and the Sea of Stories is an allegorical fable infused with Rushdie's trademark magic realism. The story surrounds the teenaged Haroun and his quest to heal his father's lost gift for storytelling. Haroun lives in an ancient city that is so sad and somber that its people have forgotten its name. Haroun lives in this dispirited place with his father, Rashid Khalifa, a professional storyteller who is better known as Rashid the Ocean of Notions or, more disparagingly, as the Shah of Blah. Rashid's wife Soraya runs off with their dour neighbor, the unimaginative Mr. Sengupta, who is far too sensible to see the value in fiction. Dismayed at the damage his mother's betrayal has wrought upon his father, Haroun confronts him, asking "What's the use of stories that aren't even true?" Utterly deflated by his son's loss of confidence in him, Rashid loses his gift for communication. Haroun immediately regrets hurting his father so deeply and seeks to restore his father's desire and creativity by venturing out on a quest to Kahani, the Earth's other moon, where the Sea of Stories is located. Assisted by Iff, a water genie, and a hoopoe bird named Butt, Haroun searches for Walrus, the Chief of the Eggheads and Comptroller of the P2C2Es (Processes too Complicated to Explain) who might be able to restore his father's spring of story water. However, along the way, Haroun learns that Khattam-Shud, the ruler of the city of Chup, has been poisoning the Sea of Stories. Khattam-Shud has long desired to control the universe, but his goals have been blocked by his inability to control the fictions born of imagination and the endless body of stories that spring forth from its unlimited power. To circumvent that power, he has been destroying the Sea of Stories, from which all inspiration is created, with the inadvertent help of Walrus who has been hoarding sunlight, thus starving the Sea of Stories. Haroun enlists the aid of the people of Gup, whose society is organized like a book, with soldiers—called pages—dressed in laminated squares and organized into groups of Chapters, all under the command of General Kitab. The people of Gup are constantly engaged in a cacophony of voices and opinions, in direct contrast to the people of Khattam-Shud's city of Chupwala, who are renowned for their silence. Haroun worries about the ability of the Guppees to defeat the Chupwala, until he sees that the debates between the Guppees have united them into a whole, while the deathly quiet Chupwala are disorganized and weak in the face of the now-harmonious Gup army. Ultimately, Khattam-Shud is defeated by a rising sun that decimates the frozen dark sterility of Chup. Having restored the spring of the Sea of Stories, Haroun is granted a wish, and he wishes for a happy ending for his city. Returning home, he learns that his city has remembered its name, Kahani, and that his mother has reunited with his father. Most importantly, however, Rashid, with his son's faith in him restored and the spring repaired, has rediscovered the power of stories.


Critics and scholars have noted strong biographical and allegorical overtones in Haroun and the Sea of Stories, though Rushdie himself has resisted such interpretations. Clara Claiborne Park has commented that, "Haroun has multiple purposes, not all specifiable, but the most urgent being a father's need to reclaim a closeness to his son, a closeness brutally shattered by a difference of opinion about the value of free speech; such a purpose and such an addressee requiring—a story." The importance of language, free speech, and cultural debate is stressed throughout the text. Most of the place names in Haroun are derived from literary sources from the Hindustani language. The name Khattam-Shud, for instance, is a traditional term used to indicate the end of a story, much in the same way the Western world uses "The End" to denote the conclusion of a fairy tale. Further, the name of the alternate universe (as well as the hidden name of Haroun's homeland), Kahani, means "story" in Hindustani. Many of the other names in Haroun also have alternate meanings: Haroun's country, Alifbay, means alphabet; Kitab means book; the City of Gup is taken from the word for gossip; and their opposites in Chup come from the word that means silence or quiet people. Perhaps resonating more with Western audiences, however, are Rushdie's allusions to the popular classic Arabian Nights. David Appelbaum has noted that, "Talking birds, water genies, a kidnapped princess, and a maniacally evil adversary—all favorites of Scheherazade's storytelling—reappear in Rushdie's saga. Even the names of the boy-hero and his father, Haroun and Rashid, play on Haroun al-Raschid, Caliph of Baghdad in the Nights." Many observers have also acknowledged the strong similarity between the names of Rashid—the father, the lonely husband, and the victim of a debilitating loss of joy in stories—and Rushdie, the forced literary exile. Regardless, the most dominant themes throughout Haroun are Rushdie's evocative messages of freedom: freedom of personal expression, the power of language, the value of open communication, and the joy of imagination. Jean-Pierre Durix has argued that, within Haroun, "reality is shapeless until it has been fashioned by the imagination and named by the artist. This thematization of artistic genesis might appear as a gratuitous postmodern trick. With Rushdie, it witnesses to a serious reflection on the essential role of the imagination in perceiving a sense of direction in the world." And while Rushdie's message of the freedom of speech is meant for the average reader, he also encoded a special tenor for his son, Zafar. The story's happy ending, Rushdie noted in an interview with James Fenton, "was a way of exerting my freedom to make things turn out okay for that little boy and his dad and mum … And I thought—you know—sometimes in life, things do turn out okay, and it's wrong of writers to deny this fact." As an ex- tension of this personal message, he ends Haroun with an epigraph where the first letter of each sentence spells out the name "ZAFAR."


While Haroun and the Sea of Stories has not been regularly included in discussions of Rushdie's award-winning literary output, its tenor and role as a personal addendum to the Satanic Verses controversy have earned it a measure of critical regard. However, as a stand-alone work of children's literature, the story has been critically well-received. J. Bemrose has praised the book as "an unusually joyous and playful piece of literary invention," while Rosalía Baena has termed it "a modern fairy tale for both adults and children, using the child's point of view as the narrative focus that centres the drama within the magical tale." While Haroun is ostensibly a children's book, Mette Rudvin and Francesca Orlati have suggested that, "it falls within that category described by Zohar Shatvit (1986) as a text with an ‘ambivalent status’, that is a text written for (and/or received by) both adults and children at various levels of both production and reception." Many reviewers have lauded the thematic duality of the text, asserting that Haroun functions both as an engaging fable for young readers and as a potent political allegory about the dangers of censorship. Though many scholars have applauded the social subtext in Haroun, some have taken issue with the nature of Rushdie's allegory. For example, Srinivas Aravamudan has alleged that Haroun "becomes a banal didactic fiction that demonstrates … everything that is wrong with liberal assumptions about literature."


Young Adult Works

Haroun and the Sea of Stories (young adult novel) 1990

Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories [adaptor; with David Tushingham and Tim Supple] (play) 1998

Adult Works

Grimus (novel) 1975

Midnight's Children (novel) 1981

Shame (novel) 1983

The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey (travel writing) 1987

The Satanic Verses (novel) 1988

Imaginary Homelands: The Collected Essays (essays and criticism) 1991

The Wizard of Oz (criticism) 1992

The Rushdie Letters: Freedom to Speak, Freedom to Write (letters) 1993

East, West (short stories) 1994

The Moor's Last Sigh (novel) 1995

Mirrorwork: 50 Years of Indian Writing, 1947-1997 [editor; with Elizabeth West] (short stories and essays) 1997

The Ground beneath Her Feet (novel) 1999

Fury (novel) 2001

Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children [adaptor; with Simon Reade and Tim Supple] (play) 2002

Step across This Line: Collected Nonfiction, 1992-2002 (essays and criticism) 2002

Shalimar the Clown (novel) 2005


Denis Donoghue (review date 10 December 1990)

SOURCE: Donoghue, Denis. "The Magical Muse." New Republic 203, no. 24 (10 December 1990): 37-8.

[In the following review, Donoghue praises the power and beauty of Rushdie's prose in Haroun and the Sea of Stories.]

Salman Rushdie's new book is a story for children that began as a bedtime story for one child, Rushdie's son. The epigraph reads:

Z embla, Zenda, Xanadu:
A ll our dream-worlds may come true.
F airy lands are fearsome too.
A s I wander far from view
R ead, and bring me home to you.

I assume that the space between the first letter of each line and what follows sets off the name Zafar for special affection. Like "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," the verses make a charm as well as a jingle, and they come to rest on the cherished monosyllable, "you." Like a message in a bottle dispatched on the sea, the book meant for one privileged recipient may be found by anyone.

I should not intrude on the author's privacy, even to the extent of finding in Haroun and the Sea of Stories an acutely personal impulsion. For all I know, the book may be a disguised or displaced autobiography. Certain passages seem to point beyond their local bearing, as if they could a further tale unfold, were they so minded. The overt story is about the suppression of stories; or rather, of the storytelling capacity. The chief villain wants to control the world, "your world, my world, all worlds," as he tells the hero, Haroun: "And inside every single story, inside every Stream in the Ocean, there lies a world, a story-world, that I cannot Rule at all."

As for this particular story: Haroun, only son of the professional storyteller Rashid Khalifa—known to his admirers as Rashid the Ocean of Notions, and to his rivals as the Shah of Blah—comes home one day to find that his mother, Soraya, has run off with their neighbor Mr. Sengupta. The usurper is a man of no account, but he has beguiled Soraya by saying over and over again: "What's the use of stories that aren't even true?" Poor Rashid loses not only his wife but also the power of telling stories.

Haroun determines to see that his father's gift is restored to him. In the course of his knightly quest he comes upon two gangsters, a stammering speed-demon bus driver named Butt, a houseboat in the shape of a swan called Arabian Nights Plus One, a water genie named Iff from the Ocean of the Streams of Story, a bottle of Wish Water, a Floating Gardener called Mali, Plentimaw Fish who travel in pairs and speak in rhyme, one Prince Bolo, the Princess Batcheat (abducted for most of the book's time), Walrus Chief of Eggheads, Mudra the Shadow Warrior, a female page named Blabbermouth, and sundry other folk. Worst of the lot is a figure called Khattam-Shud, well known to Rashid as "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."

A hundred pages or so later Haroun meets Khattam-Shud, and finds him just as obnoxious as Rashid's account of him indicates. But it is clear by this time that it is not yet the End, that the name Khattam-Shud need not yet be uttered.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories alludes to, and therefore pays tribute to, many accredited stories and collections of stories, notably One Thousand and One Nights and the third book of Gulliver's Travels. There is much talk of Jason and the Golden Fleece. There are also allusions, unless I err, to several of Rushdie's own books, most clearly to the passage in Shame in which the narrator, long before The Satanic Verses, pronounces somewhat harshly upon "so-called Islamic fundamentalism" and goes on to assert that "religions shore up dictators by encircling them with words of power, words which the people are reluctant to see discredited."

The narrator proposes to replace the old myth by a new one, indeed by three such myths, "all available from stock at short notice: liberty; equality; fraternity." Nobody in Shame is given the task of remarking that these words, too, are words of power, and that even if the people are reluctant to see them discredited, these words have not delivered the universal happiness they promised.

I hope it is not eccentric of me to recall that passage from Shame and to think of it when Haroun finally reaches Gup City and observes that the Guppees are extraordinarily thin and dressed in rectangular garments covered in writing. These persons are, as Iff explains, "the famous Pages of Gup; that is to say, the army." To be more specific:

Ordinary armies are made up of platoons and regiments and such like; our Pages are organized into Chapters and Volumes. Each Volume is headed by a Front, or Title, Page; and up there is the leader of the entire "Library," which is our name for the army—General Kitab himself.

What emerges from these Pages of Gup is odd indeed, a political theory undreamed of in the better commonwealths. In Gup there may be criticism, argumentation, loose talk, but not a story in sight. Still, words of power are spoken. But in Khattam-Shud's dark city of Chup, to make matters worse, the laws forbid speech and poison every story in the ocean.

There is something for everybody in Haroun and the Sea of Stories, as there should be. A child may read it and wonder that so much could happen to the boy Haroun, including something dreadful that happened one morning at eleven o'clock and left poor Haroun unable to keep his mind on anything for more than eleven minutes and, in many considerations, unable to go beyond it to any noon of decision. The same child may be troubled by the poisonous air of Gup City, and fear for Haroun's security there. Fairy lands are fearsome, too. An adult reader will wonder from time to time whether he is caught up in an allegory, thinking perhaps that the meaning of the book doesn't coincide with its events at every point, but is to be found at a distance from them.

No matter. None of these questions arises while one is reading the book, but only later, thinking about it. Walter Benjamin once distinguished between the novel and the story. The story, he suggested, comes from oral tradition and goes back to it, bringing the wisdom of faraway places and the lore of the sea; the novel is a function of the printing press and presupposes a private reader by himself in a room. The distinction could easily be made invidious, and Benjamin needed an extreme exemplar of storytelling, Nikolai Leskov, to make the distinction at all persuasive. But it is fitting that Rushdie makes the boy hero of his book the only son of a storyteller, and that he sends the boy running off to Gup City to interview the Walrus and persuade him to restore the narrative water-supply to his father Rashid. Heart-mysteries there.

What's the use of stories that aren't even true? Benjamin thought that their use was to convey wisdom rather than information; wisdom, the deep truth learned and passed on by word of mouth, information merely the small change of commerce, the unpretty pass we have come to. Another invidious distinction, you may say, issuing from a praiser of gone times. But there are episodes in Haroun and the Sea of Stories that make the distinction seem at least possibly valid; like the business with "eleven" I've mentioned, which seems to come from ancestral lore and to return to it. And the prowess of Mali the Floating Gardener, for whom the lilac serves as a mouth. Benjamin thought that storytelling was nearly a lost art, that few people nowadays have communicable experience. If so, Rushdie is one of the few. It may be that he's an even better storyteller than a novelist. But that's another question, and meanwhile he has given us, and given his son, a gorgeous story with the happiest of endings.

David Appelbaum (review date May 1991)

SOURCE: Appelbaum, David. Review of Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Salman Rushdie. Parabola 16, no. 2 (May 1991): 126-32.

[In the following review, Appelbaum posits that Haroun and the Sea of Stories echoes several questions of purpose that may have confronted Rushdie during his battle over The Satanic Verses.]

Story telling is the antidote for sadness in Salman Rushdie's delightful new novel. With an adventure of youthful heroics straight out of The Arabian Nights, Rushdie opens his tale in the saddest of cities, "a city so ruinously sad that it had forgotten its name." In this place, telling and spinning tales have—as they did for Scheherazade—life-giving powers. For both her and Rushdie, a story celebrates life's unfolding and its triumph over the sentence of death ordained by the Sultan Schahbriar.

Haroun shares other aspects with The Arabian Nights. Talking birds, water genies, a kidnapped princess, and a maniacally evil adversary—all favorites of Scheherazade's storytelling—reappear in Rushdie's saga. Even the names of the boy-hero and his father, Haroun and Rashid, play on Haroun al-Raschid, Caliph of Baghdad, in the Nights.

The story begins with Rashid Khalifa. Rashid is the Shah of Blah, or alternately the Ocean of Notions, the consummate storyteller. He enjoys fame, good fortune, and domestic tranquillity in spite of an environment of global melancholy. As a conduit of the life-force, Rashid alone appears immune to ungrateful, drab, and routinized existence. The key to his precarious happiness lies in Soraya, his wife, whose singing sustains Rashid's own poetry even in the wasteland.

One day, the songs suddenly stop. Shortly thereafter, Soraya runs off with Mr. Sengupta, the upstairs neighbor, a clerk and a disparager of Rashid's storytelling. Despairing over the loss of his mother, Haroun defiantly confronts Rashid with the literalist's question: "What's the use of stories that aren't even true?" With that final blow, the spigot from which gushed Rashid's splendid creations is shut off—khattam shud, completely finished, as Rushdie says. Rashid, the Shah of Blah, no longer has a story to tell.

The stage is set for young Haroun to redeem himself and save his father. The hero's journey begins with a barnstorming tour of a distant city. Rashid has been hired to aid a questionable candidate's campaign. Just before the dangerous insinuations that his father is khattam shud can be verified, Haroun discovers the way to the other world.

For Rushdie as for Lewis Carroll, the other realm is the reverse of the ordinary one. Instead of the visual reversal (which takes place when Alice goes through the mirror into the Looking Glass World), Rushdie features metaphoric reversal. Metaphor becomes reality and reality, when Haroun enters the land of Kahani, is the substantiation of everything that metaphor describes. By contrast, "the literal meaning" is not simply an unintelligent response but the pathological and shadowy denial of what is.

Rushdie has us enjoy Haroun's repeated amazement at the facts of reversal. Haroun discovers that Rashid's tales do indeed spring forth from the story waters. In Kahani, there is an ocean of stories which by a P2C2E (A Process Too Complicated To Explain) is connected to Rashid's sink—or was, while harmony reigned. Haroun is able to travel about by (metaphorically) giving his thoughts wings. He quickly uncovers an ominous fact: his father's dry spigot is the local effect of a global phenomenon of pollution. The sea of stories is being poisoned!

Rushdie's treatment of the final part of Haroun's journey—redemption and return—is accomplished with affection and humor. The adversary is Khattam Shud incarnate. He appears strangely like Mr. Sengupta, clerkish, literal-minded, unable to bear the element of play, trying to rid the world of yarn-spinning. Khattam Shud repeats Haroun's own taunting question to him: "What's the use of a story that isn't even true?" A cavernous, floating poison factory works night and day. How can a single boy make a difference? Haroun's victorious act inserts his own story-line into the scheme of things (by a P2C2E), thereby insuring that the sea of stories will be ever-renewed by the incorruptible source. With that reassertion of willful imagination, Khattam Shud dissolves forever.

Haroun is more than a piece to be included in a collection of traditional tales. It borrows its transparently allegorical style from another genre, the moral fable. The purpose of a moral fable is to alert us to forces corrosive to self-inquiry, good will, and hope. The fables of Aesop dwell on traditional obstacles to a search for meaning: the likes of greed, arrogance, spite, and sloth. Rushdie, however, discloses a thoroughly modern toxin—at least never felt until modern times. Haroun gently and with good humor concerns itself with safeguarding storytelling from powers presently abroad in ourselves and in the world (since the two are connected by a P2C2E) that would leave us, like Rashid, storyless. "What's the use of a story that isn't even true?" is a question that must have confronted Rushdie in the face of the fanatical outrage prompted by The Satanic Verses. What about the option of knuckling under and falling mute, khattam shud?

To betray the power of spinning a yarn is to sever the connection with the other world. The literal mind, with its parsing of things into black and white, its refusal of ambiguity and uncertainty, its demand for control and definition, thereby triumphs. The course of present-day history threatens such an ending. The story, through the enjoyable and disturbing, fascinating and unsettling play of imagination, reminds us of how to live differently. Its elements guide us indirectly back to the forgotten avenues and lost pathways of our inner life, and reawaken the need—felt so strongly in childhood—to be. Haroun recalls such a function and through its fabulous creations nourishes the impulse to tell useless tales. Small wonder that fascist and fanatic alike—always alert to deviations from the literal truth—cry for the suppression of the story. The real power of subversion lies in our freedom to respond to a suggested but unstated meaning.

Jean-Pierre Durix (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: Durix, Jean-Pierre. "‘The Gardener of Stories’: Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories." Journal of Commonwealth Literature 28, no. 1 (1993): 114-22.

[In the following essay, Durix offers an allegorical reading of Haroun and the Sea of Stories, relating the text to Rushdie's own real-world literary struggles.]

Unlike Rushdie's best-known novels, Haroun and the Sea of Stories 1 has no apparent direct relevance to Indian or Pakistani history, to the plight of the immigrant in Britain or to the question of religion. At first sight, this book looks like a return to the fantastic mode exemplified by Grimus. Here the mood and framework of reference are more definitely those of a story for children, though, as in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, a number of allusions are made to realities or texts which a child could not possibly understand. So the reader is invited to consider the novel as belonging to the sub-genre of the children's story which only adults can really understand.

Many reviewers of this text written completely since Rushdie was forced to go into hiding have been attentive to signs which might suggest parallels with the author's own plight. It does contain an allegory of the fight between the imagination, the forces of freedom and those of obscurantism. There are also echoes of a difficult marital situation which leads to the deserted husband losing much of his creativity as a consequence of his wife's departure with another man. As in Midnight's Children, the child-protagonist of Haroun is endowed with miraculous powers. But so are many of the other characters. The context of the novel is not essentially realistic, despite the similarities one may discern with familiar landscapes or locales (Bombay, a journey to Kashmir and Lake Dal, the mythic place of origin of the Rushdie family).

In this story one of the main themes is that of creativity. A number of characters provide examples of different attitudes to imaginative freedom and the art of telling stories. The traditional realistic hierarchy in which referential setting comes uppermost is completely reversed: here words create worlds, but not in a manner which suggests arbitrary and futile deconstructionist word-play. In Haroun, reality is shapeless until it has been fashioned by the imagination and named by the artist. This thematization of artistic genesis might appear as a gratuitous postmodernist trick. With Rushdie, it witnesses to a serious reflection on the essential role of the imagination in perceiving a sense of direction in the world.

The central story-line of the novel is partly the acting out of an explanation given by Rashid to his son to account for the consequences of Soraya's desertion of her husband: I can no longer tell stories; I have cancelled my subscription to the story waters' network. The water genie will have to disconnect my supply. The child's literal understanding of his father's words gives birth to a secondary reality, the magic land where the sea of stories is, a planet to which father and son find themselves transported.

This general process of creation through figurative uses of language is related to Haroun's favourite story, that of the "Moody Land" (p. 47), a place where the atmosphere constantly changes with the protagonist's mood. Strong concentration on a happy event can turn the tables completely and dispel unhappiness. Positive use of the "Moody Land" syndrome is made by Haroun when he makes a wish which leads to the destruction of the Chupwalas' ship/fortress (pp. 170-1). But in this "Moody Land", other people's characteristics can also affect the air, as in the case of the politician Snooty Buttoo who is so full of hot air that a burning wind begins to blow. As in other novels by Rushdie, a close relationship is established here between magic and "reality". As the narrator says, Rashid knew "that the real world was full of magic, so magical worlds could easily be real (p. 50). In Rushdie's fiction, things naturally fall into meaningful patterns sometimes stressed by the narrator himself. This particular novel even goes to the extent of including an appendix which provides the meaning of the Hindustani names of the characters, thus guiding the reader's understanding of side-jokes or meaningful associations.

Besides systematically using strings of metaphors or advertising jingles with comic effects, the author introduces echoing patterns and motifs which turn the novel into a reflective world reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass. The names of characters are often variations on or repetition of a basic model: we come across Butt the bus driver, Butt the Hoepoe, another "mad" driver, and Buttoo, the corrupt politician. The Moon Kahani bears the same name as Haroun's ill-fated city. Khattam Shud and Mr Sengupta, two definite "baddies", resemble each other. Princess Batcheat's unbearable but compulsive singing, only melodious to the ear of her stupidly mooning fiancé, contrasts sharply with Haroun's memories of his mother's beautiful songs when she was happy. The primary and secondary worlds of the novel correspond to each other in so far as each includes floating gardens. Unlike Lake Dull, the Moon Kahani even boasts a "floating gardener" in the shape of Mali whose job it is to untwist twisted story streams. Like Alice's adventures through the looking glass, Haroun's journey to the land of stories covers the same tracks as his return home.

The search for harmony becomes a system which the narrator sometimes brings to the attention of the reader, not without irony. Some characters seem inseparable, like the "Plentimaw fishes" who always go in twos and speak in rhymes, which sometimes sound like doggerel: "‘Call me Bagha! This is Gooopy!’ / ‘Excuse our rudeness! We feel droopy!’" (p. 85). These must be opposed to other couples which do not work so well: the followers of Bezaban have become estranged from their own shadows. Mudra, the first "shadow warrior" whom the Guppies meet when they go to deliver their princess Batcheat is engaged in a strange and beautiful silent dance in which communication goes through gestures rather than words, as in traditional Indian dancing (p. 130). The description of this dancing is an opportunity for the narrator to qualify the simple opposition between the beauty of sound and the ugliness of silence: "the dance of the Shadow Warrior showed him that silence had its own grace and beauty (just as speech could be graceless and ugly)" (p. 125). Eventually opposed poles are made to communicate: "Opposites attract" (p. 125).

Although Rushdie objects to his novels being read in an allegorical way, a one-to-one representation of a secondary reality, Haroun is obviously an allegory of Rushdie's personal situation, that of a writer silenced by forces identified with the enemies of books and of the imagination. Khattam Shud can reasonably be interpreted as a recognizable representation of Ayatollah Khomeini. As in medieval allegories, the situation is presented in black and white. The characters' names sum up their main characteristics, as in the case of Khattam Shud (a Hindustani word uttered by story-tellers to announce the end of their narration), "the Prince of Silence and the Foe of Speech" (p. 79), and the Cultmaster of Bezaban (a word which means "without a tongue"). Literally the Chupwalas (quiet fellows), followers of Kattam Shud live in darkness whereas the inhabitants of Gup (Gossip, Fib, in Hindustani) live in eternal light. The Chupwalas hate the light so much that they can "turn the darkness on" thanks to their "darkbulbs" (p. 168). Stories themselves have their "anti-stories" or "shadow tales", in the form of specific poisons which the Cultmaster of Bezaban synthesizes in his special vats, which bubble like the sorcerer's cauldrons (p. 160).

The gentle and democratic manners of the Guppies contrast with the harsher methods of the Chupwalas: in Gup City, punishments are remarkably mild, out of proportion with the accusation made against the accused: when Rashid is captured and thought to be a spy, the Guppies discuss what he should have as a penance: "Maybe we should scold him. Or make him stand in the corner. Or write I must not spy one thousand and one times. Or is that too severe?" (p. 98). When the Guppies are ready to go to war to recover their kidnapped princess, they spend so much time arguing and discussing every order that Haroun wonders how they are ever going to behave as a disciplined army. When Haroun expresses his surprise, the Hoopoe replies: "But but but what is the point of giving persons Freedom of Speech … if you then say they must not utilize same? And is not the Power of Speech the greatest Power of all?" (p. 119). Here we find Rushdie expressing one of his dearest ideas, one for which he has suffered a lot. The Guppies appear as a materialization of a utopian society in which freedom of speech is not limited to a vague principle but is respected as a real right in all situations. This freedom of speech actually proves very efficient because, once everything has been discussed thoroughly, the Guppies act with a sense of solidarity that would not have been possible in a more coercive society.

Still the virtues of freedom of thought and speech are not enough to counteract Khattam Shud's dark purposes. A deus ex machina is required. And this detail qualifies the idealistic optimism of the dénouement. What eventually defeats the Chupwalas is Haroun's magic trick (provided by a genie) which makes the sun shine over the Chupwalas' dark domain. All their world based on frozen structures (another allegory of their static society) melts to nothing. So eventually, the story sees the (literal and metaphorical) triumph of light over darkness, of freedom over tyranny, of life over rigidity and sterility. But this is only a fragile and possibly artificial conclusion which might well indicate the limits of Rushdie's optimism concerning the possibilities of defeating evil and obscurantism with only the help of the creative imagination.

Yet the metafictional dimensions of Haroun suggest a strange revenge of creation over the powers of evil and destruction. As in many traditional oriental tales, the initial plot involves the thematization of the essential poles of an oral performance with the teller (Rashid) and the listener (Haroun). We may note in passing that the names of the two characters put together form the name "Haroun Al Rashid", an evocation of the character in the 1,001 Nights. Towards the end of the novel, Rashid, who has regained his imaginative powers, begins a tale which is in fact the story we have just been through (p. 206). The self-reflexivity of this mise en abyme does not only serve to give the reader a sense of relativity. Here it illustrates the power and the limits of the imagination: Haroun has been able to revert the tragic bent of history through faith in his own creativity and resourcefulness; he has even succeeded in bringing a happy ending to the story. But this is clearly shown to be fragile and only temporary. Haroun is content with a little respite in his long list of woes. So the dénouement suggests that happiness can be worked at, although it only remains a very frail and precarious achievement.

The plot illustrates the plight of someone (Rashid) who trusts the powers of his imagination so much that he sometimes forgets to live in the "real" world. This characteristic echoes Rushdie's own plight and choices in the face of criticism of his handling of religion. So it is no wonder that one of the main questions raised again and again in the book is: "What's the use of stories that aren't even true?"

This often-repeated sentence may well have been a leitmotiv resounding in Rushdie's head after being forced to go into hiding. Should he just change his priorities in life? Would not compromise with physically stronger and more threatening powers be preferable to the present confrontation over "mere stories". The reader is reminded of the tragic consequences of stories "that aren't even true" on the fates of the people who often have not even read them but react to their supposed content (the so-called "Rushdie Affair"). Rushdie cannot help having been affected by the lives lost in rioting and protest over The Satanic Verses as well as the fate of the hostages that were not freed in the Middle East after the whole affair had erupted. This haunting question is first raised in the novel by Mr Sengupta, Haroun's neighbour, who later runs away with Soraya, Haroun's mother, and causes Rashid's loss of inspiration as a story-teller. One possible answer to this dilemma is provided by Iff who mocks the disbelieving Haroun for not being able to trust what he cannot see: "And the past, did it happen? And the future, will it come? Believe in your own eyes and you'll get into a lot of trouble" (p. 63).

The main "use" of stories mentioned in the novel is that which corrupt politicians make of Rashid's power to lure crowds to their electoral rallies. At first sight this may seem very trivial and a possible confirmation of Haroun's doubts. Yet, towards the end of the novel when Rashid's inspiration is restored (pp. 206-7), his "gift of the gab" enables him (miraculously?) to turn the tables and, thanks to the illustrative power of his tale, to lead the people to oust the wicked politicians who ruled their lives against their will. The tale that opens their eyes is precisely the main story-line of the book (a feature possibly reminiscent of Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude). This detail suggests that the mise en abyme is not merely a futile metafictional device meant to show off the author's cleverness and sophistication. It is also a return to the traditional values of the old Sanskrit or Arab tales. Thus the best of the contemporary and of the old world are combined in a unique synthesis. The moral lesson of this seems to be that the artist may be led to compromise with the powers that be in order to survive in material terms. But eventually his imaginative powers are likely to subvert the dark designs of the "politicoes". This shows Rushdie's faith in the imagination which can contribute to righting the wrongs of the world. Lead people to dream, offer them a beautiful story, he suggests, and people can find in themselves the strength to overthrow their despots.

Haroun can also be read as an allegory of the art of the story-teller. Rushdie obeys the rules of traditional oral narration: to him, stories should first of all be interesting and entertaining. They can also be illustrative of certain moral principles. But this need not take the form of boring moralizing. The performer has to capture the listeners' attention through his virtuosity. Thus Rashid at the height of his powers can juggle lots of different tales together (p. 16). The narrator sums up his art: "You keep a lot of different tales in the air, and juggle them up and down, and if you're good you don't drop them (p. 109). This obviously also applies to the author and to his art of weaving many stories together. The juggling metaphor takes on more sinister overtones when the Chupwala envoy, who pretends to be a peaceful messenger, actually manages to throw into the circle of Guppies a live bomb, fortunately spotted in time by Blabbermouth (p. 182).

In Haroun, fantasy can artificially turn sadness into joy, though the narration is careful to mark the limits of such a process of improvement which can only "cheer things up for a while" (p. 202). These limits are illustrated by the two "love stories", that between Rashid and Soraya and that between Bolo and Batcheat. In both cases, the reunification of the lovers is described in terms which make authorial irony unmistakable: Only temporary magic has brought Soraya and Rashid together. Batcheat does not appear as a fairytale beauty and Bolo behaves as a stupid mooning lover blind to the reality of the person he loves. As Mali says about the war: "It is all for Love. Which is a wonderful and dashing matter. But which can also be a very foolish thing" (p. 121).

The Eggheads at Chup City are magicians and experts in the art of storytelling, or at least of making some magic stories come true. With their technical expertise akin to the art of cooking, they have learnt how to synthesize happy endings just as the narrator of Midnight's Children has mastered the "chutneyfication of history". Haroun is quite content with having a happy ending cheering things up for a while (p. 202), as in traditional children's stories.

The cultivation metaphor is developed with the introduction of Mali, literally a "gardener of stories", a man whose job it is to keep stories in good condition. Mali may well embody what Rushdie considers as one of the duties of the novelist, to be a defender of the richness, variety and inventiveness of the imagination. To him, stories need to be preserved and kept alive; otherwise they may go stale or become so mechanical that they become of no interest to anybody: Iff explains to Haroun that, without Mali's intervention, "certain popular romances [would] have become just long lists of shopping expeditions. Children's stories also. For instance there is an outbreak of talking helicopter anecdotes" (p. 83).

Initially in Haroun's world, things have lost their names, or rather the number of names available is reduced to the letters of the alphabet, which makes for many confusions. This illustrates the situation when language is allowed to become poorer through people's lack of interest in its richness. When it is no longer an object of pleasure, it becomes a series of ciphers inappropriate to express a varied reality. This is playfully expressed by Butt the bus driver when he talks of "this country of so-many too-many places and so-few too-few names" (36).

For Haroun, stories all come from a great sea of material made up of all the literature produced by the previous generations. The narration actually follows Haroun up to the Source of Stories, "a hole or chasm or crater in the sea-bed, and through that hole, as Haroun watched, the glowing of pure unpolluted stories came bubbling up from the very heart of Kahani" (p. 167). Taken metaphorically, this vision expresses the artist's conception of his role in relation to creators who worked before him: nobody really invents anything absolutely new. The material is all there. The novelist's craft lies in his ability to mix and recompose what already exists. This theory could be taken as a last by-product of Modernism, when T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound have been pushed to their limits. But one may equally recognize a conception close to that of traditional oral performers whose story-lines were wellknown to their audience but whose originality lay in their capacity to give new life to old elements, to recompose them and to add their own flavour (another cooking metaphor suitable to describe Rushdie's work).

The narrator of Haroun even explains why the privileged origin of all creation should be an "ocean" of stories: "because the stories were held here in fluid form they retained the ability to change, to become new versions of themselves, to join up with other stories and so become yet other stories" (p. 72). Narrative units look like so many strands of hair, each having its own colour. When the destructive poison concocted by Khattam-Shud begins to have an effect, the colours are dulled (p. 122). So colour is a sign of beauty and richness as opposed to greyness or darkness.

The novel is a living illustration of Rushdie's theory according to which an artist never creates out of nothing but borrows from a number of sources which he taps and rearranges after his own fashion. He never actually becomes the owner of all these story-lines which have a life of their own and can only be borrowed temporarily, for they will eventually become part of another performer's experience. Many different literary traditions can be traced in the novel. First the book follows the Indian tradition illustrated by the Sanskrit volume entitled Kutha-Sarit-Sagara written by the Kashmiri eleventh-century Brahmin Somadeva. The title means "ocean of the stream of stories" and is made up of more than 20,000 stanzas of four octosyllabic lines. In all, the 350 tales are grouped in eighteen books. These stories are embedded in one single narration in the same way as Haroun's adventures are contained in and reflect the main narration. This feature also characterizes the 1,001 Nights, another essential source of inspiration for Rushdie's works. Like these two texts, Haroun includes some didactic remarks that provide a commentary on human behaviour: this mostly concerns the necessity of not forgetting the importance of using one's imagination, man's inalienable power of liberation. One may enjoy the novel while ignoring the reference to the Katha-Sarit-Sagara. But knowledge of it increases one's enjoyment of the multiple layers of the text. The author has even inserted a clue to the knowing reader: when Snooty Buttoo leads Rashid and Haroun through the wonders of the floating boat on Lake Dull, he shows them a special row of bookshelves where there are many fakes hiding drink cabinets (a situation also found in Midnight's Children ); but he also points out a collection of tales known as "The Ocean of the Streams of Story" where one is supposed to find inspiration whenever one is short of it.

The use of nonsense in the novel also evokes the works of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear. In the epilogue of Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, reading the initial letters of each line vertically, leads one to discover an anagram of Alice Pleasant Liddell, the girl to whom the book was dedicated. Rushdie's epigraph, when examined in similar fashion, reads Zafar, the name of Rushdie's son. In this sense, the story is an occasion for an impossible direct dialogue with a dear one from whom the author is forcibly separated. The Walrus, the most important man in Gup city, may evoke the Beatles' song but also, of course, Lewis Carroll's "The Walrus and the Carpenter" in Through the Looking Glass.

Unsurprisingly the 1,001 Nights figures very prominently among the author's references here: not only do we have Haroun and Rashid but also a houseboat called "Arabian Nights Plus One" because Snooty Buttoo boasts that it is better than the real Arabian Nights (pp. 50-1). Like the old Eastern tale, Haroun teems with genii. A thousand and one becomes a paradigm for beauty, perfection or abundance: there are 1,001 violin strings (p. 70), 1,001 currents (p. 72), 1,001 islands on which the city of Kahani is built (p. 87).

As in Grimus, Rushdie makes ironical allusions to The Conference of Birds,2 an old Sufi text by Farid-Ud-Din-Attar built around the allegory of a quest for perfection. The hoopoe leads the other birds to their goal in the same way as the mechanical Butt ferries Haroun to the Moon Kahani. Farid-Ud-DinAttar's book is playfully evoked in the "Floating Boat" shaped like a bird. In the same way as the hoopoe leads the other birds to their goal, Simurg, in the ancient Persian Sufi text, Butt the Hoopoe starts from the houseboat and takes Haroun to a mysterious and wonderful land from which he comes back (temporarily?) transformed and happier than before. So this journey takes on the form of an initiation too, but not quite of the same kind as that in the Sufi book. Here the fairy-like journey sometimes becomes a role-playing game, or an episode in a science-fiction story (the hoopoe, a mechanical bird, can break down if one removes its electronic brain-box). In true Borgesian fashion, Haroun teems with allusions to various literary works and characters such as Yorick, who appears in Hamlet and in Sterne. Thus the novel becomes a library of world literatures, a combination of highbrow and popular culture, of adult and children's fiction, an unusual synthesis of varied cultural sources.

Rushdie exemplifies what he advocates, the harmonious mixture of many different story-lines which can be combined into new patterns that will hopefully delight the reader. He makes a plea for the powers of the imagination, which, in Derek Walcott's phrase, "give things their names" and enable the writer to revive what is past and to imagine the future, go together with freedom of speech and establish a physically impossible contact between the teller and the reader (the enigma of the epigraph). Even if the Gup warriors sometimes appear ridiculous in their mania for discussing everything and questioning every decision, they are no doubt superior to the Chupwalas who, because of the silence imposed on them, are afraid of their own shadows and are consequently diminished in their capacities for action and resistance.

Rushdie does not deny that silence can sometimes be preferable to speech. What he does suggest in this novel though is that only through a meaningful dialogue between opposed principles can harmonious living and creativity emerge. This, to him, is the only possible source of happiness. But any blissful moment of temporary balance must be treasured because the pall of destruction and tyranny always hangs over the world, threatening to destroy what is best in human beings, that wonderful capacity to reinterpret and repossess one's predecessors' experience without excluding any strand of it for reasons of nationalistic, religious or racial bigotry.


1. References to Haroun and the Sea of Stories are to the Granta edition, London, 1990 and are cited in the text.

2. In her essay "‘Rehearsing Voices’: Salman Rushdie's Grimus", JCL, XXVII, 1 (1992), 128-38, Catherine Cundy rightly insists on the importance of The Conference of Birds as a central intertextual reference in Grimus.

Clara Claiborne Park (essay date autumn 1993)

SOURCE: Park, Clara Claiborne. "Horse and Sea Stories: Areopagitica and the Sea of Stories." Hudson Review 46, no. 3 (autumn 1993): 451-70.

[In the following essay, Park explores the similarities between Haroun and the Sea of Stories and John Milton's Areopagitica.]

The mind, that ocean where each kind
Doth straight its own resemblance find….

Unless we keep a strict watch on it, the mind is always creating odd couples. Yet the Renaissance theory of correspondences was wearing away even as Marvell wrote, seventeenth-century poetic liberties already on their way to redefinition as license. These days we keep our similitudes under stricter control, at least in critical prose. At most, we might concede that John Milton's Areopagitica and Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories are more alike than urchins and sea urchins, sea cows and cows.1

Yet when entities float into contact, however casually, the resemblances ask to be interrogated. Something intervenes—we may if we wish call it logocentrism—to organize drift, to limit wandering or forbid it, imposing on such watery relaxation the relentless apparatus of exposition, argument, evidence. Compare and Contrast.

"[T]he point of a comparison," in the words of Barnet and Stubbs's widely used freshman composition text, "is to call attention to the unique features of something by holding it up against something similar but significantly different. If the differences are great and apparent, a comparison is a waste of effort."2 This is scarcely an encouragement to couple oddly. Why not leave Areopagitica and Haroun where we found them, securely settled into their respective centuries and categories, rather than forcing ideas, times, figures into reluctant pillow talk in one Procrustean bed? It is not productive, suggest Barnet and Stubbs, to compare blueberries and elephants.

Or lovers and compasses? We may suspect no pairing would occur, even in the mind's feckless ocean, if the nature of the pair did not in some way support it. Which is not, however, to say it will support the insistent demands of the expository enterprise.

It is true that both Haroun and Areopagitica are pleas for intellectual freedom. Yet the differences are so great and so apparent that we'd better get them out of the way, before we go back, as we shall, to drifting. For what has floated this couple together is something less apparent than a similarity of subject matter. A similarity of mood—I might almost say of ethical mood—is not so easily interrogated. A squirt of oceanic fluidity may be called for; if we stay long enough at sea, we may draw enough water from our metaphor to blur the inky edges of our categories into shades of feeling, in the hope that a strained comparison will come to seem less strained, less blueberry and elephant than horse, at least, and sea horse.

Areopagitica, then, is the kind of writing that begins like this:

They who to states and governors of the Commonwealth direct their speech, High Court of Parliament, or, wanting such access in a private condition, write that which they foresee may advance the public good….

Whereas Haroun begins like this:

There was once, in the country of Alifbay, a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad that it had forgotten its name. It stood by a mournful sea full of glumfish, which were so miserable to eat that they made people belch with melancholy even though the skies were blue.

Areopagitica's title page proclaims its genre. If we aren't learned enough to know what went on on the Areopagus, we are told at once: we are to read this as an oration, A Speech of Mr. John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenc'd Printing.Haroun is a tale. Areopagitica is addressed to the Parliament of England. Haroun is addressed to a child. An oration, addressing the nation's highest authority, must take itself extremely seriously. Haroun can't take itself seriously at all. Areopagitica has a single, concentrated purpose, to advance the public good, such a purpose and such an addressee requiring linear, sequential argument. Haroun has multiple purposes, not all specifiable, but the most urgent being a father's need to reclaim a closeness to his son, a closeness brutally shattered by a difference of opinion about the value of free speech; such a purpose and such an addressee requiring—a story.

Z embla, Zenda, Xanadu:
A ll our dream-worlds may come true.
F airy lands are fearsome too.
A s I wander far from view,
R ead, and bring me home to you.

Opening the book, the child solves the riddle and discovers his name.

Back in another life, while Rushdie was finishing the book that, in his own phrase, "handcuffed [him] to history," the child told the father that it was "wrong that I didn't write books that children could read." He would allow Rushdie to finish The Satanic Verses on condition that the next book would be for him. "That was the deal." Zafar was nine when history intervened.

His book had to be as different from Areopagitica as we can well imagine. It had to be lighthearted. It had to be playful. It had to be crammed with adventures and surprises and jokes and puns, like the stories the master story-teller used to tell him in his bath, that he could tell him no longer. "I had to keep this promise to Zafar because it was the only thing I could keep to him…. There's no more absolute thing than a promise to your child."

And there were other, more desperate reasons to play, to play as hard as he could, to play, as Frost would have it, for mortal stakes. Handcuffed to history, enveloped in "a sense of absolutely overwhelming failure," "I couldn't have written a grown-up novel. I didn't have the distance, the calm." Only his promise could provide the energy to "do something as weird as write a fairy story in the middle of a nightmare."

You write out of what you think is your best self, the best there is in you. If the upshot of that is that the whole planet thinks of you as a complete bastard, you wonder what it's about, what it was for, and why do it. I spent an awful lot of time thinking I would never write again, not because I couldn't but because I didn't want to…. I thought: I don't want to be a writer any more. I would like to be not a writer.

Shah of Blah, Ocean of Notions (the nicknames he would give to Rashid Khalifa, Haroun's storyteller father), Rushdie must play his way out of that ruinous sadness, lest writer and reader drown in a sea of glumfish and belching melancholy. The genre of Haroun and the Sea of Stories, like the genre of Areopagitica, was determined by addressee and purpose.

Milton's approach to his subject must be as explicit as he can make it, if he is to advance the public good. Zafar's father's must be as little explicit as he can make it, if he is to keep his promise. When Rushdie was interviewed on "60 Minutes," Mike Wallace, sounding rather pleased with himself, put forward a neatly allegorical reading of The Sea of Stories. Immediately, crisply, Rushdie replied: "I resist that reading completely." Haroun is a tale. Even to call it a parable is too much. It must have, as they say, no designs upon us. Zafar will not read it to advance the public good, or even to comfort his father. He must read it for fun.

So the Ocean of Notions concocts a story of a boy, and a father, and a sad city which is and is not Bombay, and a princess, and a dream city at war with a dark Cultmaster of Silence, Arch Enemy of Language, Foe of Speech, who is plugging up the Well-spring that renews the Sea with the rainbow Streams of Story so he can poison it into cold sterility. The Shah of Blah's story streams are plugged up too, for Haroun has asked his father a question so terrible that it takes the heart right out of him: he "stood up in front of a huge audience, opened his mouth, and found out he had run out of stories to tell." Haroun sets out to save his father from silence. He manages to do it, aided by a passel of friendly birds and fishes halfway between Dr. Seuss and Farid uh-Din Attar, and to save the dream city, and save the princess, and unpollute the environment, and save his own sad city too. As Rushdie summed it up to James Fenton: "A terrible thing happens to a father, the child blames himself and wishes to rescue the father." And he ends up rescuing "not just the father, but the whole world, while he's doing it, and why not?"

Why not? We can all give hosts of reasons. Happy endings today are hardly acceptable even in children's stories. Paddling among the glumfish, we have learned to distrust the prosperous outcomes so generously accorded us by earlier streams of story. Yet here is Rushdie exerting himself play by play into a triumph of will and desire, creating a happy ending too elegantly, joyously complicated to examine here, even if we were glum enough to spoil the story. But it's an ending that will say, to his son and himself, what must be said: that melancholy is controllable, that there are ways out of sad cities for energy and activity to find. "Yes, well I wanted to write a happy ending. I've never written a happy ending. I thought: Go for the whole thing, the whole catastrophe…. And it was … actually, it was lovely to write."

But can even a child believe a happy ending? "What's the use of stories that aren't even true?" This is the terrible question that has infected Haroun, and whose black poison can pollute even an ocean of stories. It isn't his own question, though he can't stop asking it. Rushdie frames his plot to make sure we know where he got it: from the glum, suspicious world of adults.

It is a question the adult world will not relinquish, so in time we shall drift back to it, and with it issues of happy endings and truth. For now we return to the joyless necessities of summary. The question that has silenced Rashid Khalifa is a product of the sad city. It tells his son that "life is not a joke shop" and "all this fun will come to no good." In his dream adventure, Haroun will hear it all again from the Cultmaster of Silence, as he tells the boy to stick to the bleakness of Facts. What's the use of stories? asks the dictator. "An Ocean of Stories is an Ocean of Trouble."

What, in fact, is the use of a sea awash in heteroglossic plurality, "made up of a thousand thousand thousand different currents, each one a different colour, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity"?

Different parts of the Ocean contained different sorts of stories, and as all the stories that had ever been told and many that were still in the process of being invented could be found here, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was in fact the biggest library in the universe. And because the stories were held here in fluid form, they retained the ability to change, to become new versions of themselves, to join up with other stories, and so become yet other stories; so that unlike a library of books, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was much more than a storeroom of yarns. It was not dead but alive.

The Sea washes us back to Milton, and not a moment too soon. The exigencies of exposition exert their authority even over drift. Areopagitica is laid out to meet the same exigencies, with its first, next, and last, first the relevant history, classical and modern, next "what is to be thought in general of reading," last and at most length, the demonstration that the Parliament's Order "that no book, pamphlet, or paper shall be … printed, unless the same be first approved and licenced," will be "primely to the discouragement of learning and the stop of truth." But it is not the argumentative structure, however solid, that determines our experience as we read. The arguments are there, and the assemblage of evidence—Areopagitica is detailed, learned, and long. But what readers remember are rather the great oceanic waves of eloquence:

As therefore the state of man now is, what wisdom can there be to choose, what continence to forbear without the knowledge of evil? … I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world, we bring impurity much rather: that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary. That virtue therefore which is but a youngling in the contemplation of evil, and knows not the utmost that vice promises to her followers, and rejects it, is but a blank virtue, not a pure … which was the reason why our sage and serious poet Spenser, whom I dare be known to think a better teacher than Scotus or Aquinas, describing true temperance under the person of Guyon, brings him in with his palmer through the cave of Mammon and the bower of earthly bliss, that he might see and know, and yet abstain.

The waves of Areopagitica are the waves of the sea of story. There is the story of Adam, to whom when God gave reason he gave the freedom to choose, "for reason is but choosing," and from the rind of whose apple the knowledge of good and evil, "as two twins cleaving together, leaped forth into the world." There is the story of Psyche and the impossible pile of seeds she had to sort out, a task no more difficult than the sure discrimination of good and evil. There is the story of Isis searching for the scattered pieces of Osiris' body. There is old Proteus; there are dragon's teeth. And here, in the passage that everybody knows, there is the temperate knight Guyon, and the preference of The Faerie Queene to the orderly exposition of Scotus and Aquinas.

These are the fluid streams, combining and recombining, that Milton has swum in since childhood. It is not his lightminded Allegro but his Penseroso who reads by night, after his sessions with Plato and Greek drama, tales "of Forests and enchantments drear, / Where more is meant than meets the ear." Milton would have no difficulty locating those streams in Rushdie's Ocean, his own Princess Rescue Story among them. There are, in fact, so many Princess Rescue Stories that the Eggheads of Gup City, on Earth's dream moon Kahani (which means "story"), keep track of them by number. There will be a number in Gup for the Mask written to be Presented at Ludlow Castle (and acted by children), in which Platonic and Theocritean and Christian streams mingle in Renaissance liquidity—as Zafar's father, in his own liquid medium, mingles a Princess Rescue Story which must surely be from the Thousand and One Nights (Number S/1001/ZHT/420/41(r)xi) with streams from a twelfth-century Persian's Conference of the Birds and a nineteenth-century Englishman's Alice in Wonderland.

It is that vital liquidity which is in constant need of defense, and sometimes of rescue—the life of books, of words, of ideas, combining and recombining in fluidity and freedom. What Rushdie's tale hints to Zafar is the same thing Milton's oration tells the Parliament of England. The living ocean of notions, for dictators, is an ocean of trouble. "The world," says the Cultmaster, "is for Controlling…. And inside every single story, inside every Stream in the Ocean, there lies a world … that I cannot Rule at all." Carried by the surge of their common theme, Rushdie's language joins up with Milton's. The mind's Ocean is uncontrollable by tyrants; it is not dead but alive.

For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as the soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively and as vigorously productive as those fabulous dragon's teeth.

Life, potency, activity; efficacy, liveliness, vigor, productivity; the living intellect—terms that, explicit in Milton's Oration, are everywhere implicit in Rushdie's Rescue Story. That vigor will propel the figure through change after change. Milton is not known for playfulness—another great and apparent difference between our couple—but an extended metaphor is a kind of play, here even a miniature story. Twenty years later Milton would no longer feel like playing; metaphor in Paradise Lost subsides into the sobriety of epic simile, even that to be largely foregone in Paradise Regain'd. But in Areopagitica his language is still exuberant. The play of life against death continues to elaborate. The stakes are high, though not yet as literally mortal as Rushdie's. "As good almost kill a man as kill a good book"—in this context the sentence takes on an excruciating applicability.

But there's more life ahead. "A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life." The metaphor builds and intensifies. "The seasoned life of man" is "preserved and stored up in books." To spill it is "a kind of homicide, … sometimes a martyrdom" even, "if it extend to the whole impression, a kind of massacre."

Mortal stakes indeed. Milton's was a world that contained the Index Expurgatorius and the Inquisition, as Rushdie's contained and still contains the Ayatollah Khomeini's death sentence. Books were burned; so, sometimes, were people. They were also hanged, drawn, and quartered. And though in 1644 Milton could write in safety, and hope and for a time believe that Cromwell's armies would lead the way to a "knowing people" of prophets and sages, even Cromwell would be unable to impose full religious toleration, and in sixteen years the knowing people would call back the king and it would be at the risk of his life that Milton would publish his last pamphlet written to advance the public good. A year later Andrew Marvell, rather than writing about oceans and gardens, would be exerting his influence to save his former employer's head.

Other similarities are floating out there; if we drift further we will bump into them. Generic barriers seem to dissolve when the subject is freedom, and the emotion a devotion to the book that amounts to passion. "I grew up," wrote Rushdie in the Herbert Read Lecture that he could not deliver for himself, "kissing books and bread." The convictions that bring together two such different personality types—for what we know of Milton is very different from what we know of Salman Rushdie—are potent enough to reach across centuries and genres to evoke a common figuration.

It is a powerful force indeed that draws such separate entities into a shared imagery of cold, of ice, of frozen stasis. Rushdie's Sea is warm and full, brimming with life. The Prince of Silence's realm is "an ice-wilderness on which the sun never shines." When Haroun finally confronts the Cultmaster, Khattam-Shud (whose very name means "completely finished," "over and done with"), it is to hear him proclaim the coming death of the Ocean, "when black ice freezes over its surface," and the world goes mute.

"The world is for Controlling," says the Cultmaster. Ice is what came to Milton's mind in 1644 as he contemplated the "obedient unanimity," the "gross conforming stupidity," the "dull ease and cessation of our knowledge" to be anticipated from a safely licensed press. England would be locked in as "staunch and solid [a] piece of framework, as any January could freeze together," "a stark and dead congealment … forced and frozen together," "triple ice clung about our hearts." "What should ye do then?" Milton asks the Parliament. "Should ye suppress all this flowery crop of knowledge and new light sprung up and yet springing up daily in this city?"

Darkness and frozen conformity; warmth and liquidity and light. Flowers, too; the surface of Rushdie's Sea is alive with water-gardens, imported from the floating gardens of Kashmir. We might almost imagine that Rushdie was deliberately exploring the narrative dimensions of Milton's metaphor, if the contrast were not so natural and common. Nature sets life against death, flowers against a January freeze; writers follow. But there is more shared here than this familiar contrast. The imagery of nature does not provide cities, yet Areopagitica is as metropolitan as Haroun.

Rushdie is a city boy, as he told Fenton, his "interest in the world … entirely urban," his life spent almost entirely in "gigantic cities." "To be a Bombayite," he has said elsewhere, "(and afterwards a Londoner) was also to fall in love with the metropolis. The city as reality and as metaphor is at the heart of all my work." It is at the heart of Haroun. From the glum city, the boy and his father dream-travel to a city "all excitement and activity," noisy with "non-stop conversation and debate," where plans are "itemized, scrutinized, rationalized, mulled over, chewed over, made much of, made little of, and even, after interminable wrangling, agreed," where the king is named Chattergy and the parliament The Chatterbox, where the army wars against Silence and is made up of Pages organized into Chapters and Volumes under a General Kitab whose name means Book. And Milton too was a city boy and a Londoner, born in London, moving from house to house there, buried there, traveling, when he traveled, not to rural beauty, but to the Italian cities which had produced so much of the literature that formed him, whose language he spoke and wrote, whose Renaissance humanism we call civic. In Areopagitica (the title itself an evocation of the Athenian civic center) what he recalls from his Grand Tour are not the leaves of Vallombrosa but his months in Naples and Rome and Florence. It was in Florence, walking up from the Duomo, that he "visited the famous Galileo, grown old, a prisoner to the Inquisition for thinking in astronomy otherwise than the Franciscan and Dominican licencers thought." It was in cities that he traded poems and ideas with the Italian literati, and was "counted happy to have been born in such a place of philosophic freedom as they supposed England was."

In Paradise Lost he will write differently, in populous city pent, compassed round with darkness and dangers and Restoration riot, true liberty lost with paradise (though he hasn't left London). But this is 1644, not 1667. Parliament's armies are fighting the King's, and winning, and London is the revolutionary center.

Behold now this vast city, a city of refuge, the mansion house of liberty…. The shop of war hath not there more anvils and hammers waking, to fashion out the plates and instruments of armed justice in defence of beleaguered Truth, than there be pens and heads there, sitting by their studious lamps, musing, searching, revolving new notions and ideas …, others as fast reading, trying all things, assenting to the force of reason and convincement.

The busy hum of revolutionary London is not so far from Gup. Christopher Hill describes the "fantastic outpouring of pamphlets" that followed the lifting of censorship in the 1640s, "pamphlets on every subject under the sun, an average of three a day for twenty years, especially between 1642 and 1649."3 These are the years which found Milton exulting in the lectures and sermons "preached, printed, vended in such numbers," as they pour from the presses undeterred by "the Castle St. Angelo" (the papal prison) "of an Imprimatur."

Imprimatur. The word alone is enough to set Milton's imagination playing. As it did in the Guppee army, its Volumes "each headed by a Front, or Title, Page," print in Areopagitica comes to visible life. Contemplating an Italian title page, Milton sees a cityscape, a "piazza," in which no less than five priestly Imprimaturs, "shaven reverences," are "seen together, dialoguewise, complimenting and ducking each to other" while the unfortunate author stands by wondering if he is to publish or perish. And Milton is not done with these Imprimaturs, "that let pass nothing but what is vulgarly received already." He twits the Anglican imitators of Rome, for whom English wasn't good enough but they must set down "the word of command" in Latin. They were right to do so, but for the wrong reasons. Milton knows the right one: English, "the language of men ever famous and foremost in the achievements of liberty, will not easily find servile letters enough" to spell Imprimatur. For true book-lovers, the very letters have vitality. Rushdie's book begins in the country of Alifbay, which is, being interpreted, the land of Alphabet.

If the city provides terms in which to evoke the exhilaration of freedom, there are, I think, profounder reasons than city sound and bustle. It is in cities that words are most valued, that books are printed and distributed, that they are, overwhelmingly, bought, read, and talked about. It is to cities (and universities, which are themselves small cities) that we go for the excitement and variety of intellectual exchange, for the marvelous chatter that sends the mind on from one challenge to another. It is in the city that languages and dialects intermingle, that people crowd and irritate each other into the possibility of change. It is the city that provides the kind of experience that leads Rushdie to quote Edmund Burke's "Our antagonist is our helper," and Milton to write that "that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary."

When the talkative Guppee army mobilized against the Cultmaster of Dumbness and Muteness, the Foe of Speech, Haroun and his father wondered about its chances, given its habit of arguing "over every little detail" and debating the pros and cons of every order. They needn't have. "The Pages of Gup, now that they had talked through everything so fully, fought hard, remained united, supported each other when required to do so, and in general looked like a force with a common purpose." This is a New Model Army. Debates and arguments and openness have brought them together, while Khattam-Shud's forces of Silence, disunited, suspicious, and treacherous, mutiny, hide, desert, and lose the battle.

Milton in 1644 would not have been surprised. It was in the same faith that he exulted that the city of London, "besieged and blocked about" by the King's forces, "her navigable river infested, inroads and incursions round," was still full of people "disputing, reasoning, reading, inventing, discoursing, even to a rarity and admiration, things not before discoursed or written of." It is in this mood of exhilaration that he pleads with the Parliament not to suppress the flowery crop of knowledge and new light, and to put "the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties."

But this marshalling of kindred metaphors is making me uncomfortable. It begins to sound too much like argument, reluctant homage to the exigencies of Compare and Contrast. Argument here risks tenden- tiousness, suggests that there is more ice and city in Areopagitica than can actually be found. Argument obscures differences that at another time we might want to remember—as, for instance, the difference between Rushdie's kind of play and Milton's, between rollicking, proliferating humor and controlled polemic sarcasm. This is still a very odd couple. But I will argue still that what floats them together is more significant than what divides them. It is more than a commonalty of imagery, occasional or pervasive. Deeper than any particulars of language is the mood out of which such tropes arise, the mood of exhilaration, of energy, of activity, of hope.

I have called it an ethical mood, shying away from the ubiquitous adjective "political." But it is political, of course, and not merely in the vacuous sense in which the adjective is now applied to every utterance. It is political because it is profoundly, confidently ethical, in that it intends, in Milton's words, to advance the public good. It evokes much more than the personal importance to two brilliant writers of their freedom to publish. It is true, certainly, that no one ever found Milton inattentive to his own personal agenda; only recently he had been condemned in a sermon before Parliament for the publication, unlicensed, of his Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. But though energy may come from a sense of personal grievance, a feeling from which Milton seems to have been rarely free, exhilaration will not. Exhilaration looks forward, not back. The ethical mood of Haroun and Areopagitica is enabled by its confidence (a word which shares its root with "faith"), confidence in variety, possibility, in the uncertainties and surprises of a shared, public freedom, in its slow and irregular tendency toward good. It is a confidence in everything that cold and ice are not.

I need hardly say that it is not a mood that is widespread today. Certainly it is hard to sustain for those who live in history. Milton couldn't hold on to it, having seen his revolution fail and religious persecution return; it is remarkable that Rushdie, even with Zafar's help, manages to play his way into it at all, let alone play it through to a prosperous outcome. But he does, and so we drift back, as promised, to the issue of the happy ending, and with it, truth.

It was late in 1990, almost two years into what he has called the ruin of his life, that Rushdie talked with James Fenton about the happy ending. He did not tell him only that he wanted to write it, that it was lovely to write it, but that it was necessary, integral to this stream of story. "They've just got to fall into each other's arms and everything is okay."

What he said struck Fenton hard. "And this," he commented, "was an example of you exerting you freedom as an author." His extended emphasis is the measure of contemporary surprise. And Rushdie concurred: "I was exerting my freedom to make things turn out okay for that little boy and his dad and mum." He went further: "And I thought—you know—sometimes in life, things do turn out okay, and it's wrong of writers to deny this fact."

Such authorial freedom seems a very different thing from the political and intellectual freedom that Milton has been talking about. Yet what is less licit than a happy ending, what choice more daring for a writer, especially one who has so much better a reason than most of us to belch with melancholy? What more subversive of the current crop of received ideas than to compound so oppositional a choice with a truth-claim? And to do so with the same natural ethical language that Zafar had used, the language of right and wrong? Wrong not to write for children. Wrong to deny what is, after all, a fact.

Children have a right to ethical language, as to happy endings and to hope; most of us would agree to that. But Haroun is both a child and a child of our time, and though the story's almost over, the happy ending in preparation, he is still asking what's the use of happy endings that aren't even true. "The sadness factories are still in production, you can see the smoke; and almost everybody is still poor …" And Zafar's father will answer him: they are true sometimes, really true, and you better believe it.

A novelist is free to write fantasy, but even fantasy is grounded in reality. Rushdie's reality admits of hope. The exhilaration of possibility reaches from the personal to the public. It bespeaks a faith in the possibility of healing, not only the personal disaster of a little boy and his father, but political disaster as well. That the Guppees win the battle, that the dark ice melts away in sunshine—it is incumbent on us to remember that such things have happened. It may even happen that a sad city remembers its name and chooses freedom, opening itself to new possibilities and—of course—new problems. Even in hiding Rushdie could turn on his television and watch the Berlin Wall go down.

"And while there is life, there must be analysis, struggle, persuasion, argument, polemic, rethinking …"—it's not Milton, this time, who's piling word on libertarian word, but Salman Rushdie, paying tribute to Günter Grass five years before the wall came down. Admittedly the sentence's continuation is scarcely Miltonic, as Rushdie cannily deflects any accusations of rhetorical splendor by bundling up his assemblage of vital abstractions into an unpretentious suggestion of "all the other longish words that add up to one very short word." But the short word is hope. It is clear from the book that he wrote for his son that he would not disclaim that word, even today. Hope is a hidden, essential ingredient in any writing which seeks to advance the public good, perhaps in any writing at all. It is that short word that blends the public and the private purpose that at the outset seemed to distinguish two such separate works in two such separate genres. The purpose of Haroun and the Sea of Stories is as public as Areopagitica's, and not only because it concerns freedom. For those who write to children, like those who, as Milton did, write "to the world," write for the sake of the future.

But an obstruction blocks our drift, just as the end seemed close. Are we ready to conflate the truths of the imagination with the truth of fact? The issue of happy endings is not so easily finessed. We may concede they may be emotionally necessary; now and then, perhaps, they may even occur. But how often, how typically, how significantly? Milton could believe that freedom enabled truth. Like Rushdie, he honored the underwater truths of Story. But he only glances at these in Areopagitica. The truth his oration concerns itself with is explicit, expository truth, the kind of truth that is claimed not in stories but in orations, in pamphlets, in lectures and sermons. And what can this have to do with the truth of a sophisticated multiculturalist celebrating pluralism in 1990?

We have encountered this obstruction already, large and capitalized, in Milton's paean to the vast city, mansion house of liberty, fashioning weapons—and Milton does not mean only metaphorical weapons—in defense of beleaguered Truth. Then I nudged us past its inconvenient bulk. But it's still there, unignorable. How can we associate Rushdie's flickering, provisional truths with Truth, transcendentalized with a capital initial? Rushdie inhabits the same world we do. He can, and does, cite Lyotard and Foucault and Rorty. He praises the novel explicitly as "the form created to discuss the fragmentation of truth" in a world in which (he quotes Marx) "all that is solid has melted into air." He elevates "the quest for the Grail over the Grail itself." How can we assimilate him to John Milton, justifier of the ways of God to men? Our coupling is coming uncoupled.

We may concede occasional brushes with truth in the Streams of Story, below the surface if not upon it. We will listen as Milton, in his Princess Rescue variant, makes the Lady's little brother (he was nine years old too) say that the Christian Platonism his elder brother has been spouting is "musical as is Apollo's lute," knowing how easily we can melt truth-claims into music. But we cannot do that in Areopagitica. Truth, word and idea, pervades that speech, and truth there is not music. It is "our richest merchandise." To license its import and export is strangulation, as if "some enemy at sea were to stop up all our havens and ports and creeks." And Truth brings in the tone of hope, equally obstructive: "And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licencing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter."

For who knows not that Truth is strong…. She needs no policies, nor stratagems, nor licensings to make her victorious—those are the shifts and the defenses that error uses against her power. Give her but room, and do not bind her when she sleeps, for then she speaks not true….

Like the victory of Gup City, this must strike unusably on postmodern ears, one more story that isn't even true. Milton could capitalize truth in 1644, but it certainly isn't possible today.

Yet the entities drift together even here. If we think a capital T is enough to make truth monolithic, Milton will surprise us. In Areopagitica, his temple of the Lord is not carved out of a single block, but put together out of "brotherly dissimilitudes," with "many schisms and dissections made in the quarry and in the timber." Truth as the state of man now is is something searched for, not something found. It is the body of Egyptian Osiris, hewn into a thousand pieces and scattered to the winds, to be gathered up limb by limb. "We have not yet found them all, Lords and Commons…." Bind Truth, says Milton, and like Proteus "she turns herself into all shapes except her own." But just as we are expecting an assertion of her transcendent, unmistakable form, we are told that "yet it is not impossible that she may have more shapes than one."

Truth may be our richest merchandise, but "truth and understanding are not such wares as to be monopolized and traded…. We must not think to make a staple commodity of all the knowledge in the land, to mark and licence it out like our broadcloth and our woolpacks." Truth is not a frozen ice-sheet; it is "a streaming fountain" "if her waters flow not into a perpetual progression, they sicken into a muddy pool of conformity and tradition." It is this sickness that is to be feared and opposed, not the "fantastic terrors of sect and schism." For "where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making."

In that faith Rushdie created the Guppee army.

Truth, today, is a word that literary critics touch with tongs. For that very reason readers may be grateful when writers of fiction feel free to pick it up. Certainly there are uses for stories even when they aren't true; if they are fun they are useful enough. Yet everyone who has ever read a child a story (or read a story as a child) knows there's more to it than that, that children will search out their truths in unexpected places. The child who grew up kissing books and bread kissed "large numbers of cheap comics of a most unliterary nature," books about Superman and Batman and Aquaman and Spiderman. The adult, in his Read Lecture, tells why they were worth kissing, and the language in which he tells us deserves our attention. The superheroes may have been law-and-order conservatives, but "the lesson they taught children—this child, at any rate—was the perhaps unintentionally radical truth that exceptionality"—freaks and mutants as they were—"was the greatest and most heroic of values." There's more on those values in "Is Nothing Sacred," all worth quoting, but what will strike the postmodern ear is the untoward vocabulary: lesson, taught, truth.

The words carry us back to a linguistic world in which Milton—or our great-grandfathers—would have felt at home. To us, however, the once familiar landscape has grown strange. We are more at ease when Rushdie, having cited Julian Barnes's "beautiful idea … that ‘love teaches us to stand up to history,’" adds that (though he says it's a "lifebelt" for him) he doesn't know "if this is true"; when he reminds us (reviewing Italo Calvino) that "storytelling is after all a nursery euphemism for lying." Yet two pages later he will be telling us that in "the most outrageous fiction about fiction ever conceived" (Calvino's If on a winter night a traveler) "we stumble in every paragraph over nuggets of hard, irreducible truth." "Why," he asks us, "finally, should we bother with a Calvino, a word-juggler, a fantasist?" We should bother, Calvino is "indispensable," because "he tells us, joyfully, wickedly, that there are things in the world worth loving as well as hating; and that such things exist in people, too." What can this be but a confession of faith in a proposition that Rushdie thinks is true, for Calvino, for himself, and for us?

It may be that children, and story-tellers, know things about stories that readers who come to literature through criticism forget. Rushdie, at any rate, will praise Grace Paley for the process of writing she describes as "taking out the lies," for her "determination to call things by their true names." He will praise Raymond Carver for trying to salvage from the mess he found around him, "Honesty, perhaps. Integrity. Truth." But it is in writing of Vietnam and Central America that Rushdie puts it most plainly: "It seems to me imperative" he says, that literature enter the great political arguments, imperative "because what is being disputed is nothing less than what is the case, what is truth and what untruth."

Milton couldn't have stated it more categorically. Our couple wash up side by side, in the same surge of ethical emotion. Though truth may have more shapes than one and we have not yet found them all, Lords and Commons, still it is a word, and a concept, that neither Rushdie nor Milton can do without.

It is, finally, that concept that underwrites the passionate call from both to acknowledge what books are, to kiss them, to pick them up when they fall, to acknowledge them as somebody else's precious life-blood that can vivify our own. We can't do without books, or blood, or bread. Though "precious" is another uncommon word in late twentieth-century discourse, Rushdie, writing (like Milton) under the pressure of history, needs that one too. For when "the assumptions and processes of literature, which I had believed all free men and women could take for granted, and for which all unfree men and women continue every day to struggle," are subjected to "an attack of such bewildering ferocity," "it … become[ s] necessary to restate what is most precious about the art of literature—to answer the attack, not by an attack, but by a declaration of love."

Out of that declaration of love Rushdie might, I think, be willing to ratify a revision of Milton's phrase, to recuperate it as something like "the precious life-blood of our common society." For Rushdie as for Milton, books are a synecdoche for those values which free men and women all too easily take for granted, leaving the unfree to struggle alone. Those values traveled east to Rushdie's India from a small, parochial island; Milton was their first, perhaps their greatest exporter. Rushdie, migrant, inhabitant of imaginary homelands, under his own bitter constraint and sad occasion dear, claims them for himself and for his half-American child and for the world community.

Lifeblood is alive, and we can't stay alive without it. Our job is to defend its living streams and bequeath them to the world's children. The vast, warm, pullulating energy of the Sea of Story exemplifies not only the possibility but the actuality of shared knowledge and experience: Greek, Roman, Italian, English, Hebraic, Christian, if we think of Milton (even Catholic, for though he was not ready to tolerate popery, he had read the Comedy through); for Rushdie, the languages and legends and life of India, Kashmir, Iran; of Bombay, Delhi, Srinagar, Mecca; of London and New York—of Indian, Near Eastern, European, and English-speaking imagination, brought in the mind's ocean into mutually energizing collision and collaboration.

Such hope as there is rises out of that plural vision. If Areopagitica envisages a noble and puissant nation leading Europe out of the collapse of the Universal Church into the problematics and possibilities of a free individual conscience, Haroun and the Sea of Stories embodies the hope that out of the collapse of colonialism may be created a richer, more multiple, more imaginative society, as Rushdie's books have created a richer, more multiple, more imaginative English. It's a brave hope, gallant and moving, because it carries no promise of success, only of struggle. What Milton lived to see was True Liberty lost and his hopes in ruin. He could not guess that in 1790 they would be written into a Bill of Rights, or that by the second millennium the whole world would pay them at least lip service.

Not a secure happy ending, not an ending at all. Rushdie knows that. "Happy endings must come at the end of something," says his chief Egghead, who is cooking one up for Haroun and his sad city. "If they happen in the middle of a story, or an adventure, or the like, all they do is cheer things up for a while." But Haroun is not one of those fairy-tale characters who because they ask for too much end up with nothing. "That'll do," he says.


1. Rushdie discusses Haroun and the Sea of Stories (London: Granta Books in association with Viking, 1990) in interviews with Martin Amis ("Rendezvous with Rushdie," Vanity Fair, Vol. 53, No. 12 [December 1990], 160-163) and James Fenton ("Keeping Up with Salman Rushdie," The New York Review of Books, March 28, 1991, 26-34). His reviews of Grass, Calvino, Paley, Carver, and Barnes are in Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism, 1981-1991 (Granta Books in association with Viking, 1991), where his Herbert Read Lecture, "Is Nothing Sacred?" is also collected.

2. Sylvan Barnet and Marcia Stubbs, Barnet and Stubbs's Practical Guide to Writing, Fifth Edition (Boston, 1986), p. 51.

3. Christopher Hill, The Century of Revolution, 1603-1714 (New York, 1961), p. 174.

Patricia Merivale (essay date January 1997)

SOURCE: Merivale, Patricia. "The Telling of Lies and ‘the Sea of Stories’: Haroun, Pinocchio and the Postcolonial Artist Parable." ARIEL 28, no. 1 (January 1997): 193-208.

[In the following essay, Merivale reflects upon the similarities between Haroun and the Sea of Stories and Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio, arguing that both texts function as works of postcolonial fiction ostensibly written for children.]

Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990) and Carlo Collodi's The Adventures of Pinocchio (1883)1 are both children's stories for grownups, fantastic quest-romances set in similarly allegorical topographies of the imagination, and, as it happens, they are also artist parables—allegorical accounts of the dialectic between Art and Life. But neither work is escapist fantasy, divorced from social and political concerns. Rushdie's political sympathies are clear: "the poor lived in tumbledown shacks made of old cardboard boxes and plastic sheeting, and these shacks were glued together by despair" (18); one purpose of the characters in his frame narrative is to use the powers of storytelling, in a democratic, albeit corrupt, society, to ameliorate this situation. Collodi's tale is a mischievously subversive critique of the social and economic oppression of the poor by the rich, and of the gullible by the sneaky. Yet, in the end, he draws a moral which runs counter to Pinocchio's freely imaginative picaresque subversions of the status quo.2 In postcolonial terms, Collodi lacks the political courage of his artistic convictions. For in coopting Pinocchio into the virtues of submissive obedience (especially to parental authority), dutiful school attendance and assiduous study habits, in preparation for a life of hard work for little pay, he is inculcating virtues designed to maintain and enhance the hierarchical hegemony of the rich over the poor, in a kind of home-grown provincial colonialism. As Carole Durix, typically for postcolonial critics, puts it, such a story is "a tool for reinforcing colonial values … to prepare its readers for the stations they will occupy when adult" (i), making Pinocchio much the same sort of story for the children of newly united Italy in the last century that Rudyard Kipling's Kim (1901) or The Jungle Books (1894) were for the Boy Scouts who would grow up to be the servants of Britain's empire. So Pinocchio cannot help but be, one supposes, a pre-postcolonial children's story, employing the savage pedagogy of the School of Hard Knocks (like that of the Cat, who ate the Blackbird "to teach him a lesson" [161]), to make Pinocchio into what an adult would consider to be "a good little boy." By internalizing those standards within the Puppet, what is lost in the end is precisely the Puppet himself; perhaps the Cat has eaten this Blackbird as well.

The version far better known today than Collodi's, the Walt Disney animated film, Pinocchio, is clearly something worse than merely colonial; it's a neocolonial children's story. The political implications of the Disneyfication of Pinocchio (Wunderlich 1992) fit admirably into Ariel Dorfman's argument, based on Donald Duck, about the deleterious effect of the Disney empire upon countries of the Third World. If Rushdie, on the other hand, can be taken to be an exemplary and deliberate postcolonial writer, does it then follow that Haroun is a postcolonial children's story? Not necessarily. Both Haroun and the Sea of Stories and Pinocchio are played out in episodes, selected for their teaching value, of a boy-child's growing up into socially acceptable maturity, although the virtues the two stories hope to inculcate are not quite the same. Rushdie's postcoloniality has not enabled him to write a children's book innocent of any ideological claim upon the young, although we are at liberty to find his list of virtues, and his protagonist's attitude towards them, more palatable than Pinocchio's occasional expressions of a "goody-goody" moral self-satisfaction. Freedom of speech and human ecological guardianship of earth and sea are two closely linked topics on which Haroun (Rushdie's eponymous boy-hero) can be almost as moralistic (125; 146) as Pinocchio on filial obedience. Because of the pollution of the Sea of Stories, "Goopy and Bagha [the Plentimaw Fish] were coughing and spluttering" (122): their speech difficulties signal an effective diminution of their Freedom of Speech.

In one respect Rushdie's tale is strikingly postcolonial: it subverts, or at least gives a little twist to, an eclectic amalgam of colonial elements from "classical" Children's Literature;3Pinocchio is my chief exemplar of the sort of text that Rushdie could draw upon.4

Intertextuality is imaged in topography in Rushdie's mantra-like numerology of "a thousand and one small islands" (87), echoing and resembling the thousand and one nights, standing, like them, synecdochally, for a thousand and one stories. "I'm going to need a little help with the geography" (79), says Haroun, as he starts his magical travels on the Story-Moon, Kahani. Its characters, objects, and geographical features, from "Alphabet Bay" to "the Sea of Stories," from Alph the Sacred River to Xanadu, constitute "made up" Homelands or, as Rushdie puts it elsewhere, "Imaginary" ones. They are "made up," in both senses, out of reifications of mental and moral circumstances or out of figures of speech: like the meteorological "harsh, hot wind" which is the "hot air" of the politician's speeches made literal (47); like "The Dull Lake," which yields a moral aesthetic; like the "Moody Land" as a projection of temperaments (48); like the "sadness factories" of the city in Alifbay which had forgotten its name (15).

Topographical imagery is, of course, merely a special case of such Rushdean rhetorical strategies, familiar from Midnight's Children and elsewhere, for making abstractions of all kinds concrete. Numerous analogies offer themselves from Pinocchio, most prominently the reifying of proverbs, as in the "donkeyfication" of the errant schoolboys. Into a fairly "realistic" Tuscan landscape, inhabited to be sure by numerous species of talking animals, pop up such Bunyanesque allegorical places as Dodoland ("paese dei Barbagianni"), Funland ("paese dei balocchi" or Country of Toys), and Catchafool Town (citta … "Achiappacitrulli").

Rushdie's brief glossary to Haroun tells us that "Alifbay is an imaginary country," a metatextual reification via "the Hindustani word for ‘alphabet’" (217), and indeed the imagined places are at first alphabetical (thus metatextual) and only then intertextual: the "Mountains of M," are, proleptically, the Mountains of the Moon (37). The actual eleventh-century anthology, still in existence, entitled The Ocean of the Streams of Story, mentioned on page 51, has, by page 72, turned into "the Ocean of the Streams of Story," which is a principal setting for the fictional action.

Rushdie's eponymous "Sea of Stories" yields an artist-parable for the magic realist, for Haroun 's polysemously metafictional allegory of intertextuality could indeed be read in toto as the text of a magic realism self-reflexively considering its own nature. Rushdie's panoramic descriptions of this "Sea of Stories" constitute a mise en abyme of his own narrative method:

[Haroun] looked into the water [of the Sea of Stories] and saw that it was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different colour, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry … all the stories that had ever been told and many that were still in the process of being invented could be found here … so that unlike a library of books, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was much more than a storeroom of yarns. It was not dead but alive….


… the Plentimaw Fishes were … "hunger artists"—"Because when they are hungry they swallow stories through every mouth, and in their innards miracles occur; a little bit of one story joins on to an idea from another, and hey presto, when they spew the stories out they are not old tales but new ones … no story comes from nowhere; new stories are born from old—it is the new combinations that make them new."


Rushdie, the poet-laureate of the aesthetic border-crossings and intertextual miscegenation so characteristic of the postcolonial, here makes artistic virtue of the political and biographical necessity of being what used to be called a "rootless cosmopolitan."

"The real world was full of magic, so magical worlds could easily be real" (50), says Haroun, in a compact definition of Magic Realism. Collodi's work, too, is prototypical Magic Realism, with the fantastic having to make its way in a realistically, even satirically, observed imperfect world: "[Collodi's] fantastic is never far removed from the familiar" (Perella 59). But the labours of the creative imagination are relegated to the implicit by Collodi, who, like a latter-day Plato, exploits those very charms of the fantastic which his ethical precepts force him to denounce, or at least diminish: all those worlds of pleasure and imaginative escape, for instance, which offer hedonistic temptations to the puppet on his way to his ethical goal—school. And schoolbooks are rare and precious; all the more shocking when they are used as missiles in the schoolboy battle by the shore, and eventually nibbled by the fishes, who find them too dry for food.

As it is for Rushdie, art is largely performance for Collodi; he "speaks" throughout, as storyteller, to his implied auditors ("i miei piccoli lettori," "my little readers": "No, children, you are wrong" 82-83). Rashid the storyteller's explicitly oral performance, the key framing activity of Rushdie's book, makes "lots of different tales juggled together," thinks his son Haroun, metaphorically (16), and conversely he thinks that Blabbermouth's literal "juggling is [perhaps] a kind of storytelling, too" (109), reversing reification to interpret the concrete abstractly (109). Although, in clear historical allegory, a Rushdean terrorist can pervert performance (that is, art) into deception and destruction by juggling not with gold balls but with a "live bomb," included, and thus concealed, among his more orthodox paraphernalia (182), for neither entertainer can the aesthetic be detached from the political.

Pinocchio's own puppet-show, in the commedia dell'arte mode,5 and particularly his enforced and enslaved circus performance, are, in contrast to Rashid's, seen largely as false and degrading. And our sympathies are inevitably with the puppets, in their revolt against their brutal puppet-master, as later with the circus-animals, in their painful servitude. Because "the telling of lies" is a form of storytelling, storytelling itself is seen as, at least in part, the telling of lies. Not only is the puppet metaphysically rewarded, by his metamorphosis into boyhood, for turning his back on "spontaneity, exuberance and fantasy" (Perella 57), but he is also socially rewarded with middle-class status, making him a role-model for his actual (middle-class) readers.

Pinocchio's protagonist is, appropriately, a "fantastic" boy—the puppet who moves without strings—who, while inserted into a relatively "real" episodic, often politically and socially satiric, plot, moves towards becoming correspondingly "real" himself. The protagonist of the fantastic adventures in Haroun and the Sea of Stories is, conversely, the persona of a "real" boy (both fictionally and autobiographically), Rushdie's dedicatee, his son Zafar, and the storyteller's name, Rashid, is an explicit anagram for Rushdie himself.

That Haroun and the Sea of Stories constitutes a powerful allegory of the author's own historical situation is a point which can hardly have escaped the attention of any reader old enough to read the newspapers. Note that "history" (that is, that part of Rushdie's own biography that has now, all-too-tangibly, become "history") is presented quite unmistakably, yet obliquely, indeed almost covertly, in Haroun. This is a chiasmic reversal of the method of Rushdie's earlier novel, Midnight's Children, in which "History"—the history of India since independence—is front-and-centre, while it is the allegory of intertextuality—its genealogical appropriations and textual border-crossings—that is covert (see Merivale).

Both Haroun and Pinocchio are built up of eclectic intertextualities. Rushdie finds relevantly fantastic topoi in all the great children's-stories-for-grownups: in Alice in Wonderland's chessboard landscape, in The Wizard of Oz (a notable Rushdie favorite), The Phantom Tollbooth, The Earthsea Trilogy, and many others. But of course, like another eclectic meta-text published at about the same time, John Barth's The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor (1991), Haroun is most particularly indebted to the Arabian Nights: all its "vista[s] … are like … magic carpet[s]" (34; see Aji). Haroun's villain, Khattam-Shud, is like the genie in-and-out of the bottle (156), while Haroun's Hoopoe is like the living metal bird who provides magical transport in the Arabian Nights. Their houseboat, called Arabian Nights Plus One (1002? or [modestly] just "sequel"?), even includes an icon of the Whale That Swallowed Men (51), as if to acknowledge explicitly the climax of Pinocchio's story. The houseboat is a liminal place, that is, one not yet wholly imaginary. It is in the Valley of K—once known as a historical landscape, but now a bilingual pun turned into a compact commentary on the sorrows of History: what was the Earthly Paradise of Midnight's Children is now "a cloud from a dream or a nightmare … Kache-mer … Kosh-Mar" (that is, Kashmir; 38, 40).

If Collodi's topography is more this-world and matter-of-fact, it is nevertheless filled, surreally, with all the appropriate stage properties for its emblematic actions. And the talking animals of his Beast Fable, birds and sea-animals in particular, chicklet, falcon, pigeon (useful for magic transport, like Butt the Hoopoe), woodpecker, parrot, the friendly Dolphin, a big Crab with a voice "like a trombone with a cold," the Tuna with his "cracked, harsh voice," and especially the Cat and the Fox recognizable from their verbal tics even in the heaviest disguises, all have their analogues in Rushdie. His frame characters can be identified in their dream-vision morphs by similar verbal tics, like the "butbutbut" verbal stutters of the Hoopoe, formerly Mr. Butt the bus-driver, who now speaks "without moving his beak" (82). "[Haroun] heard himself beginning to sound like the water genie" (57; he is speaking in the elegant variations of Iff's synonymous repetitions). Rushdie's Floating Gardeners ("high speed vegetation [in] something like the shape of a man" [82]), like all the rest of the strange anthropomorphic bestiary of his Moon-World, are creatures of the Beast Fable imaginatively wedded to the landscapes of romantic vision and its update, science fiction.

The creative imagination must express itself by storytelling, a process explicitly privileged, as well as allegorically enacted, in Haroun, by means of what we (but not the text) would call the "inspiration" provided by the "magic" Story Waters from the Streams of Story. A romantic-visionary artist parable finds expression in a romantic-visionary landscape: "where Alph the sacred river ran," as Coleridge put it, in the allegorical topography of his "Kubla Khan," cited by Rushdie in his own acrostic epigraph, "Zembla, Zenda, Xanadu":

… the capital of the Land of Gup was built upon an Archipelago of one thousand and one small islands just off the Mainland—waterways [and a Lagoon] thronged with craft … a gigantic formal garden came down in terraces…. In this Pleasure Garden were fountains and pleasure-domes and ancient spreading trees.


And there are of course "ancestral voices" announcing preparations for war (89). The antithesis of this paradisal landscape is again a Romantic one. The poisoning of the Ocean, in making the "coastal waters" cool, clammy, colourless, and death-dealing, has created a negative, because polluted, landscape, a Waste Land. "On those [perhaps Keatsian] twilit shores, no bird sang" there are only "shadows" and "stillness … in this leafless glade [where the shadow man fought] against his own shadow" (122-23).

When they first landed on this moon, invisible from earth, its surface seemed "to be entirely liquid." Like a youthful Ancient Mariner, Haroun saw "Water, water everywhere; nor any trace of land" (68). Now the questers go south, leaving behind the shoreline of "that dark and silent continent," into the still colder, stickier, less colorful "Southern Polar Ocean" (138), at the "edge of the Twilight Strip, very near the hemisphere of Perpetual Darkness" (140). However, when a forest, a "floating jungle" (141) full of monstrous hybrids of ancient creatures, stands up from the ocean, Rushdie's waterworld becomes more like one of J. G. Ballard's apocalyptic landscapes. So the intertextually romantic topography now becomes science-fictional—as if 1002 had flipped over into 2001.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories is indebted throughout to "sci-fi" quest romances, from Lucian's The Marvellous Voyage (a major source for Pinocchio as well) to the cosmic-visionary landscapes of Star Wars and Star Trek. Rushdie's "sci-fi" topography is lunar, or like Mercury's, although it is more Manichean than Mercurial. The hemisphere of Perpetual Darkness (Chup, the totalitarian enemy kingdom) is separated by the Twilight Strip (compare "Zone") from its virtuous opposite, Gup, the hemisphere of Eternal Daylight. Rushdie's word-play for describing this landscape is marked by verbal-visual inversions of darkness and light: "like a film negative that somebody forgot to print" (125); the blacks of their reversed eyes; the unreliable "dark sea-horses" (148).

Both Haroun and Pinocchio climax in archetypal Night-Sea journeys, negative Descents into an Under-Sea world, with Pinocchio drawn into the dark belly of the Shark (only Disney calls it a Whale; Collodi says "pesce-cane," that is, dog-fish or shark) and Haroun diving from Khattam-Shud's even darker factory Ship into the depths of the Polar Ocean. Haroun and his friends, captured, are drawn by the dark Web (not the supposedly beneficial World Wide Web now, only seven years later, ensnaring us all) towards Khattam-Shud (that is, "The End"), also known as the "Black Hole," who/which is both the "heart of darkness" and the source of pollution. They find, of course, that, in accordance with our own popular scientific mythologies, the Black Hole "eats light, eats it raw with his bare hands," and therefore, in this book's symbolic economy, he "eats words, too" (145). He pollutes the Sea of Story; worse, he threatens an apocalyptic Final End of Story, destroyed forever by the poison of his anti-stories. But apocalypse is counteracted by Haroun's visionary experience (more Shelleyan or Nabokovian than Coleridgean here) of "a huge underwater fountain of shining white light" (167), the wondrous undersea Source or Well-spring of the Sea of Stories; the Grail, the goal of the quest. Haroun magically (and triumphantly) succeeds in Pulling the Plug (a neat example of the literalization of colloquialism which marks Rushdie's comic language), the plug with which Khattam-Shud had intended to seal the Wellspring forever; thus Haroun restores the purity of the Streams of Story.

Yet such binary absolutes as Gup and Chup can only yield permanent stasis; the heroic solution must be dynamic, changing into dialectic the Manichean terms of the landscape. Haroun's fairy-tale wish has a "sci-fi" effect: as the Moon starts to rotate, sunlight destroys the shadow world, undoes Ayatollan "black magic" (173), and breaks "the ropes … woven out of shadows" (174). When "the coastline of the Land of Chup" is "lit up by the evening sun for the first time" (176), it becomes part of the "real" (or dialogic) world again, one in which light and dark, silence and talk, can reciprocate and compromise, can share and debate, can give and take. But the cosmological dynamics which reverse apocalypse—"‘Look at the sky!’ The sun [is] rising!" (188)—which turn this philosophical scheme into cosmic topography and thence into story, are a scenario from a "sci-fi" version of quest-romance.6

Collodi's compounding of bestiaries, animal fables, folk and fairy tales, and the downmarket Commedia dell'arte of the puppet shows, with echoes of the entire canon of Italian literature, the Book of Jonah, Lucian, The Golden Ass, and the artist-parables in Ovid's Metamorphoses, among much else from another veritable "sea of stories," yields a moral allegory for the use of children, of what it means to be, or rather to choose to become, human, couched as a Pygmalion-like artist-parable of the choice between Art and Life.

Both works are allegories with didactic purpose, in which, as Edward Blishen, reviewing Haroun, says, "the moral and the magic merge, as in the best children's literature." But they "merge" in different, even inverse, ratios in the two books. The marvellous puppet, Pinocchio, is in search of a work-and-virtue ethic, an adjustment to the hegemonic status quo, the attaining of which is to be rewarded by "real" boyhood. The value of "life" is thus asserted, and chosen, over the marvel of the artifice. The puppet without strings is immune to many of the ills that flesh is heir to, but his inability to grow up, to be a "real boy," is the flip side of his implied immortality, or at least demonstrated hardiness, as a "thing made."7

The reification of the ethical judgment upon Pinocchio's "telling of lies" to avoid richly deserved punishment is, of course, the single feature of Pinocchio that all its readers and its even greater number of non-readers, those who have seen or heard about Disney's Pinocchio, remember. It is that dangerous, embarrassing, involuntary, phallic, lengthening of the puppet's wooden nose (211-13). In Pinocchio the "telling of lies" is a child's power of fantasy seen as a moral weakness, an escape from responsibility, rather than Haroun's privileging of the stories "that aren't even true" by coming to see and believe in not only the beauty but also the power, and the fundamental morality, of the uncensored storytelling imagination. Rushdie himself saves the pejorative term "lies" for the fraudulent promises and deceitful utterances of (neocolonialist) politicians trying to get elected, manipulating the gullibility of the electorate as the Fox and the Cat ("Liars, and cheats, and crooks," in Rushdie's terminology; 58) manipulate Pinocchio's.

Haroun, our contemporary, is in search of a liberty-and-free speech ethic, one privileging the untrammeled play of the imagination, in an world where "books [no longer] wear padlocks" (102). His quest will be rewarded by the return of both his father's creative gifts and the domestic happiness of his reunited family: the value of art is seen as coterminous with the value of life, and political virtue is essential to both.

These two artist parables can both be seen as didactically promoting the social virtues needed to "raise" the young into fully social humanity—that is, adulthood—according to the ideologies underpinning each author's Weltanschauung. They differ in this respect from the magical allegories of a girl (or boy) not growing up in Alice in Wonderland (or Peter Pan). Indeed they resemble more closely Ursula Le Guin's allegory of a Boy Growing Up to become himself the Magician, that is, the artist. (This can be compared with Rushdie's earlier artist parable of the Delhi Magicians in Midnight's Children. ) In her Earthsea Trilogy, illustrated with splendidly detailed maps of an archipelago-world of at least "one thousand and one small islands," the ethical-aesthetic maturing of Le Guin's young hero, through encounters, enacted as physical struggles, with his (own) Shadow, is very like what happens to both Pinocchio and Haroun (123-24). The latter, in his more explicitly metatextual text, meets not only Shadow-Persons but Shadow-Tales as well: "each anti-story seeking out its victim" (160) to cancel it out and thus destroy it: a "sea of stories" polluted to death.

Pinocchio is, to be sure, a less explicit artist parable than Haroun. Collodi nowhere elaborates a metafictional allegory, but, rather, implies an Ovidian one: Geppetto is a Pygmalion whose Galatea comes to life in the form of the miraculous puppet.8 He is the artist of a more classical aesthetic, bringing out the "life" inherent (or trapped) in, and already crying out to be freed from, the "pezzo di legno" or "piece of wood" (82-83). Geppetto as master wood-carver is the Artist, "un artista di genio" (130), as Collodi only half-mockingly puts it. Indeed Geppetto is the Artist as God the Father, in the Michelangelo fashion, whose Adamic creation of the puppet constitutes the artifice as the Son—although, when he carves new feet for Pinocchio, he ironically realizes that Pinocchio will use them to run away from home, for, like a new Adam, he is "free to fall." Replacing the Beloved with the Son (both Adamic and Prodigal) constitutes a de-sexualization of Ovid (unsurprising for 1883), like Pinocchio's subsequent, equally de-sexualized, Apuleian (or, more accurately, Lucianic) metamorphosis into a donkey. Disney makes the Creating of Pinocchio even more Ovidian in one way: he emphasizes, indeed invents, Geppetto's "wishing on a star" that Pinocchio become a "real boy." Likewise, Pygmalion's statue of Galatea was so beautiful that, falling in love with it, he implored the gods to make it live. And so it did. Disney's more sentimental Pinocchio, by the same token, however, de-emphasizes woodcarving, and with it, the Pygmalion-like possibilities for an artist parable of the life-already-in-the-wood.

Both narratives are propelled by reciprocated family love, of which the father-son bond is the strongest element, and plotted on the separation, the mutual seeking, and eventual reunion, of father and son. Both are Telemachies rather than Odysseys; they are tales in which the heroic boy-child accomplishes the rescue of his imprisoned artist-father, and, by the same token and pari passu, his own transition into grown-upness.

Pinocchio shouts, "Voglio salvare il mio babbo!" ("I want to save my father!" 266-67) as he bravely leaps into the sea. After much eventful delay, he is sucked into the belly of the very Shark where his father is held captive. He saves his father's bodily life, by carrying him on his back, Aeneas-like, out of that dank prison; but it is far more important that Pinocchio, by choosing to become brave, truthful, and unselfish, thus deserving to become fully human, "saves" Geppetto-the-artist by validating his Pygmalion-like artistic endeavour.

Pinocchio's cry is echoed in Haroun's bravery, goodness, and filial love: "What's the use of stories that aren't even true. I asked that question and it broke my father's heart. So it's up to me to put things right" (27). He saves his father (as well as himself) by validating Rashid's artistic endeavour, for Haroun finds in his experience of the world of Story, at first falsely divided into the Manichean binaries of light and dark, of "chatter" and "silence," a ringing answer to that rhetorical question—"what's the use of stories that aren't even true?"—which had destroyed, for the moment, both his father's marriage and his father's creative gifts.

All my life I've heard about the wonderful Sea of Stories…. now that I've … actually seen with my own eyes how beautiful the Ocean is, with … its Floating Gardeners and Plentimaw Fishes … it turns out … the whole Ocean's going to be dead any minute if we don't do something … I don't like the idea that all the good stories in the world will go wrong for ever and ever, or just die … I only just started believing in the Ocean, but maybe it isn't too late for me to do my bit [to save it].


The fairy-tale magics of believing and wishing link the two books, for in crises it is the interventions of the Blue-Haired Fairy (note the "sky-blue whiskers" of Haroun's friend and ally, the Water-Genie), which save Collodi's Pinocchio. In much the same fairytale way, Haroun is saved by his three magic gizmos: Butt's brain-box, the Bite-a-Lite, and especially the bottle of Wishwater. They are magical devices which can only achieve their story-shaping potential in conjunction with Haroun's fairy-tale hero's combination of good will and cleverness (he is cleverer than Pinocchio). Haroun, by Willpower combined with Wishwater, moves the Story-Moon so that sunlight destroys the shadow-world of Khattam-Shud, the Ayatollan tyrant, whose case against stories is, fundamentally, political: "inside every single story … there lies a world, a story-world, that I cannot Rule at all" (161).

And this finds its real-world, frame-narrative parallel in Mr. Sengupta's once so devastating question, privileging—like Khattam-Shud, whose real-world avatar is this dry, weedy clerk—fact over story. "What's the use of stories that aren't even true?" he asks, to lure Soraya, Rashid's wife and Haroun's mother, away from her domestic hearth. The two interwoven themes, like the correspondingly transmuted characters, in the "personal" frame story—Rashid's loss of his gifts and of his wife—are parallelled in the "political" inner sequence by Khattam-Shud's poisoning of the entire Sea of Stories and the corollary abduction of the mock-fairy-tale Princess Batcheat.

Pinocchio, metamorphosed from puppet into living being, essentially re-born, "jumping out of bed … found a fine new suit of clothes prepared for him…. He went to look at himself in the mirror and [instead of] the usual image of the wooden marionette … he saw the lively intelligent image of a handsome boy … looking as happy and joyful as if it were the [Easter] holidays" (458-49); he sees the ridiculous puppet, his former self, "propped against a chair" (461) and goes into the next room to find his father, Geppetto, hard at work carving, an artist once again.

Haroun, likewise, goes to sleep back at the home to which his mother has returned, and wakes the next morning to find that the clocks, stopped and broken during all their adventures on Kahani, the Story-Moon, have started up again. And "there were new clothes laid out at the foot of his bed…. it was his birthday…. Outside, in the living room, his mother had begun to sing" (211). Heroic feats accomplished, his father Rashid returns to real-world storytelling—and of course the very first story he tells is Haroun and the Sea of Stories.

Two fantastic artist-parables with almost opposite views of both the relationship between Art and Life and the "colonial" politics of hegemony, have arrived at the same happy ending; two boys have shown, by their courageous validation of the world of their fathers, that they are starting to grow up and deserve to take their places in that world. In that sense, although Haroun and the Sea of Stories is the more radical of the two, neither is truly postcolonial; perhaps no "children's story," written by even the most imaginatively empathetic of grownups, ever can be. A synthesized—imagined—Happy Ending frames Haroun's Dream Vision, for Kahani, the Story-Moon, turns back into the Story-City: the names collapse into one (Kahani) as the City so sad that it had forgotten its name now remembers that its name is "Story."


1. Both English and Italian quotations are from the Perella edition and translation.

2. See Jeannet; Rosenthal; Wunderlich; and Segel for readings along these lines.

3. See Neil ten Kortenaar's forthcoming article on what he calls the "Postcolonial Ecphrasis" of Midnight's Children, for an insightful account of Rushdie reworking another kind of artifact designed for the political education of the colonial/imperial young—the well-known Victorian painting of "the young [Walter] Raleigh" listening to the tales of "the old, gnarled, web-mending sailor"—and adapting the "reading" of the painting to the circumstances of a postcolonial child, in a new place and time.

4. In these terms, of course, Haroun resembles many other quest-romances in addition to Pinocchio: Dieter Petzold, for instance, has recently examined Michael Ende's best-seller, The Never-Ending Story (1979, 1983), for its affinities with Haroun and the Sea of Stories. The Never-Ending Story is a palimpsestic text in the manner of the German Romantics, with the Other World superimposed upon This World, and, under special and marvelous circumstances, accessible to its inhabitants. Although it, too, like Haroun and the Sea of Stories, is a didactic boy's growing-up story and a self-begetting narrative—one that ends with the artist starting to tell the story that we have just read—it cannot, although contemporaneous and intertextual, be considered especially postcolonial.

5. "By the late nineteenth century, the puppet theatre was regarded as the last resting place of the commedia dell'arte," says Segel (40).

6. Like an inversion of Isaac Asimov's "Nightfall," or, to suggest the local-in-the-Cosmic once more, Arthur C. Clarke's "Nine Billion Names of God," in which Apocalypse comes by way of a computer in Tibet. The static binaries are a planetscape like that of Ursula Le Guin's allegory, The Dispossessed.

7. This theme is, curiously, dwelt upon by numerous contemporary science-fiction writers: Asimov's "Bicentennial Man," Le Guin's "Nine Lives," Roger Zelazny's "For a Breath I Tarry," as well as in the postmodern—but no longer by any standard Children's—Pinocchios of Robert Coover and Jerome Charyn, of Paul Auster and J. M. Coetzee. With a kind of anthropocentric self-regard, these authors, like Collodi, postulate that marvelous beings will choose, out of a nostalgic admiration for us, the mortal limitations of the human condition.

8. Richard Powers, in his novel Galatea 2:2 (1995), subverts the theme of the artifact who wants to be human. His computer, educated into the mental processes of a (female) human being, chooses to sink back into circuits and cyberspace as she approaches too closely to understanding the sorrows of human beings. Ovid, of course, does not name his statue, but, like Powers and most later commentators, I opt for the convenience of the time-honored name, Galatea.

Works Cited

Aji, Aron R. "‘All Names Mean Something’: Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Legacy of Islam." Contemporary Literature 36.1 (Spring 1995): 103-29.

Auster, Paul. "The Book of Memory." The Invention of Solitude. New York: Sun, 1982. 73-167.

Barth, John. The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor. 1991. New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1992.

Blishen, Edward. Rev. of Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Salman Rushdie. New Statesman and Society. 28 Sept. 1990: 33.

Cambon, Glauco. "Pinocchio and the Problem of Children's Literature." Children's Literature 2 (1973): 50-60.

C'era una Volta un Pezzo di legno: La simbologia di Pinocchio. Atti Fondazione Nationale Carlo Collodi 1980. Milan: Emme, 1981.

Charyn, Jerome. Pinocchio's Nose. New York: Arbor, 1983.

Coetzee, J. M. Life & Times of Michael K. 1983. New York: Viking Penguin, 1985.

Collodi, Carlo [Carlo Lorenzini]. Le Avventure di Pinocchio: Storia di un Burattino/The Adventures of Pinocchio: Story of a Puppet. Trans. Nicolas J. Perella. Berkeley: U of California P, 1986.

Coover, Robert. Pinocchio in Venice. New York: Linden Press [Simon & Schuster], 1991.

Dorfman, Ariel. How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic. Trans. David Kunzle. New York: International General, 1984.

———. The Empire's Old Clothes: Babar [The Lone Ranger et al.]. 1983. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1996.

Durix, Carole, ed. "Foreword: The Child and the New Literatures in English." Commonwealth Essays and Studies 15.1 (1992): i-iv.

Gannon, Susan. "A Note on Collodi and Lucian." Children's Literature 8 (1980): 98-102.

Gentile, Maria Teresa. L'Albero di Pinocchio: I Precedenti Culturale de "Le Avventure." Rome: Studium, 1982.

Heisig, James W. "Pinocchio and the Motherless Child." Children's Literature 3 (1974): 23-35.

Jeannet, Angela M. "Collodi's Grandchildren: Reading Marcovaldo." Italica 71 (1994): 56-77.

Kohl, Herbert. Should We Burn Babar: Essays on Children's Literature and the Power of Stories. New York: New Press, 1995.

Lucian [Lucianus Samosatensis]. True History and Lucius or the Ass. Trans. Paul Turner. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1958.

Merivale, Patricia. "Saleem Fathered by Oskar: Magic Realism and History in Midnight's Children and The Tin Drum." Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community. Ed. L. P. Zamora and Wendy Faris. Durham NC: Duke UP, 1995. 329-45.

Morrissey, Thomas J., and Richard Wunderlich. "Death and Rebirth in Pinocchio." Children's Literature 11 (1983): 64-75.

———. "Pinocchio before 1920: Popular and Pedagogic Traditions." Italian Quarterly 23 (1982): 61-72.

Perella, Nicolas J. "Introductory Essay." Collodi 1-69.

Petzold, Dieter. "The Quest for Calliope: Modern Meta-Fantasy." Forthcoming.

Powers, Richard. Galatea 2:2. New York: Farrar, 1995.

Rosenthal, M. L. "The Hidden Pinocchio: The Tale of a Subversive Puppet." Literature and Revolution. Ed. David Bevan. Amsterdam and Atlanta: Rodopi, 1989. 49-61.

Rushdie, Salman. Haroun and the Sea of Stories. 1990. London: Granta, 1991.

Segel, Harold B. Pinocchio's Progeny: Puppets, Marionettes, Automatons, and Robots in Modernist and Avant-Garde Drama. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1995.

Studi Collodiani. Atti dei Convegno Internazionale Pescia 5-7 ottobre 1974. Pescia: Fondazione Nationale Carlo Collodi, 1976.

ten Kortenaar, Neil. "Postcolonial Ecphrasis in Rushdie's Midnight's Children." Forthcoming in Contemporary Literature (Summer 1997).

Wunderlich, Richard. "The Tribulations of Pinocchio: How Social Change Can Wreck a Good Story." Poetics Today 13 (1992): 197-219.

Janet Mason Ellerby (essay date April 1998)

SOURCE: Ellerby, Janet Mason. "Fiction under Siege: Rushdie's Quest for Narrative Emancipation in Haroun and the Sea of Stories." Lion and the Unicorn 22, no. 2 (April 1998): 211-20.

[In the following essay, Ellerby studies the allegorical subtext of Haroun and the Sea of Stories as it relates to censorship and the power of free speech.]

Because of the danger and isolation of his life, one would think that Salman Rushdie would have followed The Satanic Verses with a novel that would prudently avoid the controversy over the censorship of fiction. However, it is the provocative question, "What's the use of stories that aren't even true?" (20) that drives the narrative of Haroun and the Sea of Stories. Under the spell of this children's story, we learn that the ability to tell and hear stories is not only gratifying but, in fact, a necessary ingredient of democratic life. Here is a satiric story that we can read with children that is not a polemic on censorship but rather an engaging narrative that confronts and contributes to the discourse on this issue. Like George Orwell's Animal Farm,Haroun and the Sea of Stories is an allegory of an all-too-real situation that we can explore in order to understand more deeply the complexities of censorship. Like Michael Ende in The Neverending Story, Rushdie addresses the serious theme of storytelling and its critical link to cultural emancipation within his own rollicking story of a boy's fabulous adventures.

Rushdie's motives and intentions for writing Haroun are intimately bound up with—indeed, built up by—his singular historical context, the narrative of his life. That is, they are influenced by what Paul Smith calls the "subject's self-narrative" (158). First, he had promised his son, Zafar, that he would write a book for him after completing The Satanic Verses. Once Rushdie was forced into exile and separated from his son, the promise became even more pressing. Second, a children's book gave Rushdie a safer venue in which to write again, which was not easy—after the imposition of the fatwa, he confessed, "I felt that everything I had put into the act of being a writer had failed, had simply been invalidated by what had happened…. I spent an awful lot of time thinking I would never write again, not because I couldn't but because I didn't want to" (qtd. in Fenton 33). Third, Rushdie surely must have been motivated by the chance to wrestle with his awful dilemma of seclusion, danger, and enforced silence. He needed to write a story that could free him to inscribe a happy ending, one that would bring imaginary closure to his specific exile, even if only on the pages of a book for his child. Fourth, Haroun gave Rushdie the space to negotiate both his own situation and the social processes of despotic censorship and menace that led to his exile, a space in which he could both allegorically mock and describe the character of his oppressors. Given this biographical and historical context, Haroun can be read not only as a children's story but as a politically subversive narrative of resistance.

The immediate parallels between Rushdie's plight and the story's predicament augment our respect for the artistry of Haroun, but the narrative also derives much of its merit from attributes that have consistently been traits of Rushdie's general notions of storytelling. There is, for example, his continual play with language, as evidenced by humorous and telling names he has created like "Bezaban," "Batcheat," "Blabbermouth," and "Bolo." Still, behind this playfulness, observes James Harrison, "is an implicit comment, insightful or satiric, on the processes of artistic creation and the ways of bureaucratic expertise" (10). In fact, in all of his novels, Rushdie employs fiction to address social conditions, assess political bureaucracies, and critique oppression. Indeed, his first novel, a work of magic realism entitled Midnight's Children, celebrates the triumph of the human imagination over tyranny. In an interview about the novel, Rushdie says, "It's designed to show a country or a society [India] with an almost endless capacity for generating stories, events, new ideas, and constantly renewing, rebuilding itself" (23). Hence, the theme of storytelling as renewal and regeneration is launched in Midnight's Children and continues to surface in Rushdie's writing up to and most explicitly in Haroun.

His second novel, Shame (1983), is a trenchant satire of those who dominated Pakistani politics after the defection of Bangladesh. In this novel, Rushdie and the narrator seem to be one and the same. When he writes, "A few weeks after Russian troops entered Afghanistan, I returned home, to visit my parents and sisters and to show off my firstborn son" (Shame 20), he is explicitly demonstrating that the narrative voice is his own. As the narrator of Shame, he explains, "My story, my fictional country exist, like myself, at a slight angle to reality. I have found this off-centering to be necessary…. My view is that I am not writing only about Pakistan" (24). Haroun, then, continues Rushdie's propensity to write simultaneously fiction and autobiography. Clearly Rushdie is not only writing about the imaginary Valley of K, Alifbay, or The Kingdom of Chup but about anywhere else in the real world where Haroun 's themes of censorship and freedom are germane.

In his next book, an extended piece of journalism on Nicaragua entitled The Jaguar Smile (1987), Rushdie continues to address issues of emancipation and suppression. He is both supportive of the Sandanistas and highly critical of their closure of the opposition newspaper, La Prensa, and of the government-controlled media. In the novel The Satanic Verses (1988), he demonstrates his concern for contemporary political problems in Britain, especially for immigrants like himself, as well as within the Indian subcontinent. Yet in all of his work, including Haroun, Rushdie does not let "potential didacticism displace, or overshadow, or even diminish the pleasure one derives from the playful inventiveness of the fantasy and the sheer vigor and ‘jump’ of the story" (Harrison 10). Haroun continues Rushdie's particularly vital brand of storytelling by allowing his passions, his sincerity, and his convictions to coalesce with the salient elements of his fiction—his style, his characters, and the events he depicts.

In creating the fable-world of Haroun, Rushdie had many models from both the English and Indian folk traditions to emulate, but perhaps one of his most distinctive influences is the brilliant Angela Carter, especially her re-creations of traditional fairy tales. Rushdie has written of Carter's significant sway in his introduction to her posthumously collected short stories, Burning Your Boats. He reveals himself when he asserts what he loves most about Carter's work: the "dazzle and swoop," "her addiction to all the arcana of language," "the love of the gothic, of lush language and high culture: but also of low stinks," her constant self-awareness, and what he describes as her "cold-water douches of intelligence [that] often come to the rescue of her fancy, when it runs too wild" (x-xi). Possibly Rushdie himself could have benefited from such a "cold-water douche" before he allowed his fancy to run so wildly through the life of the Prophet Muhammad in The Satanic Verses. He might thereby have avoided the fatwa, but then we would not have Haroun.

In Haroun, Rushdie follows Carter's narrative cheek by unapologetically giving his youthful protagonist the necessary mettle and aplomb to take on the evil doers boldly and dispose of them efficiently. For example, in one of her most famous stories, "The Company of Wolves" (an audacious re-creation of "Little Red Riding Hood"), Carter's young heroine bursts out laughing when the wolf bares his teeth and growls the famous words, "All the better to eat you with." "She knew," writes Carter, "she was nobody's meat" (219). Not only is she not eaten, but she masters the wolf with her own brazen, erotic carnality. Carter's rendition concludes with the girl sleeping sweetly and soundly, "in granny's bed, between the paws of the tender wolf" (220). Throughout her work, but especially in her masterwork The Bloody Chamber, Carter provides indomitable mothers and daughters who will not submit to despotic, murderous men or beasts as she, like Rushdie, unlocks time-honored fables, reinterprets tradition, and subverts master narratives.

With influences such as Aesop's Fables, The Arabian Nights, Frank Baum, Lewis Carroll, and Angela Carter (to name only a few), and his own propensity for autobiographically-inspired fiction, Rushdie creates the meta-fable, Haroun. His story poignantly parallels his real circumstances with those of Haroun's father, the fictional, gifted storyteller Rhashid Khalifa, the "legendary Ocean of Notions, the fabled Shah of Blah" (22). Rushdie has named Haroun and his father "after the legendary Caliph, Haroun al-Rashid, who is featured in many Arabian Nights tales and stands for creativity" (Singh 211). One day Haroun's mother runs off with a villainous neighbor who has poured doubt into her ear. She leaves behind a note for Rhashid that reads:

You are only interested in pleasure, but a proper man would know that life is a serious business. Your brain is full of make-believe, so there is no room in it for facts. Mr. Sengupta [the neighbor] has no imagination at all. That is okay by me.


After her departure, Haroun asks his father The Question that he has overheard Mr. Sengupta ask his mother, "What's the use of stories that aren't even true?" In so doing, Haroun unintentionally paralyzes Rhashid's imagination. When faced with telling another story, Rhashid can only utter "Ark" (26).

Repentant, Haroun begins a quest through a fantastic realm in order to restore Rhashid's gift. His adventures lead him to the terrifying Cultmaster of Bezaban, Khattam-Shud, "the Prince of Silence and the Foe of Speech." Khattam-Shud's henchmen are from the Union of the Zipped Lips and are "skinny, scrawny, measly, weaselly, snivelling clerical type[s]" (153), amusingly transparent versions of Rushdie's real-life clerical censors. For Khattam-Shud, "[t]he world … is not for Fun…. The world is for Controlling" he wants to control "[y]our world, my world, all worlds." But in order to gain that control, he must both poison the Sea of Stories, the source of fiction and inspiration, and plug up its source, for "inside every single story, … there lies a world, a story-world, that [he] cannot Rule at all" (161).

Rather than censoring himself, Rushdie gets to the heart of his specific situation, conceptualizing what the fatwa is really about in terms of narrative. For Rushdie, the battle is, in fact, about the ability of the storyteller to open up all stories (including the life story of the Prophet Muhammad) to reinterpretation, to keep narratives unbounded in time. For the fundamentalists in power in Iran, however, the battle is an ongoing attempt to designate the only story—to maintain the master narrative frozen for all time. Khattam-Shud's attempt to plug the source of the Sea of Stories is parallel to the attempt of those in power to silence dissenting narratives, a situation that is relevant in contemporary America as well as in Iran.

In the novel, not only are all the stories being silenced, but the clocks have frozen as well. In Haroun's country of Alifbay, time literally stopped when the ability to narrate its passing was lost. Without the narrative structure of story—the Aristotelian paradigm of beginnings, middles, and ends—our lives become unmoored, drifting from expected sequences. Like Haroun, who can no longer concentrate on anything for longer than eleven minutes, we face becoming "stuck in time like a broken clock" (24) without narrative and counter-narrative. It is probably no accident that the Islamic revolution is often referred to as an attempt to return to the fourteenth century, to defy time.

Rushdie does not naively glorify freedom of speech, for part of the quest to save the Ocean involves as well the rescue of the graceless Princess Batcheat who, (Roseanne Barr-like), signs all day in a screech; clearly, cumbersome baggage accompanies free speech. In another example, as Haroun, Rhashid, and the chattering, noisy Guppees (who love Stories and Speech) start off to do battle with the silent Chupwalas, Haroun fears mutiny, for the Guppee army is deeply involved in an ongoing argument over whether they should first rescue Batcheat or save the Ocean. Furthermore, General Kitab, the Guppee in charge, is "actually provoking such disputes, and then joining in with enthusiastic glee, sometimes taking one side, and at other times (just for fun) expressing the opposite point of view" (119). However, the battle begins:

The Pages of Gup, now that they had talked through everything so fully, fought hard, remained united, supported each other when required to do so, and in general looked like a force with a common purpose. All those arguments and debates, all that openness, had created powerful bonds of fellowship between them.


As for the Chupwalas (who are silent as shadows and hate Stories and Speech):

Their vows of silence and their habits of secrecy had made them suspicious and distrustful of one another … [they] did not stand shoulder to shoulder, but betrayed one another, stabbed one another in the back, mutinied, hid, deserted.


With the Guppees and the Chupwalas, Rushdie makes an argument for the more difficult task we all face in coming to consensus through open negotiations or even heated, contentious, and disturbing arguments. He wants to allow for heterogeneous community and common purpose, a task that cannot be achieved by univocality, imposition, and autocracy. It is no accident that the heroine of Haroun is named Blabbermouth!

Haroun and Blabbermouth are victorious not only in restoring Rhashid's gift of storytelling but in saving the world from the enemies of fiction. Khattam-Shud is not only defeated, he is crushed to bits, "not a shred of him was ever seen again" (191). Rushdie's narrative desires are evident. The only way the real fatwa can be withdrawn is if the clergy of Iran were to fall from power, but there is no sign of that happening. However, as his unique narrative confronts the narrative of his oppressors and would-be executioners, Rushdie can and does create a script of liberation.

When the Walrus gives Haroun a final wish, Haroun asks for not only a happy ending for his own adventure but for his whole city as well. The Walrus warns him that happy endings can only "cheer things up for a while," but Haroun replies, "That'll do" (202). Hence, in a conscious move to play with the postmodern dictum against closure and to resist the ambiguous ending exacted on most contemporary fiction (Rushdie's own included), Rushdie piles on a sequence of happy endings. Princess Batcheat and Prince Bolo are wed; Haroun's mother comes home; and in Haroun's city, which had become the saddest of cities, happiness is restored when its citizens remember its name, Kahani, which means "story." In defense of these happy endings Rushdie says:

If the engine of the book is that the world goes wrong when the mother leaves, the only happy ending that means anything at all is that the thing that was unmade is remade. The thing that was broken is mended. Healing—you know—healing is the only happy ending. So I thought she's just got to come back. They've got to fall into each other's arms, and everything is okay. And it was … actually, it was lovely to write.

     (qtd. in Fenton 34)

Rushdie is exemplifying Frank Kermode's observation that we will find endings that suit our psychological needs: "[We] need fictive concords with origins and ends, such as give meaning to lives…. The End [we] imagine will reflect [our] irreducibly intermediary preoccupations" (7). But the Walrus makes it quite clear to Haroun that these endings are at best only temporary. It was Khattam-Shud, whose name translates "completely finished," "over and done with" (216), who wanted "The End," just as it is Rushdie's oppressors who wish to impose fixed narratives in which "The Truth" has been told, in which there is no interrogation or reinterpretation. Haroun accepts his temporary happy endings just as we accept provisional truths. However, perhaps the more significant and far-reaching implication of Rushdie's narrative of resistance is the need to keep alive the impulse to question all imposed narratives.

Rushdie is not the only writer who has written about storytelling as a requirement for a meaningful life. In The Neverending Story, Michael Ende follows a similar path with his protagonist a self-loathing, alienated boy called Bastian Balthazar Bux who must journey through the fabulous land of Fantastica, at times alone and at times with Fantastican companions, in order to save it from being consumed by the Nothing—the creeping disease of disbelief that is rapidly overtaking and obliterating Fantastica. Early in the novel we learn from the werewolf Gmork, a creature who can also appear in the human world, that the creatures of Fantastica are "dreams, poetic inventions, characters in a neverending story" (131). While Fantastica lives, Fantasticans perform the vital function of living out the imaginary. But if they are consumed by the Nothing and must exist outside of Fantastica, they become nothing more than "delusions in the minds of human beings, fear where there is nothing to fear, desires for vain, hurtful things, despairing thoughts where there is no reason to despair" (132). Without Fantastica, we learn that human beings have no healthy way to employ their imaginations in the creation and recreation of make-believe. Instead, they become prey to "the Manipulators" who have learned that when it comes to controlling human beings, there is no better instrument than lies. To secure power, "the Manipulators" "persuade people to buy things they don't need, or hate things they know nothing about, or hold beliefs that make them easy to handle, or doubt truths that might save them" (133).

Like Haroun, Bastian must make both worlds well again. Disbelief is destroying Fantastica, and its destruction means the human world will become a grey, dull, loveless place with no mysteries or miracles. Ende, like Rushdie, is aware of the vital, symbiotic relationship between the real and the imaginary. The journey through Fantastica finally brings Bastian, suffering from amnesia (a disorder that also plagues Rushdie's characters in Midnight's Children, The Satanic Verses, and Haroun ) to the "Water of Life," an absolving and renewing water that allows Bastian to not only remember who he is but also to take joy in being himself—the small, fat, timid boy he despised at the story's beginning. Ende suggests that it is within the imaginary, not the real, that we learn "the joy of being able to love" (386) ourselves and one another. Cleansed by the "Water," Bastian is able to return to the human world with this elixir of understanding that will enable him to begin a new, loving, and tender relationship with his previously distant and anguished father. Like Rushdie at the conclusion of Haroun and Baum at the conclusion of The Wizard of Oz, Ende concludes The Neverending Story by happily restoring the family. With Haroun, Rushdie joins such storytellers, not in writing an escapist story, but in acknowledging children's deep and unarticulated fears of abandonment, loneliness, and evil itself. Ende and Rushdie give children stories that honestly acknowledge the existence of such problems and offer the reassurance that the power to shape reality can be theirs by way of their imaginations.

The task of defending art and keeping the poet from exile is never finished because the censor knows the absolute seriousness of narrative. As eloquently as Sidney or Shelley, Rushdie reinscribes the necessity for the imagination. The vitality and metaphorical richness of the writer's text is crucial if we are to have any chance of contesting dominant and potentially constraining narratives. Rushdie, echoing Shelley, observes, "Writers and politicians are natural rivals. Both groups try to make the world in their own images; they fight for the same territory. And the novel is one way of denying the official, politicians' version of truth" ("Indian Writer" 78). Rather than retreating under the fatwa, Rushdie has reiterated the importance of narrative, stressing not just the good of stories "that aren't even true," but that stories are crucial if we are to envision change and re-create alternative cultures. For where is resistance formulated if not in counter-narratives that subvert the given, open up the possibility for change, otherness, and multiplicity? Reading Haroun and the Sea of Stories can, in fact, be a form of critical practice by inviting readers to take up a position in order to confront one ubiquitous kind of oppression.

In the dedication of Haroun to his son, Rushdie demonstrates his belief that narrative can heal and, in fact, build a kind of psychic bridge between his son and himself. He writes the following as an acrostic using Zafar's name:

Zembla, Zenda, Xanadu:
All our dream-worlds may come true.
Fairy lands are fearsome too.
As I wander far from view
Read, and bring me home to you.

The dedication underscores the necessity for the imagination, for only by envisioning our dream-worlds, can we create real ones. The dedication also makes the materiality of texts not only a connecting rod between Rushdie and Zafar but between transgressional writers like Rushdie—trapped in secret exile or censored, harassed, jailed, and even murdered in countries like Algeria, China, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, and Nigeria—and critic/teachers like us who hope to provide our students with the space to question totalizing narratives, to disagree, to reinterpret, to rewrite.

At the beginning of World War II, Wallace Stevens described the intransigent reality of violence in his world. His words unfortunately have maintained their disturbing relevance. He writes:

Reality … became violent and so it remains … in speaking of the pressure of reality, I am thinking of life in a state of violence, … physically violent for millions of our friends and for still more millions of our enemies and spiritually violent, it may be said, for everyone alive.


For Stevens, "A possible poet must be a poet capable of resisting or evading the pressure of the reality" (27). Rushdie knows all too well the violent reality of religious and political autocracy. But like Stevens's possible poet, Rushdie is capable of resisting the pressure of that reality and warns us that "to accept the sacred is to be paralyzed by it" ("Is Nothing Sacred?" 3). It is literature that provides inquiry, and, says Rushdie, it is "great literature, by asking extraordinary questions, [that] opens new doors in our minds" (10). Counter narratives are the vital keys that alone can unlock imposed versions of truth. No wonder for Rushdie, "[a]rt is a passion…. And the imagination works best when it is most free" ("Indian Writer" 82). For both Stevens and Rushdie, it is the imagination that has "to do with our self-preservation; and that, no doubt, is why the sound of its words, help us to live our lives" (Stevens 36).

Rushdie writes a moving story for his son, one that forgoes cynical foreclosure and posits instead eman- cipation and healing as empowering possibilities. His words, we hope, have helped him to live his life. However, at the same time, as a transgressional political writer, he continues to confront the censorship of writing, reading, and the imagination and to campaign for "intellectual liberty, without which there can be no literature" ("In Defense" 54). He reminds us that the political is not something that exists outside of our stories and schools. In a recent article, he asserts that even in Europe and the United States, "the storm troopers of various ‘sensitivities’ seek to limit our freedom of speech" (55). On reading Haroun, we find that Rushdie provides a place where we and our students can become able and courageous critics, armed with the insight and will to read and question the conflicting narratives of our world.

Works Cited

Carter, Angela. Burning Your Boats. New York: Henry Holt, 1995.

Ende, Michael. The Neverending Story. Trans. Ralph Manheim. New York: Doubleday, 1983.

Fenton, James. "Keeping Up with Salman Rushdie." The New York Review of Books. 28 March 1991. 26-34.

Kermode, Frank. The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction. London: Oxford UP, 1968.

Harrison, James. Salman Rushdie. New York: Twayne, 1992.

Rushdie, Salman. Haroun and the Sea of Stories. New York: Penguin, 1990.

———. "In Defense of the Novel, Yet Again: Fiction Has Never Been Safe." The New Yorker. 24 June and 1 July 1996: 48-55.

———. "The Indian Writer in England." In The Eye of the Beholder, edited by Maggie Butcher. London: Commonwealth Institute, 1983.

———. Interview with Jean Pierre Durix. Kunapipi 4.2 (1982): 17-26.

———. "Is Nothing Sacred?" The Herbert Read Memorial Lecture at ICA, London. 6 February 1990. Read by Harold Pinter.

———. The Jaguar Smile. London: Pan, 1987.

———. The Satanic Verses. New York: Viking, 1988.

———. Shame. New York: Vintage International, 1989.

Singh, Sushila. "Haroun and the Sea of Stories: Rushdie's Flight to Freedom." Indian Society for Commonwealth Studies, edited by G. R. Taneja and R. K. Dhawan. New Delhi: 1992.

Smith, Paul. Discerning the Subject. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1988.

Stevens, Wallace. "The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words." In The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination. New York: Vintage, 1942.

Rosalía Baena (essay date 2001)

SOURCE: Baena, Rosalía. "Telling a Bath-Time Story: Haroun and the Sea of Stories as a Modern Literary Fairy Tale." Journal of Commonwealth Literature 36, no. 2 (2001): 65-76.

[In the following essay, Baena argues that, rather than simply an allegorical tale born of Rushdie's own life, Haroun and the Sea of Stories can also be viewed as a successful example of the postmodern fairy tale.]

"There was once, in the country of Alifay, a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad that it had forgotten its name."1 Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories opens like a fairy tale, its hyperbolic implications inviting the reader to the suspension of disbelief customary to this type of narrative. Part of the charm of Rushdie's multi-layered text lies in the use of the fairy-tale form in order to convey a straightforward message in favour of the need for imagination, stories and the magic of words. The novel is directed at a double audience: on the one hand, a young reader can enjoy the story of Haroun and his father Rashid, the "Shah of Blah", in their search for the lost source of stories; on the other hand, an adult reader and a literary critic perceive at least two other layers of meaning, at a political and a metafictional level.

Often considered a minor work, most of the critical reception of Haroun and the Sea of Stories has centred on the political implications of the narrative.2 G. R. Taneja argues that the novel may be read as an allegory of authorial biography;3 Jean-Pierre Durix favours a formalist approach, advocating that the book is about stories and storytelling;4 others consider it merely a collection of short stories for children. However, less attention has been paid to Haroun as a modern fairy tale for both adults and children, using the child's point of view as the narrative focus that centres the drama within the magical tale. Rushdie, highly aware of the dynamism of the childhood world of imagination and its potential for empowerment, uses it in order to convey a double message, both political and metafictional. He manipulates for his purposes the novel's childlike façade, its sense of unreality, and its traditional for- mal simplicities. Childhood is archetypally represented as a charming time of security and authenticity, making the child's perspective an excellent prism through which to view the magic elements of reality. As Alison Lurie argues, though most people think of fairy stories as having come into existence almost magically long ago, they are in fact still being created.5 Lurie explains how the specific value of the fairy tale lies in its presentation of experience in vivid symbolic form: "Sometimes we need to have the truth exaggerated and made more dramatic, even fantastic, in order to comprehend it".6

Haroun and the Sea of Stories contains the main elements that define a modern literary fairy tale. The frame is a heroic journey undertaken by the young protagonist to a fantastic country in order to restore peace, justice, and imagination to his real world. From the start, Haroun is deeply troubled by the question: What's the use of stories that are not even true? (p. 20). Step by step, through a painful process, he arrives at an answer to this question, and, consequently, to the purpose of his life. This essay will analyse Rushdie's use of the form of the fairy tale as a means to portray Haroun's journey from disbelief to belief in the power and "reality" of the imagination. In this process, Rushdie meditates on the use of stories at different levels—human, political, and metafictional—each level conveying insights on politics, literature, or life itself.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories responds to the traditional folkloric structure of two settings, one real and one imaginary. In fairy tales, fantasy often begins with the mundane life of the protagonist in a commonplace world—Haroun lived in "a sad city […] that had forgotten its name" (p. 15)—so the hero needs to expand this sad world's horizons, venturing outside it. He travels in and out of Gup City, a utopian world, in order to bring happiness back to his "real" world. This reflects a traditional device in fantasy, which usually presents a distinct separation between the real and the unreal domains. Characters step into the new world to begin their fantastic adventure through a clear mechanism: they fall down a rabbit hole, walk into a closet, or are spirited away in a cyclone. Once in this new land, things begin to happen. The introduction of a second setting alerts readers to the fact that something fantastic is likely to happen in the story's plot.7 The realm of dreams is the device used by Rushdie to transport Haroun into the world of Gup City and the Sea of Stories, in the tradition of Alice in Wonderland. The link between the two worlds is constantly suggested; for instance in the repetition and similarity of names (Kahani is the name of the second moon and also of the sad city in Alifbay introduced at the beginning) and resemblance between the two Butts and the two floating gardens. Ultimately, the reader realizes that the story he or she has been reading is, in fact, one of Rashid's own tales. The real world is restored and children can now feel safe. An adventure, a story, has solved the protagonist's problems.

Rushdie also employs, in the telling of Haroun, the oral character of the discourse traditional to childhood narratives. Just as children's literature can often be traced back to folklore, so many of the expressions in the book are taken from oral narratives. Moreover, Rushdie explains that the story was based on tales he invented to entertain his young son: "It was not so much a bedtime story but a bath-time story, something I'd tell him when he was in the bath, or while I wrapped him in towels. I would have these basic motifs, like the Sea of Stories, but each time I would improvise."8 The voice of the narrator leads the reader into the experience, accompanying the child in the adventures, venturing to comment on events and encouraging further fantasy. This narrator assumes the strategy and stance of a storyteller who addresses the audience directly using expressions such as "There was once …" (p. 15), "Now I must tell you quickly about everything that happened while Haroun was away" (p. 179), or "as you might have guessed" (p. 206). This literary orality implicates the reader more directly in the experience, drawing the child into the fantasy and obliging him or her to participate by cooperating through imagination.

Furthermore, as in the tradition of children's literature, Rushdie uses highly symbolic names for his characters and places. The glossary at the end of the book demonstrates the importance of names in the story. Alifbay, the country Haroun lives in, means "alphabet" in Hindustani, privileging the prominence of words and their construction. Also, the protagonist's name evokes the hero Haroun al-Rashid, the fifth Abbasid Kalipha during whose magnificent reign Baghdad reached its cultural peak, and whose court is associated with the tales of the Arabian Nights. Because stories are made of words, there is a textuality in the entire fabric of the Guppee society and even in their institution of the Army, where soldiers are organized in "chapters" and "volumes", and wear laminations on their bodies. When the infantry meets under the leadership of General Kitab (meaning "book" in Arabic), there is a loud rustling of "pages" until order is established through proper "pagination", and "collation". The Guppees' final victory, is a triumph (Zafar) of good over evil, which is at the core of the story. This duality is presented in the story as traditionally as possible. Haroun finds a divided world in which light and freedom need to be restored:

"How many opposites are at war in this battle between Gup and Chup!" he marvelled. "Gup is bright and Chup is dark. Gup is warm and Chup is freezing cold. Gup is all chattering and noise, whereas Chup is silent as a shadow. Guppees love the ocean; Chupwalas try to poison it. Guppees love stories and speech; Chupwalas, it seems hate these things as strongly." It was a war between Love (of the Ocean, or the Princess) and Death (which was what Cultmaster Khattam-Shud had in mind for the Ocean, and for the Princess, too).

     (p. 125)

The repetition of different motifs is also characteristic of children's books. Recurrent phrases run constantly through the book, probably prompted by the fact that these phrases are a great joy to children.9 The bad characters, namely the Chupwalas, the Cultmaster and Mr Sengupta, are described with a catalogue of repetitive alliterative qualifications: the Chupwalas are "scrawny, snivelling, weaselly-looking types" (p. 148) and "scurrying, cloaked, weaselly, scrawny, snivelling clerical types" (p. 152); the Cultmaster is "a skinny, scrawny, measely, weaselly, snivelling clerical type, exactly like all the others" (p. 153). The reiterative character of these descriptions highlights similarities in meaning and makes moral judgements on the personages so described, impressing on the reader very specific images of them. Also the motif "one thousand and one" is repeatedly used, often humorously: when people in Gup City think of a punishment for a spy, the only one they can think of is to tell him to write "I must not spy" a thousand and one times (p. 98). Moreover, this motif in some cases represents beauty, perfection or abundance: there are 1001 violin strings (p. 70), 1001 currents (p. 72), 1001 islands on which the city of Kahani is built (p. 87).

The need to believe in magic is one of the major elements in children's stories. Magic makes dreams come true, and this story will make things possible for the young protagonist/the young reader. Bruno Bettelheim in his book The Uses of Enchantment analyses the child's psychological need for magic extensively: "Belief in the ‘truth’ of the fairy tale gives him courage […] Recalling how the hero of many a fairy tale succeeded in life […] the child believes he may work the same magic".10 Bettelheim explains how fairy tales, unlike any other form of literature, direct the child to discover his identity and calling, and they also suggest what experiences are needed to develop his character further. Fairy tales suggest that a rewarding, good life is within one's reach despite adversity—but only if one does not shy away from the hazardous struggles without which one can never achieve true identity.11 Haroun's story responds to that need for magic. At one point Haroun tries to help his father with the story of the Moody Land: "Think of the happiest times you can remember […] Think about your wedding day" (p. 50). When Haroun realizes that his father has actually cheered up and that "the malodorous mist tore apart like the shreds of an old shirt and drifted away on a cool night breeze," he knew "that the real world was full of magic, so magical worlds could easily be real" (p. 50). His imagination, coupled with his literal understanding of his father's stories, will make his journey into another world possible and will consequently restore their happiness. The central question of Haroun ("What's the use of stories that are not even true?") is put naively, as appropriate to a children's story, but the implied answers are deep and serious. This question is answered progressively as the story goes along.

In his journey, Haroun has to overcome many common prejudices against stories, such as considering them mere entertainment. When his father tells him "‘The Moody land was only a story […] Here we're somewhere real’", Haroun "understood that the Shah of Blah was very depressed indeed, because only deep despair could have made him say such a terrible thing" (p. 48). Things start to work out well in his adventure when he "decided there was nothing for it but to put his Moody Land theory into practice" (p. 49). One of the main steps requires an act of belief in what he cannot see, as the Water Genie explains to him:

How much have you seen […] Africa, have you seen it? No? Then is it truly there? And submarines? Huh? Also hailstones, baseballs, pagodas? Goldmines? Kangaroos, Mount Fujiyama, the North Pole? And the past, did it happen? And the future, will it come? Believe in your own eyes and you'll get into a lot of trouble, hot water, a mess.

     (p. 63)

Haroun has to trust magic elements in order to save the Ocean of Stories from being contaminated by the arch villain Khattam-Shud and his silent servants; he needs to believe in the little chip's Wishwater power given to him by Iff the Water Genie (p. 170). He has to trust this little device in order to shed light over Khattam-Shud's territory. The physical light that is spread over this tenebrous kingdom is the symbol for the light that stories bring to people's minds, as they explain things, and illuminate ideas and motives. Light will make all the bad characters disappear.

Another common prejudice against fiction is its visionary nature. Fictional representations are supposed to be happier than real life, deceitful in that sense, as they draw a positive but inaccurate picture, because life is difficult and not as joyful. As the page Blabbermouth, who turns out to be a girl, explains to Haroun, "That's the trouble with you sad city types: you think a place has to be miserable and dull as ditchwater before you believe it's real" (p. 114). She explains to him that stories are also meant to cheer people up; precisely, the silent Chupwalas are dull and boring. As a metafictional turn, Haroun's own story will have a happy ending; though this is a convention in a children's story, it is also a statement about life that supports Blabbermouth's comments. Rushdie explained in an interview that it was very difficult to portray a credible happy ending, but "sometimes in life, things do turn out okay, and it's wrong of writers to deny this fact".12

The journey of the protagonist from disbelief into belief can then be read as the movement from distrust in literature to confidence in its power. As Haroun goes on his adventure, he explores the nature, elements and possibilities of fiction. Even though he was, at one point, full of "a sense of hopelessness and failure the magic of the Ocean began to have an effect on Haroun":

He looked into the water and saw that it was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different colour, weaving in and out of one another like liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity; and Iff explained that these were the Streams of Story, that each coloured strand represented and contained a single tale. Different parts of the Ocean contained different sorts of stories, and as all the stories that had ever been told and many that were still in the process of being invented could be found here, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was in fact the biggest library in the universe. And because the stories were held there in fluid form, they retained the ability to change, to become new versions of themselves, to join up with other stories and so become yet other stories; so that unlike a library of books, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was much more than a storeroom of yarns. It was not dead but alive.

     (pp. 71-2)

This vivid metaphor for the playfulness and regenerative power of fancy also emphasizes the value of tradition in literature. What may in abstract terms be called the self-renewing attributes of narrative becomes concrete when we find the plentymaw fish constantly swallowing the water into their many mouths and spewing out new ones, incorporating bits and pieces of the old stories.13 Rushdie, like many other postcolonial artists, dramatizes in his own work his predicament as an artist, including a reflection on the functioning of language and of the imagination within his plots.14 Thus, Haroun and the Sea of Stories becomes a metafictional exercise, where references to the artist's creative process and to the meaning and the realm of literature are endless. The novel also illustrates and comments on such contemporary cultural issues as double identity, life as a story, the boundaries of fiction, the artist's imagination, intertextuality, the sources of stories, multiculturalism, the mixture of high and popular culture.

As a metafictional commentary, Haroun and the Sea of Stories vividly exemplifies how tales old and new blend to produce delightful stories. The novel itself draws on a number of Western and Eastern classics with the title evoking two main Eastern literary traditions. On the one hand, it refers to the Arabian Nights from which the name Haroun originates. The frame story is also a tale that has to be told under the threat of death. Rashid has to make up a story for the politician, and during the night, the story is both lived and told. On the other hand, the title makes reference to Katha-sarit-saqar, or "The Ocean of Streams of Story", a compendium of stories in Sanskrit, attributed to Somadeva, a Brahmin who lived in Kashmir in the eleventh century, and one of the Indian classical sources of Rushdie's tale.15 Consequently, the Ocean of Stories contains the whole tradition of literature available to the artist. As Iff the Water Genie tells Haroun: "no story comes from nowhere; new stories are born from old—it is the combinations that make them new" (p. 86). At the end of the novel, when the Ocean of Stories is saved from corruption, "they were especially anxious to restore the Old Zone as soon as possible, so that these ancient tales could be fresh and new once more" (p. 192).

Fairy tales are constantly referred to in the story. Patricia Merivale makes a meaningful comparison between Haroun and the Sea of Stories and Carlo Collodi's The Adventures of Pinocchio (1883). Both are "children's stories for grownups, fantastic questromances set in similarly allegorical topographies of the imagination, and, as it happens, they are also art- ist parables—allegorical accounts of the dialectic between Art and Life".16 Both narratives are propelled by reciprocated family love, of which the father-son bond is the strongest element, and plotted on the separation, the mutual seeking, and eventual reunion, of father and son. They are tales in which the heroic boy-child accomplishes the rescue of his imprisoned artist-father, and, by the same token his own transition into adulthood.17 Both narratives create a delightful fantasy where a young boy is able to rescue his father. In Haroun we also find the fairy-tale motif of being saved by three magic devices: Butt's brain-box, the Bite-a-Lite, and especially the bottle of Wishwater. These can only be successful in conjunction with Haroun's fairy-tale hero's combination of good will and cleverness. Haroun, by will power combined with Wishwater, moves the Story-Moon so that sunlight destroys the shadow-world of Khattam-Shud, the Ayatollah tyrant, whose case against stories is, fundamentally, political: "inside every single story […] there lies a world, a story-world, that I cannot Rule at all" (p. 161). Heroic feats accomplished, his father Rashid returns to real-world storytelling—and of course the very first story he tells is "Haroun and the Sea of Stories".

Other Western children's classics comprise the intertext for Haroun, such as Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass and Alice in Wonderland, Tolkien's The Hobbit, where we observe the same pattern of a hero's quest in a fantastic world, or Ursula Le Guin's The Earthsea Trilogy. The houseboat in which the politician lodges Haroun and Rashid called "Arabian Nights Plus One" evokes 2001: A Space Odyssey, deliberately bringing in a science-fiction ambience. The references to past and present narratives, and to the contemporary cultural context are a constant device in the composition of Haroun. Many of the sources have been acknowledged by Rushdie, who explains that he addresses Haroun to both children and adults, influenced by a classic children's film, The Wizard of Oz:

When I first saw The Wizard of Oz it made a writer of me. Many years later, I began to devise the yarn that eventually became Haroun and the Sea of Stories, and felt strongly that if I could strike the right note it should be possible to write the tale in such a way as to make it of interest to adults as well as children: or, to use the phrase beloved of blurbists, to "children from seven to seventy".18

Moreover, there are ironic comments on other contemporary works. As the Floating Gardener explains to Haroun, not all past stories are of the same value, because there are certain type of stories that are contaminating the Ocean: "Certain popular romances have become just long lists of shopping expeditions. Children's stories also. For instance, there is an outbreak of talking helicopter anecdotes" (p. 83), a clear reference to the Duchess of York's creation of Budgie the talking helicopter.19 Therefore, it is not only verbal play that delights the young reader, but also the eccentricities of the characters and the amazing exploits of the young hero, the old-fashioned tale of whose bare-handed bravery to save his father merges into the apparatus of a science-fiction quest in which the secret of moving a planet has to be discovered.20

Though set within a Western tradition of children's classics, Haroun is fundamentally a fairy tale for the late twentieth century, incorporating elements of post-modernism, specifically in its subtle use of humour and parody: "Haroun is very openly comic; it lacks something of the seriousness of childhood which makes Alice so good for children. Perhaps the nonserious tone of Haroun suits the children of today; Alice was for Victorian girls, after all".21 Humour is achieved, for instance, through certain unexpected subversions of conventions. The story of Prince Bolo and Princess Baatcheat weaves in through a parodied romance rhetoric—yet another diverse strand of knight errants and damsels in distress.22 Moreover, the moral values transmitted in Haroun (freedom of speech and human ecological guardianship of earth and sea) differ from more traditional ones, such as Pinocchio's filial obedience and the emphasis on telling the truth. In Haroun, truth is one of the main issues but it is contextualized differently, in consonance with the text's modernity. Rushdie saves the pejorative term "lies" for the fraudulent promises and deceitful utterances of (neocolonialist) politicians trying to get elected, manipulating the gullibility of the electorate as the Fox and the Cat, or "Liars, and cheats, and crooks" (p. 58), manipulate Pinocchio.23

One of the central messages that fairy tales communicate to the child in a manifold form is that a struggle against severe difficulties in life is unavoidable and an intrinsic part of human existence—but that if one does not shy away from, but steadfastly meets unexpected and often unjust hardships, one masters all obstacles and at the end emerges victorious.24 In practically every fairy tale good and evil are personified as characters with their specific actions, representing the omnipresence of good and evil in life. This duality poses the moral problem, and necessitates a struggle to solve it.25Haroun also conveys this message concerning difficulties through the personification of Haroun, his father and the citizens of Gup City as good, and Khattam-Shud and the Chupwalas as evil, thus meeting the psychological and moral needs of children in the same way that traditional fairy tales do.

Rushdie follows the pattern of the youthful hero who ventures out into a new world only to return home and accept the values of his everyday world.26 Nonetheless, according to Jill P. May, though a literary fairy tale, or a modern fantasy story, might seem like a simple retelling of oral patterns, it never is. The author is writing a tale that takes the reader on a trip into another realm, understanding that if the reader has been a consumer of folklore, it will be easy to identify the traditional elements that have been placed in the plot. Therefore, "the writer can explore through the tale the moral and political concepts embedded in his society and is suggesting alternative views".27 In the immediate political context of the book's writing, references to the fatwa imposed on Rushdie abound. The malign figure Khattam-Shud clearly represents Rushdie's own persecutor, Ayatollah Khomeini. The darkness and silence that surround the sinister Cultmaster are the background for many images that recall Iran's fundamentalist society: the Chupwala army resides in the Twilight Strip, wrapped in "black tents" (p. 101), which call to mind the burqas that, to Western eyes, imprison Islamic women; the Chupwalas worship the idol Bezaban, a "colossus carved out of black ice" (p. 101), representative of the Black Stone, the sacred Ka'aba, the holiest place at the centre of the city Mecca.28 Even if the Gup warriors sometimes appear ridiculous in their mania for discussing everything and questioning every decision, they are no doubt superior to the Chupwalas, who, because of the silence imposed on them, are afraid of their own shadows and are consequently diminished in their capacity for action and resistance.29 As the Hoopoe explains to Haroun, "But what is the point of giving persons Freedom of Speech […] if you then say they must not utilize same? And is not the Power of Speech the greatest Power of all?" (p. 119).

Haroun's epiphany comes when he learns that stories provide the light needed to understand life. Rushdie plays with the images of light and darkness as metaphors for the world of imagination and the world that resists it. His young hero clearly advocates the superiority of invention and fantasy, as the tool that will save people from lives of tyranny and oppression. In the end, Haroun learns that his father's stories cannot be used to manipulate votes for dishonest politicians. Haroun's story, as told by his father, makes people realize that Snooty Buttoo was dishonest, so he "was never seen again in the Valley of K, which left the people of the Valley free to choose leaders they actually liked" (p. 207). Stories highlight different aspects of truth, and teach readers how to distinguish good and evil. What ultimately saves Haroun, rescues Princess Batcheat, and purifies the ocean is not technology or science fiction, but a bottle of "wish-water" of pure fairy-tale variety.30 The power of this magic potion finally defeats all the immense supercomputers and gigantic gyroscopes that had controlled the movements of the planet. As the Eggheads reported to the Walrus, it possessed "a force beyond their power to imagine, let alone control" (p. 172).

Rushdie uses an intertextual background of literary sources to build up a tale addressed to those who, like himself, live in a postcolonial world, between Eastern and Western values. Suchismita Sen explains how Rushdie has managed to re-create his Indian childhood not only through images but also by shaping the English language in a way that reverberates with the nuances of an Indian existence. Haroun provides us with a child's-eye view of a world that urban Indians will have little difficulty in recognizing as their own childhood environment and homeland.31 The constant references to Satyajit Ray's film Goopy Gayen and Bagha Bayen are an essential part of Haroun. For instance, the "plentymaw" fish that speak in doggerel verse in Rushdie's book (Goopy and Bagha) have derived their name from the singing heroes in the Indian film. Moreover, Rushdie can delight his young readers in the Indian subcontinent (most of whom do not need the glossary at the end) by the sheer inventiveness of the names of the characters—Butt and Iff (Butt is a perfectly credible Kashmiri name and Iff can be the abbreviated form of names like Iftikar), Chattergy the Kind (a common Bengali name which in English rendering gets split into "Chatter" and the respectful suffix "ji").32

Although Rushdie has denied the autobiographical character of any of his works,33Haroun and the Sea of Stories invites reading in the light of Rushdie's own confinement, as it was published shortly after he was put under protective custody following the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini in February of 1989. Rushdie has asserted that though he had conceived of the book before the fatwa was proclaimed, it was only finished during his confinement.34 With all the elements of a fairy tale, through its metaphorical qualities, Rushdie endeavours to explain to his son Zafar the horrible consequences of his censorship and confinement, in a story that a child can under- stand, with a happy ending in which the child protagonist is a hero who saves his father from running out of stories, and where good always overcomes evil. Moreover, Haroun's father's name, Rashid, is a close anagram of Zafar's father, Rushdie, and both have recovered, at the end of the story, the power of telling stories.

Rushdie dedicates the book to his son, whose name, ZAFAR, appears in the acrostic lines of the novel's epigraph; it serves as a magic spell to introduce the reader (the child) into the spirit of the fairy tale. In the book, Rushdie explains the reasons for his need to hide and the wickedness and error of those who threaten him. Haroun's journey can therefore be read as the path Zafar may follow in order to believe in the use of stories and why his father writes them. Rushdie explains how "dangerous" stories are for people like Khattam-Shud who live in silence and darkness; words and the light that comes with them (understanding, comprehension, protection against the manipulation of minds) destroy bad people like the Chupwalas and their shadow-world. The Cultmaster "said the word ‘stories’ as if it were the rudest, most contemptible word in the language":

Well, look where stories have landed you now […] You'd have done better to keep your feet on the ground but you had your head in the air. You'd have done better to stick to Facts, but you were stuffed with stories […] Stories make trouble. An Ocean of Stories is an Ocean of Trouble. Answer me this: what's the use of stories that aren't even true?

     (p. 155)

By this time, Haroun, and the reader, feel that his journey offers a practical answer to that question. In his mind, Khattam-Shud is too similar to Mr. Sengupta, the man that runs away with his mother, "the snivelling, drivelling, mingy, stingy, measly, weaselly clerk" (p. 155), to be trusted at all. The connections with reality also begin to be made in Haroun's life.

I have argued that the success of Haroun lies in its appropriation of the fairy tale form. In its own way, it is as great an achievement as Midnight's Children is on another level, a fable in the form of children's tale that strengthens it and makes it resonate. Jill May claims that all journeys in children's literature "contain a lesson in metaphor for the reader to ponder at the end".35 The lesson in Haroun's journey reflects the essential role of the imagination in perceiving a sense of direction in the world and guiding the child along its path.36 His journey has also made it possible for the city to remember its name: "Kahani", which means "story" (p. 209). As the Water Genie explains to Haroun, "To give a name, a label, a handle; to rescue it from anonymity, to pluck it out of the Place of Namelessness, in short to identify it—well, that's a way of bringing the said thing into being" (p. 63). Haroun's adventure parallels the artist's creative process: bringing things into being by naming them and celebrating the power of the imagination.


1. Salman Rushdie, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, London: Granta/Penguin, 1990, p. 15. Subsequent references are to this edition and will be cited in the text.

2. See Novy Kapadia, "Political Allegory: A Comparison of Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories and Joseph Conrad's Nostromo" in G. R. Taneja and R. K. Dhawan, eds., The Novels of Salman Rushdie, New Delhi: Indian Society for Commonwealth Studies/Prestige, 1992, pp. 217-29; and Aron R. Aji, "‘All Names Mean Something’: Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Legacy of Islam", Contemporary Literature, 36, 1 (1995), 103-29.

3. See G. R. Taneja, "Facts of Fiction: Haroun and the Sea of Stories" in The Novels of Salman Rushdie, pp. 197-208.

4. See Jean-Pierre Durix, "‘The Gardener of Stories’: Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories" in D. M. Fletcher, ed., Reading Rushdie. Perspectives on the Fiction of Salman Rushdie, Amsterdam and Atlanta, Ga.: Rodopi, 1994, pp. 343-59.

5. Alison Lurie, ed., The Oxford Book of Modern Fairy Tales, Oxford: OUP, 1993, pp. xi-xii.

6. ibid., p. xi.

7. Jill P. May, Children's Literature and Critical Theory, New York: OUP, 1995, p. 49.

8. Gerald Marzorati, "Rushdie in Hiding", The New York Times Magazine, 4 November 1990, p. 30.

9. D. C. R. A. Goonetilleke, Salman Rushdie, London: Macmillan, 1998, p. 115.

10. Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, New York: Vintage Books, 1989, p. 50.

11. ibid., p. 24.

12. James Fenton, "Keeping Up with Salman Rushdie", The New York Times Review of Books, 28 March 1991, p. 34.

13. Meenakshi Mukherjee, "Poetics and Children's Literature: A Reading of Haroun and the Sea of Stories", ARIEL, 29, 1 (1997), 170.

14. Jean-Pierre Durix, The Writer Written: The Artist and Creation in the New Literatures in English, New York: Greenwood Press, 1987, p. 60.

15. Mukherjee, "Poetics and Children's Literature", 167.

16. Patricia Merivale, "The Telling of Lies and ‘the sea of stories’: Haroun, Pinocchio and the Post-colonial Artist Parable", ARIEL, 28, 1 (1997), 193.

17. ibid., p. 204.

18. Salman Rushdie, The Wizard of Oz: A Short Text About Magic, London: British Film Institute, 1992, p. 18.

19. Catherine Cundy, "Through Childhood's Window: Haroun and the Sea of Stories" in Reading Rushdie, p. 340.

20. Mukherjee, "Poetics and Children's Literature", 173.

21. Goonetilleke, Salman Rushdie, p. 114.

22. Mukherjee, "Poetics and Children's Literature", 167.

23. Merivale, "The Telling of Lies", 202.

24. Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment, p. 8.

25. ibid., pp. 8-9.

26. May, Children's Literature, p. 92.

27. ibid., p. 109.

28. Cundy, "Through Childhood's Window", p. 338.

29. Durix, "‘The Gardener of Stories’", p. 350.

30. Mukherjee, "Poetics and Children's Literature", 174.

31. Suchismita Sen, "Memory, Language, and Society in Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories", Contemporary Literature, 35, 4 (1995), 662.

32. Mukherjee, "Poetics and Children's Literature", 172.

33. Taneja, "Facts of Fiction", p. 197.

34. ibid., p. 198.

35. May, Children's Literature, p. 91.

36. Durix, "‘The Gardener of Stories’", p. 334.

Andrew S. Teverson (essay date winter 2001)

SOURCE: Teverson, Andrew S. "Fairy Tale Politics: Free Speech and Multiculturalism in Haroun and the Sea of Stories." Twentieth-Century Literature 47, no. 4 (winter 2001): 444-66.

[In the following essay, Teverson studies how the thematic message of freedom of speech can be interpreted in Haroun and the Sea of Stories, particularly with regards to Rushdie's background in both European and Indian cultures.]

Jacobites must speak in children's rhymes,
As preachers do in Parables, sometimes.
     —Pynchon (350)

Late in his life, either in the latter decades of the twelfth century or the first decades of the thirteenth, there is evidence that Farid ud-Din Attar, the Sufi mystic and poet, fell afoul of the Persian authorities and was charged with heresy. He had, according to Edward G. Browne, "aroused the anger and stirred up the persecuting spirit of an orthodox theologian" who denounced him as "a heretic deserving death" and caused his works to be burned, his property to be ransacked, and Attar himself to be sent from his homeland to hide (in Attar's own words) "like a ruby in Badakhstan" (Browne 509).1 As with much of Attar's biography, the exact nature of his offense is obscure, although it is reasonable to assume, on the basis of the vivid contempt Attar displays for temporal authorities in his poetry, that he did not exert himself to find favor with the political and religious powers of the land. It is also reasonable to assume that Attar was not unaware of the risks he was running by promoting his faith and ideas through his poetry; his masterpiece Manteq at-Tair (The Conference of the Birds) is replete with examples of Sufis who have been dubbed heretics for their unorthodox beliefs and either driven into banishment or murdered by jealous tyrants.

Salman Rushdie first makes reference to The Conference of the Birds in his debut novel Grimus (1975), the story of a group of immortals who, shunned by (or shunning) conventional society, converge on Calf mountain, where they hope to find solace from their wandering. In this early novel, there is no evidence to suggest that Rushdie is aware of the fate of the poem's author or that he wishes that fate to form an allusive subtext for his narrative. Attar's ornithologi- cal myth seems useful to Rushdie to the extent that it provides thematic and structural support for his meditation on exile, but it is never overtly associated with pleas for freedom of speech or freedom from persecution. When Rushdie returns to The Conference of the Birds nearly 20 years later in Haroun and the Sea of Stories, it is again without allusion to the biography of its author. Attar and his fate are not mentioned in the text or, to my knowledge, in any commentary that Rushdie has made on the text. By this time, however, the similarities between Rushdie's own experience and Attar's have become striking. Rushdie too has "aroused the anger and stirred up the persecuting spirit of an orthodox theologian," he has had his work burned by outraged believers, he has been denounced by the Islamic authorities as a heretic deserving death, and he has gone to hide himself like a ruby in North London. It is tempting to believe, on this basis, that Rushdie makes reference to Attar's work in Haroun either because he is aware of Attar's persecution and wishes to draw strength from the fact that he is not the first (or the last) to suffer for expressing opinions in a fictional form or because he is unaware of Attar's fate but recognizes in The Conference of the Birds the work of a man who is already intimate enough with the mechanisms of earthly oppression to compose the following lines:

A [divine] king is not one of those common fools
Who snatches at a crown and thinks he rules.
The true king reigns in mild humility,
Unrivalled in his firm fidelity.
An earthly king acts righteously at times,
But also stains the earth with hateful crimes,
And then whoever hovers nearest him
Will suffer most from his destructive whim.

The persecution experienced by Attar in the twelfth century and the persecution experienced by Salman Rushdie in the twentieth are, of course, of a different order. Attar was persecuted because, as a Sufi, he was expounding a doctrine thought to be heretical by the Islamic authorities; Rushdie is being persecuted because of his secular beliefs and because of his overt attack on Islamic fundamentalism. The persecution of Attar, moreover, was a local affair, involving a sect within Islam; the trials of Rushdie have attained global significance and have contributed to the polarization of relations between the Islamic nations and the West. There are also significant differences in the role and function attributed to storytelling in the work of both writers. For Rushdie, the freedom to tell stories is connected to freedom of speech and personal liberty. Attar, by contrast, is not constructing a broader argument for a free society but is suggesting that secular storytelling is useful in a religious context, because it can be used to encourage readers (or listeners) to engage actively with the arguments of the text and endure an interpretative struggle toward revelation and religious understanding. Rushdie has no such conception of religious truth, and while he, like Attar, incorporates obscurity into his storytelling, he does so not to promote the belief that there is a transcendental "truth" beyond ordinary human understanding but to suggest that there is no definitive, final truth "out there" to be apprehended. In Rushdie's novels, unlike Attar's poetry, to use the words of Carlos Fuentes, "truth is the search for truth, nothing is pre-established and knowledge is only what both of us—reader and writer—can imagine" (245).

Despite the substantial differences in the philosophical and ideological outlook of these two writers, however, and despite the very different social and cultural contexts within which they operate, both are persecuted for expressing ideas that were considered heretical by orthodox Islam, and, in both cases, the focus of this Islamic suspicion is the literary medium in which they work. Both, moreover, use literary allegory (Attar avant la lettre, Rushdie après la déluge) to respond to their detractors, mounting a defense of storytelling in the face of an extreme and potentially brutal form of censorship.

In Attar's poem this defense is mounted primarily through the figure of the eloquent hoopoe who uses stories both to encourage the birds in their quest and to enable them, as representatives of the faithful, to negotiate the complexities of the way. The poem tells the tale of a group of birds that gather from all over the world to seek their spiritual king, the Simurg: a symbol of the Sufi conception of God, into whom the bird adepts will be assimilated if they can endure the rigors of their quest.2 The hoopoe, as figure of the sheikh who guides the Sufi adept along the path of righteousness, appears at the start of the poem to tell the birds about their king, and the birds, initially, respond effusively and determine to take wing to the distant mountain of Kaf where the Simurg lives. When they start to consider the journey's length, however, more worldly concerns assert themselves, and the birds, one by one, decline the hoopoe's offer. The nightingale claims that he has a "lover's thirst" (35) and will not abandon his beloved for a single night; the heron suggests that he is too wrapped up in his own misery to leave "the empty shoreline of the sea" (46). As each bird "according to his kind" (35) offers its apologies, however, the hoopoe re- sponds with stories that help it to overcome its reluctance. The nightingale, for instance, is told "The Story of a Dervish and a Princess" in which a dervish becomes a fool because he is preoccupied with worldly love rather than higher love, and the heron is told a rather oblique tale about a hermit who questions the ocean and discovers that the sea cannot provide a reliable route to salvation because "[l]awlessness is her law" (47). Having been swayed by the hoopoe's eloquence, the birds begin their journey, but after only a short distance they halt to make the hoopoe their official leader and to discuss some of their reservations. The majority of the remaining poem is then taken up with this halt, during which the hoopoe, having used his storytelling skills to encourage the birds to join him, now devotes himself to maintaining their enthusiasm for the venture. The hoopoe thus comes to represent both the ancient tradition of Sanskrit storytelling from which Attar has taken him and the value of the narrative arts in which he is adept. Given this significance it is no surprise, in Salman Rushdie's novella, that when the Water Genie asks Haroun to choose a bird to carry them to Kahani (story in Hindustani)3 Haroun chooses the hoopoe, the bird that "in the old stories … leads all other birds through many dangerous places to their ultimate goal" (64). As in Attar's poem, this hoopoe signals Rushdie's connection with an ancient Sanskrit tradition. It also—at an early point of the narrative—introduces two of the primary objectives of the novella: to reassert the value of storytelling after the fatwa, and to defend free speech against what he sees as the forces of silence and oppression.

Free Speech

The exploration of the value of fiction in Haroun and the Sea of Stories is initiated with the question that Mr. Sengupta flings at Haroun's mother, Soraya, and that Haroun later repeats to his distraught father: what's the use of stories that aren't even true? This and other objections to storytelling in Haroun recall the Socratic objection relayed by Plato in The Republic that, for reasons both metaphysical and social, art has no claim to truth and therefore no value. On the one hand the artist is offering not a truthful representation of reality but an imperfect copy, and on the other the artist is acting upon an irrational, indulgent impulse and thus cannot proceed by rational means toward a true and philosophic understanding of actuality. These arguments are reflected throughout the tale, but primarily in Mr. Sengupta's condemnation of Haroun's father, Rashid, and in the Senguptainspired note that Haroun's mother, Soraya, leaves behind her: "You are only interested in pleasure, but a proper man would know that life is a serious business. Your brain is full of make-believe, so there is no room for the facts" (22). Haroun and the Sea of Stories, in the course of the narrative, offers several responses to these arguments, some of which are almost as old as the challenge to storytelling itself. Firstly, Rushdie reformulates the response to Plato suggested by Aristotle in his Poetics and later appropriated by Philip Sidney in his defense of poetry against its Puritan detractors, that the poet (or storyteller) "nothing affirms, and therefore never lyeth" (111). Rashid's intention is not to relay "facts" or tell the "truth," so he can hardly be accused of an intention to mislead. "Nobody ever believed anything a politico said," Haroun observes, but "everyone had complete faith in Rashid because he always admitted that everything he told them was completely untrue and made up out of his own head" (20).

A more important defense of storytelling offered in Haroun arises from Rushdie's sense that experience abhors simplification, and that the ambiguities of storytelling can do more justice to "reality" than the supposed certainties of rational inquiry can. Rashid's refusal to offer facts and truths, and his preference for yarns and fictions, make him more trustworthy than the "truth-tellers" because he is not attempting to reduce an irreducible reality into political sound bites and captions. In the revealingly titled conversation that Rushdie conducted with Günter Grass in 1985, "Fictions Are Lies That Tell the Truth." Rushdie tells Grass:

[T]he thing that made me become a writer was … a desire simply to tell stories. I grew up in a literary tradition. That's to say that the kind of stories I was told as a child, by and large, were Arabian Nights kind of stories. It was those sort of fairy tales…. And the belief was that by telling stories in that way, in that marvellous way, you could actually tell a kind of truth which you couldn't tell in other ways.


"I think using these fairy tales" notes Grass, in agreement with Rushdie,

is bringing us to another kind of truth: to a much much richer truth than you can get by collecting facts of this flat realism. We have many realities. Our problem is that we don't accept that there are many realities. This side only wants this reality, and the other only their own reality. This is one of the reasons we still have this struggle.


Both writers in these comments are reformulating an argument that had been made several decades earlier by Walter Benjamin in his essay "The Storyteller," in which it is argued that storytelling is the antithesis of information, because information thrives on containment and limitation ("prompt verifiability") while good storytelling is characterized by expansibility and ambiguity. "[I]t is half the art of storytelling," Benjamin suggests, "to keep a story free from explanation as one reproduces it":

The most extraordinary things, marvellous things, are related with the greatest accuracy, but the psychological connection of the events is not forced on the reader. It is left up to him to interpret things the way he understands them, and thus the narrative achieves an amplitude that information lacks.


For Rushdie, Grass, and Benjamin, this means that storytelling, when unfettered, becomes the antithesis of totalitarian thinking, because it resists the fascistic (or Platonic) drive to control society by limiting potential definitions and controlling interpretations. Storytelling is complicit with "liberated man," as Benjamin argues toward the end of his essay, because it "tells us of the earliest arrangements that mankind made to shake off the nightmare which the myth had placed upon its chest" (102).4

This is a point made vivid, in Haroun and the Sea of Stories, in the fear that Khattam Shud—representative of the totalizing tradition from Plato to Khomeini—has of storytelling. For Khattam Shud, storytelling is one of the greatest threats to his power, because the eclecticism implicit in any uncensored grouping of stories, along with the expansiveness and ambiguity of any one narrative, undermine the lust for closure and finitude that his name (completely finished in Hindustani) represents. He is obsessed with the desire to establish a univocal interpretation of culture by policing who may and who may not speak, and the story sea, as living embodiment of heteroglossia and polyphony, is a fluid rebuttal of this politics of exclusion. When Haroun asks why he hates stories so much, given that stories are such fun, Khattam Shud replies:

"The world, however, is not for Fun…. The world is for Controlling."

"Which world?" Haroun made himself ask.

"Your world, my world, all worlds," came the reply. "They are all to be Ruled. And inside every single story, inside every Stream in the Ocean, there lies a world, a story-world, that I cannot Rule at all…."


The aim of the novella, it is hardly necessary to add, is to reveal the destructive potential of this viewpoint, by showing how the frenzied pursuit of totalitarian rule results in a society riven with jealousy, suspicion, and mutual mistrust, and by showing how, contrary to the logic of authoritarian rule, freedom of speech and freedom of thought will ultimately create a stronger community.

This leads us to the third defense of storytelling presented in Haroun : that free narration is a form of free speech and thus is good for society. It is only through the free exchange of ideas and words that members of a community can achieve their full potential. This "free" society is represented in Haroun by the Guppees who defend the story sea because it reflects the diversity of their own community, a multicultural utopia in which mechanical hoopoes consort with many-mouthed fish and Archimboldo-esque vegetable men fraternize with blue-bearded water genies. In this society "the Power of Speech" is regarded as "the greatest Power of all" and is "exercised to the full" (119), a political principle that may give Haroun and Rashid pause for thought when the city's preparations for war are hounded by disorder and chaos, but which is ultimately validated when the Guppees overrun the Chupwalas:

The Pages of Gup, now that they had talked through everything so fully, fought hard, remained united, supported each other when required to do so, and in general looked like a force with a common purpose. All those arguments and debates, all that openness, had created powerful bonds of fellowship between them. The Chupwalas, on the other hand, turned out to be a disunited rabble … their vows of silence and their habits of secrecy had made them suspicious and distrustful of one another.


A free society in which there are no limits to what can be said and what can be told, Rushdie is suggesting, will always prove stronger than a society that is superficially bound by imposed government policy and enforced ideology.

This assertion of the importance of absolute free speech, however, does raise some problems that Rushdie fails to confront in Haroun and the Sea of Stories. In theory, freedom of expression leads toward a more tolerant society in which a multitude of different, competing ideas can coexist side by side. In practice, however, it is usually the case that, even in societies in which there is no direct censorship, indirect censorship based on various social and economic factors will still operate. As Rodney Smolla argues:

The marketplace of ideas, no less than the marketplace of commerce, will inevitably be biased in favour of those with the resources to ply their wares. The ideas of the wealthy and powerful will have greater access to the market than the ideas of the poor and disenfranchised.


By arguing, in Haroun, that the principle of free speech is sufficient to guarantee a free society, Rushdie is, uncharacteristically, ignoring the impact of social and economic inequality on an individual's ability to speak out, and so failing to engage with arguments that suggest that society would be more just if speech was, in certain conditions, regulated to protect the rights and freedoms of the underprivileged and unrepresented. Rushdie is also ignoring the argument (that his own emphasis on the power of words in Haroun would paradoxically suggest) that language, far from being a materially innocuous tool, has the capacity to cause harm and should, as such, be subject to legal controls comparable to those that govern acts of physical violence.

For these and similar reasons Haroun has been criticized for naiveté and for excessive simplification of complex political issues. As Srinivas Aravamudan has argued, it "becomes a banal didactic fiction that demonstrates … everything that is wrong with liberal assumptions about literature" (327). It assumes that "pluralist individualism (as large a variety of opinions as possible will be best for all concerned)" (328) is preferable in all circumstances regardless of context, and regardless of the fact that "very different kinds of multicultural considerations have to be weighed and balanced in a socially responsible manner" (325). It also assumes that speech does not have the capacity to cause direct harm, and so fails to recognize that "[m]ost speech is attempting to act upon the world in some fashion and … therefore relates to its background in a pragmatic and materially effective way" (324).

Some commentators have attempted to defend Rushdie's tale against criticisms such as these by suggesting that Rushdie is not, after all, writing a polemical work, and that it should not be read as a serious piece of political thought. "Haroun is not a tract," James Fenton observes; "ideas are played with, but not forced into too tidy an order." "This is a fable without a moral," notes Rushdie himself: "It uses all the techniques in a fable without trying to operate a homily at the end" (Tushingham 5). In both these arguments the implication is that Haroun is exempt from rigorous critique because it is (as Rushdie's narrator suggests ironically of Shame ) "only … a sort of modern fairy tale, so … nobody need get upset, or take anything … too seriously" (70). The narrator of Shame, however, clearly means this statement to be disingenuous and for the reader to understand that fairy tale status (pace Grass) does not disqualify a story from being political. The same must also be true of Haroun. The ideas may not be arranged in too tidy an order, and there may be no clear "homily" at the end, but in many respects Haroun remains a tract in favor of freedom of speech and the free exchange of ideas. Rushdie himself acknowledges this in a conversation held with David Tushingham: "[t]here is obviously a kind of view," he notes, "that the values of language are superior to those of silence. So in so far as there is an author's message, it's there" (5). Unfortunately, this is precisely the message that critics of Haroun are objecting to. Rushdie, according to commentators like Aravamudan, has exchanged a blinkered and unthinking religious fundamentalism for an equally blinkered, equally unthinking form of "first amendment fundamentalism" (324, 328).

It is perhaps fair to note that Aravamudan does not extend his criticisms of Haroun to the fiction produced by Rushdie preceding the fatwa. "When [his] novelistic skill is applied to the political shenanigans of an Indira Gandhi, a Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, or a Zia-ul-Haq," he argues, "Rushdie's novels achieve the status of responsible and context-specific political satire mediated through magic realism" (327). It is only in Haroun that Rushdie seems to advocate the blanket application of abstract principles and, in so doing, fails to recognize the importance of deploying "flexible and differential pragmatics" (327) in sensitive multicultural situations. The implication of this is that Rushdie, composing Haroun under the stress and strain of an exceptional situation, abandoned his customary political sensitivity to produce a work that (for reasons that are understandable and perhaps forgivable) is little more than a shout of anger and frustration, and should not be regarded as representative of his thinking.

Aravamudan's critique of Haroun provides a counterbalance to the growing number of essays on the novella that celebrate its vision of free speech without recognizing its tendency to simplify these issues for the sake of utopian allegory or for the sake of the children's book market, at which it is, in part, aimed. However, while there is a strain of untheorized bitterness that blunts the edge of Haroun 's satire and makes some of its ideological postures look hollow, there is also more to the text's political allegory than Aravamudan gives it credit for. The battle waged by the Guppees against Khattam Shud is, after all, not just a battle for the freedom to say what you want when you want—it is also a battle fought over competing ideas of nationhood. The ocean of stories is not just a vision of "free narratives" floating vacuously in a world of speech without consequences, it is also an allegory of a utopian national culture that allows its members to be who they are without fear of persecution. To assess the ideological position expressed in Haroun more fully, therefore, we should not limit our discussion of the significance of storytelling to its implications for free speech: we should also consider the use of storytelling in Haroun in relation to issues of national and cultural identity. In order to do this, I should like, in the following section, to begin by exploring the cultural significance of storytelling traditions and narrative genres that Rushdie is drawing upon. The discussion will then broaden to show how Rushdie's idiosyncratic use of narrative tradition reflects and reinforces an argument that is being made about national identity in other dimensions of the text.

A Sea of Stories

Haroun and the Sea of Stories can be described as a short literary fantasy that combines traditional elements of fairy tale with the author's own creative and surreal imaginings. It operates as a children's quest narrative that features a young boy traveling to distant lands in search of a happy ending and as a potent political allegory that confronts pertinent contemporary issues, ranging from the restrictions on freedom of speech imposed by fundamentalist regimes to the pollution of the environment by irresponsible multinational corporations. As such it can be located in the subgenre, suggested by Jean-Pierre Durix, of "the children's story which only adults can really understand" (343), a tradition that incorporates Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726) and Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland (1865).

The influence of both these predecessors is evident in the style and the structure of Haroun and the Sea of Stories. All three narratives use fantastical and nonsensical scenarios to conceal (or reveal) a satirical intention, and all three are organized around the adventures of a central hero who begins the tale in a comfortable domestic environment, travels out of that environment to visit a fantasy world full of peculiarities and marvels—though strangely parallel to his or her own world—and then returns home to find that his or her understanding of the home world has been clarified.5

Despite the similarities between Haroun and texts such as Gulliver's Travels and Alice in Wonderland, however, Carroll's and Swift's tales, unlike Rushdie's, both derive from a predominantly English storytelling tradition. Alice in Wonderland was heavily influenced by previous Victorian "juvenile" literature such as Catherine Sinclair's Holiday House and Frederick Marryat's Masterman Ready, and also reveals a debt to the fantastical, nonsensical situations portrayed in popular British fairy tales and nursery rhymes.6 Swift's novel, similarly, is influenced by popular British oral or chapbook fairy tales such as The History of Tom Thumbe and The History of Jack and the Giants.7 Rushdie's fantasy, by contrast, demonstrates a resistance to the tradition's exclusive reliance on European narrative forms and European modes of perception by taking this tradition, saturated in British folklore and fairy tale, and merging it with an equivalent tradition in Indian storytelling that derives from Indic, Persian, or Arabic oral and literary sources. In addition to a host of character types and scenarios reminiscent of Western fairy tales, for instance, Rushdie gives us plot motifs and expressions from The Arabian Nights, Bhatta Somadeva's eleventh-century Ocean of Streams of Story (Katha Sarit Sagara), and, as we have seen, Attar's The Conference of the Birds.

There are, of course, elements in Alice in Wonderland and Gulliver's Travels that also derive from texts such as these. The Arabian Nights first became popular in Britain in the early eighteenth century, and, since Swift, as Peter Caracciolo notes, was among its first English readers, it is probable that oddities recalling "the wonderful East" in Gulliver's Travels, such as the floating island populated by transcendentalist astronomers, owe something to The Nights (2). The figure of the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, similarly, with his hookah and his "languid, sleepy" voice, draws upon stereotypes of the drug-addled oriental that narrative collections like The Nights have been associated with since their introduction into Europe by Antoin Galland. These orientalist elements, however, do not represent attempts to incorporate the non-European narrative into the substance and body of the story; neither do they represent attempts to convey the spirit of Arabic or Sanskrit storytelling to a new readership. On the contrary, they isolate fantastic or absurd features of the non-European narrative tradition to emphasize their strangeness, and to play upon European ideas of the foreign and exotic. Rushdie, by contrast (although this is a contentious point),8 aims to transform the genre by placing both narrative traditions on an equal footing, by showing how the two are interdependent and intertwined.

Rushdie's attempt to demonstrate the compatibility of tales from different cultures is most apparent in the episode in which Haroun takes a drink from the story sea. Haroun is miserable, having failed to wish hard enough for the return of his father's storytelling abilities, so Iff, the Water Genie, extracts a story from the water to cheer him up. Haroun drinks the story water and finds himself transported to a virtual landscape in which the story is being played out before him. First he has to dispatch several monsters, which he does with considerable ease; then he finds himself at a white stone tower:

At the top of the tower was (what else but) a single window, out of which there gazed (who else but) a captive princess. What Haroun was experiencing, though he didn't know it, was Princess Rescue Story Number S/1001/ZHT/420/41(-r)xi; and because the princess in this particular story had recently had a haircut and therefore had no long tresses to let down (unlike the heroine of Princess Rescue Story G/1001/RIM/777/M(w)i, better known as "Rapunzel"), Haroun as the hero was required to climb up the outside of the tower by clinging to the cracks between the stones with his bare hands and feet.


Rushdie is clearly being playful here. This passage creates a comic effect by drawing attention to the formulaic conventions of fairy tale and then confounding those conventions by introducing the extravagant device of a princess with a haircut. Despite this frivolous approach, however, Rushdie's parodic fairy tale notation suggests a serious point. The first notation, S/1001/ZHT/420/41(r)xi, calls to mind The Arabian Nights. The number 1001 evokes the thousand and one nights, and the letters ZHT (possibly) signify Scheherazade. The second notation, G/1001/RIM/777/M(w)i, also suggests the presence of The Arabian Nights (1001) but then alludes to the Brothers Grimm, the capital letters spelling GRIMM unambiguously, the lowercase w standing for Wilhelm. Both are variants, as Rushdie notes, of the "princess rescue story" that has become popularized as "Rapunzel."

This playful notation alerts the reader to the fact that the tale "Rapunzel" is not exclusive to the Grimms' collection, and that different variants of the tale, such as the mysterious S/1001, are also floating around in the veins of the story sea. The variant of "Rapunzel" that is now most popular is undoubtedly that which was collected by Grimm in 1812, but—as Rushdie reminds the reader cryptically—this is not the only version, nor indeed is it the first. Grimm took the tale from a story by Friedrich Schultz, who had in turn borrowed it from a French tale, "Persinette," by Mlle. Charlotte-Rose de la Force (published anonymously in Contes des Contes in 1692) (Zipes 729). It is unclear where de la Force took it from, although there is an Italian variant in Basile's Pentamerone, and it is probable that Basile's version, through various complex paths, is related to early Indian versions of the tale.9 Just as Rushdie implies in his parody, therefore, there are Indian and Middle Eastern precedents for a tale that is now predominantly thought of as European. The implication of this is that the tales of different cultures are not separated from one another by rigid cultural divides and "walls of force" but may share a number of significant features.

Perhaps this is giving too much weight to what is, arguably, little more than a passing joke on Rushdie's part. S/1001/ZHT/420/41(r)xi and G/1001/RIM/777/M(w)i are, perhaps, only jests at the expense of folklore indexers such as Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson that were not meant to be subjected to rigorous analysis. However, there are other ways that Haroun suggests to the reader that narratives evolve through a process of cultural exchange and fruitful intermingling, and are not (as the Brothers Grimm and later the Nazis were eager to suggest) indications of the purity of the national voice. This idea is presented to the reader pictorially in the image of the story sea that Haroun examines only a page before he drinks the princess rescue stories. The story waters, as Haroun observes, are "made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different colour, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity." As Iff explains:

Different parts of the Ocean contained different sorts of stories, and as all the stories that had ever been told and many that were still in the process of being invented could be found here, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was in fact the biggest library in the universe. And because the stories were held there in fluid form they retained the ability to change, to become new versions of themselves, to join up with other stories and so become yet other stories; so that unlike a library of books, the Ocean of Streams of Story was much more than a storeroom of yarns. It was not dead but alive.


It is this livingness, for Rushdie, that characterizes storytelling. Stories may seem to be "fixed" or "stable" if they are fixed artificially—by a canon of "official" narratives, or by direct censorship. The most cursory investigation of a story's genealogy, however, will reveal that the borders and boundaries we have erected around the stories of different peoples and nations are permeable, and that a serious assessment of a narrative's ancestry must include a recognition of the process and performance of cultural interaction. It is in this respect that the story sea as an image of Rushdie's hybrid sources comes to reflect one of the dominant arguments presented in the plot of Haroun —that the establishment of strict and impermeable boundaries between different cultures gives a false impression of the "purity" of each culture and prevents cultural groups from discovering that their respective social narratives provide as much of a basis for dialogue and communication as they do for segregation and separation. As a testament to this, the troubles that Haroun encounters on the moon of Kahani are largely the result of the separation of the moon into two halves. There is a light side populated by the talkative Guppees (derived from gup, gossip in Hindustani) on which the sun always shines, and a dark side populated by the silent Chupwalas (quiet fellows in Hindustani) that is in perpetual darkness. The division between the two sides is maintained by a wall of force erected by the Guppees to keep the Chupwalas out, and it is this wall that is responsible for the tensions between the two communities. Its name, "Chattergy's Wall," after the king of the Guppees, recalls the Roman emperor Hadrian's barrier against the Picts and the Scots, but it also invokes the Berlin wall separating communist East Germany and democratic West Germany which had come down the year before Rushdie published Haroun. Its symbolic function is the same as that of the wall constructed by the king in Edward Bond's play Lear (1972): it is meant to ensure the safety of the populace, but it ends up being a cage, a trap, which causes hatred, suffering, and brutality.

The Guppees, in Rushdie's tale, seem to have justice on their side, since they are defending their moon Kahani against the tyranny of Khattam Shud. As the tale progresses, however, it becomes increasingly apparent that the Guppees are as much responsible for Khattam Shud's reign as the Chupwalas, because it is their machinery that has created the division between the two cultures. They developed techniques with which to bring the moon's rotation under control, separating day from night and Chupwala from Guppee, and it is this separation that has allowed Khattam Shud's fanatical opposition to the Guppees to flourish. The success of Haroun's quest, therefore, depends on his being able to undo this binary opposition, which he does in the end by causing the moon to turn "so that it is no longer half in light, half in darkness" (170). Light shines down on Chup for the first time, causing all Khattam Shud's shadow battalions to melt away to nothing.

Once the binary is undone, the people of Gup and Chup devise a peace settlement that permits "a dialogue" (193) between the two groups. "Night and Day, Speech and Silence," according to this peace, "would no longer be separated into Zones by Twilight strips and Walls of Force" (191). This radical transformation in the way that the two cultures interact is prelude to a total reassessment of their understanding of one another. Each realizes that the other is not as bad, or as different, as they first thought—and both realize that the distinctive differences between the two cultures can provide opportunities for productive exchange rather than destructive enmity. This is something that the perceptive young Haroun has realized several chapters previously while watching Mudra, the shadow warrior from the "enemy" city of Chup, do his martial dance. At first he thinks:

How many opposites are at war in this battle between Gup and Chup! Gup is bright and Chup is dark. Gup is warm and Chup is freezing cold. Gup is all chattering and noise, whereas Chup is silent as a shadow. Guppees love the Ocean, Chupwalas try to poison it. Guppees love Stories, and Speech; Chupwalas, it seems, hate these things just as strongly….


And yet, he recognizes,

it's not as simple as that … because the dance of the Shadow Warrior showed him that silence had its own grace and beauty (just as speech could be graceless and ugly); and that Action could be as noble as Words; and that creatures of darkness could be as lovely as the children of light. "If Guppees and Chupwalas didn't hate each other so," he thought, "they might actually find each other pretty interesting. Opposites attract, as they say."


In a tale that is largely about oppositions—between fantasy and reality, between child and adult, between good and bad—Rushdie is being careful to suggest that there can be "dialogue" and "crossover" between categories.

On several levels, therefore, Rushdie has created in Haroun a complex allegory that emphasizes the importance of exchange between different cultural groupings. At the level of theme, he has shown how Guppees and Chupwalas are able to create a better society when rigorous separation is not enforced; at the level of symbolism, he has given us the potent image of the story sea that is only healthy when stories from diverse places are permitted to intermingle freely; finally, and perhaps most innovatively, he has created a story sea in his own text by drawing eclectically from diverse narrative traditions (Arabic, Persian, Indian, and European) and allowing those traditions to cross-pollinate one another. The allegory of Haroun, in this sense, is one that works, like traditional fabular allegories, by creating situations in the plot that "speak otherwise" about social, cultural, and political events; but it is also possible to argue that Rushdie has extended the reach of the traditional fable by making intertextuality serve an additional allegorical function.10 Not only is the story of Haroun about the dangers of ethnocentrism and its terrible impact on a fantastical other world, but the eclecticism of Haroun as a piece of writing also operates as material evidence of the benefits (in terms of lively and dynamic storytelling) that can be accrued from a willingness to traverse freely across the boundaries of diverse cultural traditions. The real tragedy of Khattam Shud, in this respect, must be that he is not only confounded by the opponents he comes up against within the tale—Haroun and the representatives of the story sea—he is also confounded by the very materiality of the story within which he finds himself. He is thus, we might say, completely finished before he is even begun.

The Disseminated Nation

In Rushdie's vision of a plethora of "small" stories, all set in opposition to the "grand mythology" promoted by Khattam Shud, there is an echo of Lyotard's famous distinction between petits récits and metanarratives. Khattam Shud's is the totalized account of experience that must suppress difference to maintain the illusion of its own totality; the story sea is a riot of diverse narratives that resist the drive toward assimilation and incorporation, and in so doing responds to a Lyotardian call to be "witness to the unpresentable" and to "wage war on totality" (82). Whereas Lyotard's vision of competing narratives remains at the level of metaphysical generality, however, Rushdie's allegorical revisitation of Lyotard's attack on the Platonic tradition has a more specific focus. His aim is not to reimagine a form(lessness) for truth in the abstract, although this might well be one of the implications of his allegory; his aim is to reimagine a form(lessness) of social and communal interaction. Or, more specifically, his aim is to imagine a form for the nation, if nation is understood not as a unified and holistic entity defined by the exclusion of "others" but as a fluid, provisional entity defined by its capacity to incorporate difference and variation. In this respect, Rushdie's Ocean of Story can be described with more accuracy as an attempt to give shape to the Lyotardian ideal as it is appropriated by Homi Bhabha in service of a description of the disseminated nation—a nation that is

a form of living that is more complex than "community" more symbolic than "society" more connotative than "country" less patriotic than patrie … less homogenous than hegemony; less centred than the citizen; more collective than the "subject" more psychic than civility; more hybrid in the articulation of cultural differences and identifications than can be represented in any hierarchical or binary structuring of social antagonism.


The story sea, according to this interpretation, is not just a metaphor for free speech and free narratives; it also offers a model for an ideal concept of nationhood that permits unlimited interaction and exchange between cultural interests.

In the light of this interpretation we can reread the conflict between the Guppees and Khattam Shud not as the battle between absolute free speech and censorship but as the collision between conceptions of nationhood identified by Bhabha as the "pedagogical" (which sees "the people as an a priori historical presence") and the "performative" (which sees the people as constructed—and continuously reconstructed—in the "enunciatory present" [147]). Khattam Shud represents the pedagogical (fundamentalist) ideal of a nation that exists as an essentialized entity independent of any actual manifestations of national life and that defines itself by its opposition to and difference from "extrinsic other nations" (148). The story sea, by contrast, represents the idea of a nation that is redefined in each moment of its existence and is able to incorporate new strands into the national narrative as they become part of the ongoing performance of national life. Whereas Khattam Shud demands a nation that can be homogenized according to some preestablished blueprint, in other words, the supporters of the story sea celebrate a "liminal" idea of nation that will never be complete or incomplete, neither resolving nor eliminating cultural difference but recognizing it as an insurmountable and dynamic aspect of community. It is this "liminal figure of the nation-space" that presents the supreme threat to Khattam Shud because, as Bhabha puts it, it ensures "that no political ideologies [can] claim transcendent or metaphysical authority for themselves" (148).

On this basis it is now possible to suggest that Rushdie's call for freedom of narration in Haroun cannot be reduced so easily to a facile, liberal plea for freedom of speech. The demand for free interaction of stories in the story sea is linked to the demand for the freedom of individuals, groups, minorities, to be a part of the nation with which they are affiliated. It is also a reinforcement of the rights of individuals, groups, minorities not to be excluded from a nation simply because they do not conform to a pedagogical nationalist ideal. Haroun, in this capacity, is not only a vindictive cry against Khomeini and a pedantic, ill-theorized insistence on the right to say what we want when we want, it also incorporates a more radical response to Khomeini in its challenge to the nationalist and fundamentalist principles on which Khomeini's authority is based, and on the strength of which the fatwa against Rushdie's life was issued. While Srinivas Aravamudan is undoubtedly correct to critique Haroun for those instances in which it stereotypes Khomeini and Islam "through the lens of James Bond" (326), and for its occasionally simplistic assessment of the problem of free speech, a fair appraisal of Rushdie's ideological position in Haroun should also take into account the radical revisioning of traditional ideas of nationhood that the story sea connotes.

Of course, as both Rushdie and Bhabha are aware, it is still possible to misread their revisioning of nationhood as a liberal dream of a multicultural utopia. If "cultural difference" is understood as "the free play of polarities and pluralities in the homogenous empty time of the national community" (162), Bhabha has argued, then multiculturalism becomes little more than an argument for a cultural relativism in which all are equal because all are the same, and all are included because no one is different. In arguing for "perplexity" in the living and writing of the nation, however, Bhabha is insisting on a more antagonistic vision of cultural difference in which social contradictions and antagonisms are "negotiated" without being "sublated" (162). "The difference between disjunctive sites and representations of social life," he argues, "have to be articulated without surmounting the incommensurable meanings and judgements that are produced within the process of transcultural negotiation" (162). Minority discourse, therefore, must not be seen as discourse to be incorporated into the national discourse but as a form of intervention that repeatedly subverts and transforms the national narrative without ever offering the promise that there will be a point at which the national narrative accumulates into an organic unity. Different forms of cultural knowledge and practice, in other words, should not be seen as adding up the idea of nation so that minorities and margins are subsumed in the discourse of the "many as one" but should be seen as adding to (interrupting and perplexing) the idea of nation, which remains an incomplete and uncompletable entity.

If we reread Rushdie's vision of storytelling in Haroun and the Sea of Stories along these lines, as an attempt to imagine a form of narration that accommodates the idea of supplementary subversion, then we have the model of a cultural ideal very unlike the liberal dream of multicultural homogeneity that Aravamudan accuses Rushdie of constructing. In this vision, each new narrative, or each fresh formulation of an old narrative, is not a simple addition to the body of narratives that already exists; it antagonizes it or (as Butt the Hoopoe might put it) "shakes it up a little, va-voom!" (79). That there are a thousand and one different tales in the story sea, moreover, does not imply that there is a finite number of narratives that the nation can add up to. For Rushdie, as for Jorge Luis Borges, the number a thousand and one is a magical number that suggests infinite complexity even as it suggests limitation.11 A thousand and one nights does not mean a thousand nights plus one night. It means a thousand nights and then one more night, and then one more night, and then one more night ad infinitum, where each night added will transform all the nights that have gone before and all the nights to come. The number 1001 in Rushdie's fiction thus comes to represent what Bhabha has called "the insurmountable extremes of storytelling [where] we encounter the question of cultural difference as the perplexity of living and writing the nation" (161).

Utopian Endings

In his reconception of society as a complex and multiform body of competing discourses Rushdie has moved a fair distance from the vision of society promoted by Farid ud-Din Attar in The Conference ofthe Birds. Attar's vision, in tune with Sufi philosophy, is based on the ideal and transcendental unity of its members. This is suggested toward the end of his narrative by Attar's use of an ingenious (and somewhat Rushdiesque) pun: 30 birds reach the mountain of Kaf expecting to find their king, the Simurg, awaiting them, but when they alight they realize that they themselves, having undergone their quest for enlightenment, are their own collective king—Simurg, in Persian, also meaning thirty birds (si: thirty, morgh: birds).12 The trajectory of Rushdie's heroes and heroines is in many respects antithetical to Attar's. When the hoopoe and his cohorts reach their goal, they discover a story sea that does not embody a principle of the many as one but on the contrary represents resistance to totality (whether it be the totality of a preexisting essential unity or a post factum totality achieved by gradual accumulation). While Attar and Rushdie have the potent symbol of the hoopoe in common, therefore, it is apparent that their hoopoes signify very different traditions of thinking, one that aims at incorporation, the other at dissemination. Rushdie's hoopoe is a postmodern bird whose quest leads toward a celebration of diversity, and who has, appropriately, a mechanical, computerized brain; Attar's hoopoe is a spiritual entity whose quest leads in the opposite direction toward the absolute eradication of difference. At the same time that we can identify these dissimilarities in Rushdie and Attar's systems of thought, however, it remains possible to detect continuities across the centuries in the motivation behind their fiction. Though they have imagined very different forms of ideal community, they have both used their "elsewhere" as a means of responding to their persecutors. Both have attempted to imagine models of communal interrelation that do not result in the marginalization or exclusion of their own dissenting voices, and both, finally, have sought solace as well as empowerment in imaginary utopias.


1. Attar is comparing himself to another persecuted poet, Nasir-e-Khosrow, who, "in order that he might not look on the accursed faces" of his oppressors (Browne 509), was forced to spend his remaining days, like a lost jewel, in the remote province of Badakhstan.

2. There are variations on the English spelling of Simurg. Here I have used the spelling employed by Rushdie in Grimus (adopted because it is an anagram of his titular character).

3. The translations of the names are provided by Rushdie in a glossary, 217-18.

4. Benjamin anticipates Roland Barthes (as he anticipates so much late twentieth-century theory) in his understanding of myth. Myth, in this context, means an official kind of story in which each element is marshaled toward some total explanation of experience. The story or fairy tale, by contrast, is a predominantly secular form of telling that tends to proliferate narratives rather than organize them under the umbrella of a single authoritarian metanarrative.

5. This is a subject that Rushdie explores in his British Film Institute pamphlet on The Wizard of Oz, another adult-children's tale that inspired Haroun.

6. See Reinstein.

7. See Smedman.

8. Whether or not Rushdie simply reinforces orientalist stereotypes in his reuse of texts such as The Nights is a matter of ongoing debate. See Baker for a full discussion.

9. Stith Thompson identifies an early Indian variation on the motif of the princess held captive in a tower (R41.2) in his Motif Index of Folk Literature (273). One such Indian version can be found early on in the Katha Sarit Sagara, a story collection that influenced The Arabian Nights. See Somadeva 15.

10. Other allegories operate at the level of form as well as at the level of text, of course, but in Rushdie's tale the correlations between the fictional representation of a story sea and the intertextual embodiment of a story sea are self-consciously foregrounded.

11. "[T]he word thousand is almost synonymous with infinite," Borges writes:

To say a thousand and one nights is to add one to infinity. Let us recall a curious English expression: instead of forever, they sometimes say forever and a day. A day has been added to forever. It is reminiscent of a line of Heine, written to a woman: "I will love you eternally and even after."


12. It is partly because of this pun that Rushdie makes The Conference of the Birds a key source for Grimus, a novel that is obsessed with word games and conundrums. The word grimus itself, in fact, is a word game built on a word game—grimus being an anagram of the pun simurg.

Works Cited

Aravamudan, Srinivas. "Fables of Censorship: Salman Rushdie, Satire, and Symbolic Violence." Western Humanities Review 49.4 (1995): 323-29.

Attar, Farid ud-Din. The Conference of the Birds (Manteq at-Tair). Trans. and ed. Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis. London: Penguin, 1984.

Baker, Stephen. The Fiction of Postmodernity. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2000.

Benjamin, Walter. "The Storyteller: Reflections on the Work of Nikolai Leskov." Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt. Trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken, 1968. 83-109.

Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.

Borges, Jorge Luis. Seven Nights. Trans. Eliot Weinberger. New York: New Directions, 1984.

Browne, Edward G. A Literary History of Persia from Firdawsí to Sa'di. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1928.

Caracciolo, Peter, ed. The Arabian Nights in English Literature: Studies in the Reception of The Thousand and One Nights into British Culture. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988.

Durix, Jean-Pierre. "‘The Gardener of Stories’: Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories." Reading Rushdie: Perspectives on the Fiction of Salman Rushdie. Ed. D. M. Fletcher. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1994. 343-51.

Fenton, James. "Keeping Up with Salman Rushdie." New York Review of Books 28 Mar. 1991: 32.

Fuentes, Carlos. "Worlds Apart." Modernism/Postmodernism. Ed. Peter Brooker. London: Longman, 1992. 244-46.

Grass, Günter, and Salman Rushdie. "Fictions Are Lies That Tell the Truth." The Listener (June 1985): 15-16.

Lyotard, Jean-François. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1984.

Pynchon, Thomas. Mason and Dixon. London: Vintage, 1998.

Reinstein, P. Gila. Alice in Context. New York: Garland, 1988.

Rushdie, Salman. Haroun and the Sea of Stories. London: Granta, 1991.

———. Shame. London: Picador, 1984.

———. The Wizard of Oz. London: British Film Institute, 1992.

Sidney, Philip. Defense of Poesie, Astrophil and Stella and Other Writings. Ed. Elizabeth Porges Watson. London: Dent, 1997.

Smedman, M. Sarah. "Like Me, Like Me Not: Gulliver's Travels as Children's Book." The Genres of Gulliver's Travels. Ed. Frederik N. Smith. Newark: U of Delaware P, 1990. 75-100.

Smolla, Rodney. Free Speech in an Open Society. New York: Knopf, 1992.

Somadeva, Bhatta. Katha Sarit Sagara or The Ocean of Streams of Story. Trans. C. H. Tawney. Vol. 1. Calcutta: J. W. Thomas, 1880.

Thompson, Stith. Motif Index of Folk Literature. 2nd ed. Vol. 5. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1957.

Tushingham, David. Interview. "Salman Rushdie in Conversation." Theatre Programme. Haroun and the Sea of Stories. Dir. Tim Supple. National Theatre (Cottesloe) 1 Oct. 1998: 3-5.

Zipes, Jack, ed. and trans. The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. New York: Bantam, 1992.

Alison Lurie (essay date 2003)

SOURCE: Lurie, Alison. "Haroun and the Sea of Stories." In Boys and Girls Forever: Children's Classics from Cinderella to Harry Potter, pp. 105-11. New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 2003.

[In the following essay, Lurie discusses the literary and cultural influences behind Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories.]

This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.

This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.

This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.

This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.

Mette Rudvin and Francesca Orlati (essay date 2006)

SOURCE: Rudvin, Mette, and Francesca Orlati.1 "Dual Readership and Hidden Subtexts in Children's Literature: The Case of Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories." In Children's Literature in Translation: Challenges and Strategies, edited by Jan Van Coillie and Walter P. Verschueren, pp. 157-84. Manchester, England: St. Jerome Publishing, 2006.

[In the following essay, Rudvin and Orlati discuss the difficulties translators have in communicating the weighted importance found in the political and cultural signifiers of Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories.]

Part One

Haroun and the Sea of Stories (hereafter Haroun ) was the first book Salman Rushdie published after he went into hiding2 subsequent to the fatwa pronounced against him in 1989 by the Ayatollah Khomeini in response to the publication of The Satanic Verses (1988).3 Readers will no doubt be familiar with the hostile reception of The Satanic Verses by Muslim militants and the impact it had on the book's author as well as its publishers and translators, several of whom were wounded and/or killed. The tragic effects of the reaction to The Satanic Verses led the publish- ing world to exercise caution in its promotion. This paper suggests that a general mood of caution prevailed in the managing of the political subtext of Haroun, the result of which was to market it primarily as a children's book rather than as a political commentary or attack on the fatwa episode. In fact, written and marketed as a book for children, it falls within that category described by Zohar Shavit (1986) as a text with an ‘ambivalent status’, that is a text written for (and/or received by) both adults and children at various textual levels of both production and reception.4 This book's multi-layered structure is richer than even most ‘ambivalent texts’: presented as an unthreatening ‘children's book’ (children and children's literature being at the margins of the establishment and of its polysystem), its politically potent subtext is easily overlooked. The metaphorical structuring of the attack on censorship coupled with the ambivalent status of the target reader (child/adult) allows the text to communicate with readers behind the censors' backs.

In a perceptive essay on the role of censorship in Haroun, Mina Chandran (2002) reminds us of Jorge Luis Borges's comment that "censorship is the mother of metaphor", a comment particularly pertinent to the text at issue not only because of its metaphorical structuring of the attack on censorship, but also because of the ambivalent status of its target reader child/adult. Although critics in academia and the more sophisticated literary journalists soon began to show an interest in and to appreciate and address its political subtext for an adult readership, the book initially received scant attention on the international publisher's market, despite the fame (and at that time notoriety) of its author. Indeed, that very lack of attention—especially given the circumstances and despite the excellent reviews by several leading critics—is indicative of the low prestige accorded to children's literature generally.

A Brief Description of the Book

Haroun is an exciting adventure story for children, a good yarn drawing on literary traditions spanning millennia in their intertextual allusions (from Persian literature and The Arabian Nights to The Wizard of Oz)5 and spanning vast geographical territories (from Iran to the Isis in Alice's Oxford), but at the same time following a time-honoured fairy tale structure. It tells the adventure of the boy-hero Haroun and his quest to save his storytelling father (Rashid/Rushdie) who has lost his ability to tell stories as the result of a psychological trauma: his mother's elopement with the storyhostile neighbour. At this primary level it has much in common with so many of the children's literature classics—it is the story of a child, told to a child (in Rushdie's case to his son) following the tradition of Lewis, Milne, Barry, Kipling and Kingsley in a re-evocation of a childhood realm of fantasy and idyll. It is a story about the healing nature and ability of childhood and children; and it is the story of a child's development and maturation subsequent to a crisis by traversing, psychologically and spatially, a series of obstacles and vicissitudes.

The plot of Haroun could be summarized as follows: In the sad city of Alifbay (the Hindi- Urdu word for ‘the alphabet’) lives our hero Haroun with his father Rashid, a famous storyteller. One day Haroun's mother Soraya runs off with their sourpuss neighbour Mr. Sengupta who doesn't approve of Rashid's prolific story-producing imagination. Haroun, angry with his father for not preventing the tragedy, asks "what's the use of stories that aren't true?!". From that moment, Rashid loses his gift for story telling and is struck dumb during his next public appearance at Dull Lake (clearly a mimetic symbol of the famously beautiful Dal Lake in Sringar, Kashmir). Lodged on a houseboat on the Lake, Haroun is joined by a series of mythical creatures (Iff the onion-like water Genie, Butt the Hoopoe, Mali the vegetable-like gardener, the Plentimaw fishes) and embarks on an adventure to save his father's storytelling abilities. Even more ambitiously he aims to save the Sea of Stories, the source of all narrative, from the dangerous scheming of Khattam Shud (meaning ‘finished’) and his men, whose malevolent project of destruction is to poison the sea of stories and destroy narrative, fiction and imagination for ever, imposing on the world a reign of terror and silence. Haroun and his father are aided in their quest by the mythical creatures of Gup City (Gupshup means ‘gossip’), a world of eternal sunlight and speech ruled by King Chattergy and his son Prince Bolo (which means ‘speak!’) and aided by General Kitab (meaning ‘book’). Gup City is thus the binary opposition to Khattam Shud's reign of darkness and silence. Although clearly following the structure of a children's text and in part an elaborative fairy tale, the repertoire of narrative strategies employed in Haroun evokes the magical realism of Midnight's Children, Rushdie's literary breakthrough. Eric Yu describes Haroun as basically "a fairytale for children, with a sci-fi touch" and notes that it includes the main components of the European wonder-tale, (using Jack Zipes' analytical framework): "the lack of concrete, real temporal and geographical references, the presence of supernatural powers and magical agents, relatively straightforward characterization in diametrical opposition of good versus evil, and above all, the happy ending" (Yu 2001).6 With its Kafkian undertones in the Land of Chup (‘silence’), the shadows and the shadow warrior, and with the sophisticated intertextuality, the book also appeals to adult readers as a story as well as a political critique.

The Ambivalent Target

As David Galef notes in ‘Crossing Over: Authors Who Write Both Children's and Adult's Fiction’, there are three broad categories of writers who write for both adults and children, and with Haroun Rushdie falls (albeit not squarely) into the first, most frequent category: writers of adult fiction who take up children's literature in mid-career, the impetus often being the birth and/or growth of their first child (Galef 1995:29). Not ‘squarely’ for several reasons: firstly it is to date Rushdie's only children's book and as such is not a career-turn; secondly because the subtext of this particular book seems to be aimed at a specific event in the writer's life. It holds therefore an even more peculiar status in the interface of adult-child readership than most so-called cross-over writing. In terms of language complexity it seems to address a juvenile audience, roughly the age of the son to whom the book was dedicated. Perhaps one could also relate the theme of crossover writing to Rushdie's meta-commentary on dialogue and the reintegration of binary opposites. As Teverson (2001) says, "In a tale that is largely about oppositions—between fantasy and reality, between child and adult, between good and bad—Rushdie is being careful to suggest that there can be dialogue and crossover between categories". The genre cross-over inherent in the text could also be read then as ‘dialogue’, as parallel texts functioning reciprocally, symbiotically generating meaning concomitantly rather than separately. By functioning synchronically each of the elements feeds into and enriches the other—adult literature is being enriched by children's literature and vice versa.

Language in Haroun: For Children or Adults?

Clearly, the language in Haroun is more indicative of a juvenile readership than an adult readership. Although Peter Hunt (1991) is quick to note that any definition or classification of children's literature is condemned from the outset to over-simplification and over-generalization, he provides us with a useful list of typical (perhaps stereotypical) characteristics of the language and style of children's literature which, for what concerns language and structure, could be summarized as follows: child-orientedness, simplicity, easy structure, a narrow range of grammatical and lexical patterns, simple lexis and register, standard set phrases, words from everyday life, repetitions, short texts and sentences (see Hunt 1991:62). Other traits considered typical of literature for children are that dialogue and incident are more prevalent than description, introspection or thought; the concrete is privileged over the abstract, the indeterminate or the ambiguous; the pace of the plot is fast rather than slow; and movement and action prevail over stasis, inaction or reflection. Haroun respects these norms both at the primary level of plot, and at the various sub-levels as a dream or as reflection employing a child-like range of lexis and grammatical structures, especially in the narrator's and the main protagonist's voice. In terms of the use of standard set phrases and idioms rather than experimental language, Haroun operates on both levels: the simplicity of register and lexis is belied by the originality and creativity in the plot and by a varied range of speech patterns employed by the members of the cast. Haroun fits quite comfortably into the children's book model described above in terms of language, except perhaps for the extreme and complex playfulness found in the punning and the ‘literalization of metaphor’ technique (much like the linguistic playfulness of Carroll). Conventions are freely used, both linguistic, literary and social conventions, but at the same time are playfully subverted and twisted. The language is fertile, vivid, alive, and new words appear as the characters make them up. The language is eternally playful, appealing to children directly and to adults for its multi-layering and subtexts manifested in that very playfulness, also through the pregnant allusions in names and place-names. The nonsensical element in language, content and the continuous allusion to ‘gup/nonsense’ also upholds the children's book ambience in the tradition of Alice and Lear. Further strengthening the ‘power of nonsense’ is the abundance of fantasy creatures such as the Plentimaw fishes, Goopy and Bagha, all speaking interactively in verse.

Typical children's literature motifs and traits at the level of content would be lack of historical detail or context (a timeless setting); lack of technical or specific details; clear-cut moral schematism, an optimistic rather than depressive outlook; certainty rather than probability; the prevalence of magic-fantasy-simplicity-adventure; themes such as childhood, friendship, familial relationships, maturation processes; avoidance of themes such as death, violence, sex, horror, disease, war, controversial social norms, alcohol and swear words. All of these apply to Haroun. Hunt also notes the common (erroneous) assumption that quality literature with high levels of complexity in form and content is incompatible with literature targeted for children, bringing us to the heart of the discussion of dual readerships: how can a text that follows the structures of children's language appeal to adults and vice versa? How can a ‘real’ children's text function as an effective and powerful critique of the adult world—on the adults' own premises and according to their parameters and literary norms? Like Carroll and Swift, Rushdie resorts to irony, allusion, metaphor, intertextuality and ‘hidden’ adult subtexts to create, successfully, this double target. At the level of content, then, Haroun successfully caters to a dual readership. It will be interesting then to investigate how this duality is expressed in the various target texts in Part Two below.

The Theme of Imagination

One of the key subtexts of the book, closely interwoven with its political message, is that of the writer's Imagination. It might be worth remembering that the book was written during a period when Rushdie was suffering from a writer's block: one could say that Rushdie's own source of stories had temporarily ‘dried up’ to be subsequently symbolically portrayed in Rashid's narrative block. Prefaced by a short poem, a re-writing of Coleridge's Kubla Khan, the book is dedicated to his son Zafar by way of a semianagram: the first letters of each line spell his son's name. Kubla Khan is the first of numerous unmistakeable Romantic allusions to the artist's Imagination and role in society, which is probed through the boyhero Haroun's question to his father: "Where do stories come from / Where did all these stories come from?" / "From the great Story Sea" / "What's the use of stories that aren't true?". It is at this level that the multi-layered onion structure is most cleverly interwoven through narrative structure and technique, plot and form. A meta-text on writing and storytelling itself, the book contains constant allusions to freedom and censorship both of the Word of the storyteller and of the Word in general as free speech. Free speech is symbolized by stories, a product of ‘streams of story’, which through history have become common property. The author's prerogative to draw on the repertoire of stories in world history (literally the "sea of stories" in Dal/Dull Lake) and re-write them at will is sacrosanct, a clear apologia for Rushdie's own role in the fatwa episode. The description of the sea of stories is one of the most evocative passages in the book (Rushdie 1990a:72):

a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents … all the stories that had ever been told and many that were still in the process of being invented … And because the stories were held there in fluid form, they retained the ability to change, to become new versions of themselves, to join up with other stories and to become yet other stories.

The recognition of the layers of eclectic traditions, the multi-voiced (Plentimaw fish) and multi-sourced text (streams of stories in the Sea of Stories from diverse literary traditions) and its importance to the health of society is emphasized by the need to keep this flow free and alive by tending it through careful maintenance. Maintenance is represented in Haroun in the person of Mali the Floating Gardener whose task it is to keep the Sea of Stories well-tended, and also by the combating of pollution by the enemy camp. It is also represented by way of another metaphor (Rushdie 1990a:83):

"Think of the Ocean as a head of hair," said Butt the Hoopoe, helpfully. "Imagine it's as full of Story Streams as a thick mane is full of soft, flowing strands. The longer and thicker a head of hair, the knottier and more tangled it gets. Floating Gardeners, you can say, are like the hairdressers of the Sea of Stories. Brush, clean, wash, condition. So now you know".

The gardening and regeneration metaphor could also be read as a metacommentary on the role of translation: texts are kept alive, tended, nurtured, cleaned and perpetuated through translation into new languages. Stories and speech flow through translation and transformation. Without speech and (translation) and the maintenance of language transformation, Haroun playfully and poignantly reminds the readers, communication breaks down and silence and terror reign.

Haroun as a Meta-Commentary on Stories and Language

Haroun is a book about stories and storytelling. The structure of Haroun recalls that of the story-within-a-story structure familiar from Boccaccio, Chaucer and The Arabian Nights and is reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland's interchanging dream-reality structure and geographic demarcation of a home-away-from-home. The constant references to the theme and structure of The Arabian Nights drive home the theme of storytelling as the bearing element of the text (indeed Rushdie himself has noted how he was inspired as a child by the Arabian Nights storytelling tradition). The name of the houseboat on Dull Lake in the bedroom where the story and the adventures begin in a pre-sleep dream-like sequence is "Arabian Nights Plus One". Numerous features of the boat link Haroun's surroundings to the tales, as Yu reports: "each of its windows [has] been cut out in the shape of a fabulous bird, fish or beat: the Roc of Sinbad the Sailor, the Whale That Swallowed Men, a Fire-Breathing Dragon, and so on" (1990a:51). The most poetic reference is surely in the above-mentioned description of the Ocean of Stories, however: "He looked into the water and saw that it was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different colour, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity" (ibid.:72). The many allusions to The Arabian Nights in Kashmir and Kahani ("story") go hand in hand with Haroun's innocent delight in the magical world of the fairy tale. But more importantly, the book is, firstly and essentially, a meta-commentary about storytelling and about the role of fiction and stories in society and on the role of fiction versus ‘fact’ (Romanticism versus Enlightenment Rationalism, one might say). Secondly, drawing on Romantic theory and the almost sacred inspired status of the poet, the text is, through the figure of Rashid/Rushdie, a commentary about the role of the poet, author and writer in society. Thirdly, it is a wonderfully colourful, vivid and imaginative metaphor on the source of Imagination and fiction reminiscent of a Borgesian interconnectedness of stories-words-pages. Fourthly—and in this aspect we find the text's political dimension—it is a commentary on the importance of the word (spoken or written), on communication versus silence (non-communication).

Haroun is a book about books, a book about reading and a book about language, cleverly superimposed on its political subtext about censorship and the freedom of speech. The text abounds, as mentioned, with intertextual references ranging from the children's classics of Alice, Peter Pan, The Golden Fleece, Wizard of Oz, and Dr. Seuss to the ‘adult’ fiction of Coleridge, Arabian Nights, Ocean of Stories, Aldous Huxley, the Beatles, Star Wars and Kafka. In this pervasive intertextuality we find a tribute to reading, not least because the author continuously quotes from the Anglo-Saxon children's literature canon. In this sense too the text is deeply polyfunctional and speaks to both reader as child, reader as adult and reader as adult-remembering-childhood. Haroun, especially in its pun-driven playfulness, is thus also a book about language. Note the importance given to names and to the naming process (place names, the Iff and Butt if-but conjunctions which help join Haroun's worlds, puns, Rashid/Rushdie, the shadow warrior Mudra's eloquent gesture language as replacement for speech, Khattam Shud). Names are constantly played with throughout the story, a rich source of humour both in plot and ambience. Iff celebrates the power of naming when he says "A person may choose what he cannot see … A person may even select a flying creature of his own invention … To give a thing a name … to rescue it from anonymity, to pluck it out of the Place of Namelessness …—that's a way of bringing the said thing into being" (Rushdie 1990a:63). With the stress on language, stories and names right from the first page the text is not only a meta-commentary on language as such, but also acknowledges the importance of the naming process, and through this process a playful social and political criticism. One of the ways in which names are drawn attention to is through the parallel structuring of characters through naming: for example the triad Butt the bus-driver, Snooty Buttoo the politician and Butt the Hoopoe. Together, through similarity and opposition, they create a cohesion in plot, theme and also in the development of Haroun's own maturation from the beginning to the end of story.

Haroun is thus a book, both as story and as comment, about the interaction of language-words-names-stories-narratives-speaking-reading-dreaming-thinking. It is in this insistence on the Word (in the sense of speech and writing rather than logos) and in the very cohesion of these elements, that we find its political subtext about the freedom of speech and the writer's freedom to write on any matter of his or her choosing, drawing on a global, timeless repertoire of previous narratives, life stories, legends and events. How they cohere in translation—and consequently how the subtext fares in translation—will be examined in the second part of this paper. First, however, we will look briefly at one of the main features of narrative technique employed in Haroun.

The ‘Literalization of Metaphor’

In children's literature a fantasy ambience is usually created by resorting to the non-credible through ‘magic’ means and thereby calling upon a rational rather than fantastic epistemology or logic, or else through dream-like sequences linking plot with the subconscious and psychological symbolism. In Haroun, however, it is created by the avoidance of the grammatical metaphor and comparative markers such as as or like, and avoiding the metonymic strategies of traditional literary symbolism. The literalization of the figurative draws the symbolic/figurative image into the narrative plot itself as a direct agent rather than an allusion to a third symbol-entity-emotion, bringing into the narrative strain non-real elements and thus creating a break between reality and fiction, typical of children's literature more generally.

Rushdie ‘literalizes’ the figurative into the literal, a technique used generously in Midnight's Children and Shame and it is a constant narrative underpinning in Haroun. In a convincing article entitled ‘Midnight's Children and the Allegory of History’, Neil Ten Kortenaar suggests that when re-reading mainstream Indian historiography and traditional positivist history books through Midnight's Children, "allegory makes literal what in the pretext is metaphorical" (1995:42). The literalization of metaphor, Kortenaar argues compellingly, is far more than a literary technique; it is more of a meta-commentary on the construction of historical narrative itself: "These examples do not represent scattered moments of playfulness; they illustrate the process that is at the very centre of the novel's conception" (ibid.:44). "That the literal is actually metaphorical", he continues, "does not mean that it is less true. Rushdie's point is not that there is no truth, but that there is no literal level of truth. The literal level is always already a metaphor. But the truth lies in metaphor" (ibid.:52)

At the narrative level the plot here embeds the political/social message into a frame that is itself a message. The repertoire (sea) of stories, the tradition of narrative, becomes literally a sea that is polluted by censorship, literally polluted by the poison that Khattam-Shud, the Ruler of the realm of Censorship and Silence, is pouring into it (darkness of mind literalized as the sun-less land of darkness, where darkness is created with ‘darkness torches’). Each story has its own poison and each story has its own antistory: "for every story there is an anti-story. I mean that every story—and so every Stream of Story—has a shadow-self, and if you pour this anti-story into the story, the two cancel each other out, and bingo! End of story" (Rushdie 1990a:160, italics in the original).

Social critique and allusion through metaphor and symbolism are naturally the hallmark of all literature, but through ‘literalization’ Rushdie takes this to a higher textual level, perhaps the most articulate witness to his playfulness of language, even at the darkest of hours, as this early period in exile must have been. Social criticism is often generated through literalization, as in the following example from the opening page (Rushdie 1990a:15; emphasis added):

There was once, in the country of Alifbay, a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad that it that it had forgotten its name. It stood by a mournful sea full of glumfish, which were so miserable to eat that they made people belch with melancholy even though the skies were blue.

In the north of the sad city stood factories in which (so I'm told) sadness was actually manufactured, packaged and sent all over the world, which never seemed to get enough of it. Black smoke poured out of the chimneys of the sadness factories and hung over the city like bad news.

In this example we see an interaction between the ‘literalization of metaphor’ and the ‘metaphor combined with punning/polysemy’ (sometimes self-coined polysemy, such as glumfish), a strategy Rushdie resorts to throughout the text. In the sequence "Haroun had already smelled unhappiness on the night air, and this sudden mist positively stank of sadness and gloom (ibid.:47) and the malodorous mist (ibid.:50; emphasis added), the theme of smell is picked up again from the introductory passage of the sad city (above) and reintroduced and reinforced as an omen of evil. Again, there is an interaction between the metaphorical link between bad smells and negative affect (sadness) and the plot of the text.

The metaphorical allusions to darkness/light and to shadows are perhaps the most potent symbol in the text and the most potent political critique, as well as being a central part of the plot itself: the moon Kahani and the sun having ceased their rotations, the world is divided into an eternally dark (evil, silent) half and an eternally light (freedom, speech) half. The following examples of literalization show how Rushdie succeeds in driving the point home by bringing dead metaphors to life:

When Haroun and his fellow travellers arrive on the Chupwalas' ship: "they climbed past a row of portholes, and Haroun let out an astonished gasp, because pouring out of the portholes came darkness-darkness glowing in the twilight the way light does from a window in the evening. The Chupwalas had invented artificial darkness, just as other people had artificial light! Inside the Dark Ship, Haroun guessed, there must be light-bulbs—except they'd have to be called ‘darkbulbs’ producing this strange darkness, so that the reversed eyes of the Chupwalas (which would be blinded by brightness) could see properly (although he, Haroun, would be unable to see anything at all). ‘Darkness you can switch on and off,’ Haroun marvelled. ‘What a notion, I swear’"

     (ibid.:150; emphasis added, except for the first
       mention of ‘darkness’ in darkness-darkness).

Closely related to the metaphorical darkness/light parallel is the silence/speech binary:

Zipped lips as a metaphor for silence can be found in: "But, unlike the Shadow Warrior, these Chupwalas were scrawny, snivelling, weaselly-looking types wearing black-hooded cloaks adorned with the special insignia of Cultmaster Khattam-Shud's personal guards, that is, the Sign of the Zipped Lips"

     (ibid.:148; emphasis added)

"As I told you, there are now two Khattam-Shuds. One of them, at this very moment, has Princess Batcheat captive in the Citadel of Chup, and is planning to sew up her lips on the Feast of Bezeban"

     (ibid.:135; emphasis added)

The ‘literalized’ subtext in Haroun (as the history-writing in Midnight's Children ) would be that of story-telling: bringing to life the dead meaning of words, exploring different word meanings, the joy of uttering and hearing the words themselves; the metaphorical essence of prose; bringing to life old tales and legends and, lastly, fantasy as a basic component of children's literature and children's willingness to suspend disbelief. The constant presence of figurative literalization indicates the importance it has for the author, both as a narrative technique and as an ideological and political meta-commentary. As an intrinsic element of the subtext it is worth exploring in terms of how this technique is transported into the target texts in order to evaluate how the translation process mutates the subtext. If literalization is so crucial to both narrative style and subtext, how does it fare in translation—idiomatic and language-specific by definition? An impossible enterprise, one might say, in that the whole technique is based on the effect of bringing to life dead metaphors, puns and idioms. It is indeed at this level that the translator meets perhaps his or her toughest challenge.

Part Two: Translation

In this section we will be looking at how the various forces at work in the socio-political, cultural and publishing environment of Haroun described above interact with its translation culture and the norms of the prevailing target polysystems. One could say that the various ‘forces’ of translation pull the text in different directions. These could be described as ‘centripetal’—drawing on standard conventions in the target culture and language and leading to a confirmation or recognition and perpetuation of those conventions. At the other end of the scale we find the less mainstream and less conservative ‘centrifugal’ forces that would allow more room for originality and creativity in the translated text. We have already seen how Haroun follows the conventions of the ‘children's book model’ in language and content, pulled by centripetal forces, and at the same time breaks those conventions by introducing a powerful subtext, in other words it is also drawn by centrifugal macrostructural forces in response to the particular conditions under which Haroun was written. We will try to show how the target texts differ slightly in their management of these translational forces and that the Norwegian text upholds both centripetal and centrifugal forces in much the same way as the source text, whilst the Italian differs in its translational policy, or rather lack of translational policies.

There are indeed a number of intriguing, not to say alarming, facts about the international publishing (and therefore translating) process of this book that makes it well worth studying. Although the focus of this section will primarily be textual, it might be worth devoting a few lines to the political context in which Rushdie's work was published and marketed. Most readers will probably still remember that after the fatwa was pronounced against Rushdie and he went into hiding, his publishers and translators were also targeted. In 1991 the Italian translator of The Satanic Verses, Ettore Capriolo, was beaten and stabbed and the Japanese translator, Hitoshi Igarashi, was stabbed to death in Tokyo. In 1993 the Norwegian publisher William Nygaard was shot four times in the back outside his house in Oslo—although he lived to tell the tale and to co—author a book about free speech with Rushdie in 1996. The same year the Turkish translator, Aziz Nesin, narrowly escaped an arson attack which killed 37 people and injured many more. Many protestors and bystanders in several countries were killed in the riots following the fatwa. Intriguing issues such as the role of translators and publishers in the literary polysystem, the translator's responsibility, the ‘sanctity’ of language and the need for freedom of speech are raised by this unique publishing history, but unfortunately such discussion falls beyond the scope of the present article. We will therefore limit the second part of this essay to an analysis of the two target texts in the light of the traits described above. Although difficult to evaluate empirically, we believe one could legitimately ask whether or not the translators' decisions were conditioned by the general climate around The Satanic Verses ; for fear of repercussions on their own safety, translators might have attempted to keep the register particularly child-like and suppress the text's political implications. Both translators in our case study had translated most or all of Rushdie's earlier books into their respective languages and might thus be even more at risk. An interesting comparative study would be to analyze the Arabic and Farsi translations of Haroun and see if any caution or even censorship has been exercized there. The issue of censorship as such is of course much less applicable in the translations into the major European languages, except perhaps for French which, like English, is a lingua franca in large parts of the Muslim world.

Literalization of Metaphor in Translation

The following examples serve to illustrate the two translators' strategies for translating literal metaphors (emphasis added).

Contrary to what we expected, the metaphorical concepts generally work in both target texts. This may be due to the fact that they share many of the same culture-based knowledge frameworks and also because many of the metaphors are quite ‘universal’, for example darkness = silence, and silence = censorship. We found that problems arose where the literalization technique was combined with puns, as in the example of the dark horse above. At worst the text becomes ‘flat’ if the translator is unable to retrieve the metaphor or pun or to coin a new one. Both Italian and Norwegian translators attempted to maintain this technique, although clearly it was not always possible. It would be interesting to examine how and whether children (and of which age group) accept metaphor at this level. Our experience is that younger children demand a certain type of ‘straightforward’ logic and are unwilling to accept such literal metaphor, unless it is qualified by explicit grammatical comparison markers such as as, like or if. Of course, figurative meaning through illustrations might be far more accessible to this age group (a classic example would be Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are and many of the classic fairy tales). Older children (ages 5-6 and older), however, thrive on puns, irony and allegory. Edward Lear's or Gianni Rodari's nonsense poetry are good examples.

Dual Readership

An interesting anomaly in the comparison between the two target texts is the difference in register adopted, a clear indication of the translators' stand on the status of the source text in the wider polysystem, and in terms of the position of the text as child/adult fiction. Capriolo, the Italian translator, has clearly aimed at a much ‘higher’ readership in terms of lexical complexity, whilst the Norwegian translator, Kari Risvik, has used a register suitable for children. Indeed, she says that for Rushdie it was important to use a language that his son Zafar could understand, although she herself did not "go out of my way to search for words that would be understood by children of the same age" (personal communication with MR; translated by MR). Risvik had a clear foreignizing tendency. She was not happy about the inclusion of the glossary at the end of the book—nor was the author, apparently (personal communication; MR). Nevertheless, the overall effect is one of syntactic and lexical clarity entirely suited for a juvenile readership according to the parameters discussed above. Judging by the numerous critical reviews in the national papers, the reception of the translated book on the national market in Norway was unmistakably associated with the issue of free speech and with Rushdie's own private-public life. It seems, however, to have been absorbed quite naturally by the literary polysystem and publishing industry in its dual function as an adult text and genre (political critique) and as a ‘straightforward’ children's book. One of the reasons that the book generated so much publicity in Norway was no doubt Rushdie's personal friendship with the publisher and the dramatic shooting episode. In a small country like Norway, in particular a country with such a strong democratic and humanitarian tradition, the personal connection between Rushdie at this particular time of his life and the Norwegian publishing house is understandably satisfying for reasons of national pride. In Italy the book generated far less interest on the general book market.

The following examples show how the two translators adopt very different strategies in rendering register, illustrating differences in the positioning of the child as a child/adult target reader (emphasis added).

The most interesting finding, in our opinion, concerns the register difference between the two target texts. This reflects, we believe, precisely the duality of the two potential target readerships and possibly the standing of the children's literature market in the respective polysystems (much higher in Norway than in Italy).

For Capriolo, we believe, who has translated Hemingway, Camus and MacLuhan as well as Midnight's Children and the Satanic Verses, the ‘adult’ status of Rushdie as a crossover writer is legitimized by the canonical status of the author's oeuvre and his unique authorship and publishing experience, and perhaps also by the translator's own status as the Italian ‘Rushdie translator’. The fact that the Italian translator leaves the passages from the original source text in English (as in the numerous short Oz-type verses), that he puts footnotes in the text or consistently has the child protagonist use the polite you-form Lei, seems to indicate that he treats the original as a high-status adult text, rather than as a ‘mere’ children's book. Ultimately, however, there is little evidence that the Italian translator takes a conscious stand in terms of which readership norms (child or adult) to follow, that is he employs disparate translational strategies and does not seem to have a concrete model or proto-type in mind or a clear definite translational project. It is hard to say, of course if this is simply the result of sloppy work, lack of awareness and familiarity with his subject, or some obscure translational policy he was following. Despite repeated attempts by Francesca Orlati to interview him, he refused to comment. Risvik, on the other hand, seems to have a very clear readership in mind, and the norms of Norwegian children's literature are upheld. She has considerable experience translating children's literature, for which she won at least one of her many prestigious translating awards. Undoubtedly the fact that—for various socio-cultural reasons—children's literature has a much higher standing in the Norwegian polysystem is an important factor here.

The original text can be considered a social space pulled in several directions by social, individual and cognitive forces: the unique publishing history of the text, the translators' perception of the author's status, the status of children's literature in the target culture and, finally, the textual constraints. Haroun is a social, cultural and political space embracing and generated by the author's private life (his son), his professional life as an author, his cultural hybridity as Western-Muslim, and related to that, his ideological and political worldview. Because of Haroun 's role in the post-fatwa period it was a potentially explosive text, one which was being spread to a world market through translations. Because of the form in which it was presented (children's book) and the translators' decision to uphold that duality in form and content, its potential force was mitigated and it was amicably received in many countries and in many languages.

Political Metaphor: Binary Opposites and Symbolic Parallelism

The use of a binary or triadic framework of signification (pairs, sequences and opposites) for character and plot structure is a leitmotif of the text both at the level of narrative technique and at the level of plot and theme. Specular opposites abound in a Cartesian, at times seemingly over-simplified, bipolar structure such as the light-speaking versus dark-silent cities of Gup and Chup. The translations of culture-specific names, place-names and concepts are particularly problematic in this text because they appear in neat, schematic binary oppositions, and the speech pattern of the characters often rests precisely on this duality. Character delineation through speech patterns is used humorously throughout the book, from Rashid's roundabout speech, to Snooty Buttoo's excessive and misguided formality, to prince Bolo's Renaissance eloquence. In the Norwegian text this does not really come across, but is compensated for in General Kitab's military English by a Captain Haddock-like idiom: ("Splintre meg!", "for søren!" (Rushdie 1990b:124-26).

The sourpuss neighbour Sengupta—tyrant Khattam-Shud (Khomeni) parallel sequence is very subtle and highly condemnatory in its implications. This sequence is constructed largely at the level of oral discourse strategies, physical appearance (especially head-shape, hair and facial hair), recurrent personality traits and themes (silence, darkness and the privileging of facts and rationality over Imagination and fantasy). Haroun is structured to perfection in the balancing of these parallel sequences, which depend also precisely on such textual features as names and naming parallels and cohesion in speech patterns: starting from the opening frame story introducing the theme of sadness-silence-lack of words in which Sengupta has a catalytic role, we have two ‘lack’ situations in Propp's terms: the lack of stories and the lack of Haroun's mother. The lack of stories becomes then the point of departure for Haroun's adventure through the classic fairy tale forest (here a sea) where he must confront a series of tasks with the aid of magical helpers. It is the structural element of the plot (silence and darkness) that addresses the larger political issues in a clever allusion to censorship (and a clever strategy for avoiding censorship) and authoritarian rule. The outcome of Haroun's mission to save the Ocean brings about the ultimate Proppian resolution found in the marriage of the hero and Princess—in this case the return of the hero's mother and the ‘(re-)marriage’ of the hero's parents. The resolution of the primary lack—the lack of stories and defeat of both Sengupta and Khattam-Shud—is situated at the ‘adult’ level and implies the defeat of censorship and tyranny in a very specific historical context. Political allusion and criticism, constructed by the various parallels within the story-adventure, mix with Haroun's personal story and create a maturation novel in the frame story itself. The structural construction of Haroun 's political critique does not present any particular challenge to the translators, it is the parallelisms created through speech-patterns and naming that are most problematic.

The Significance of the Butt-Character Sequence as Political Subtext

It could be argued that the very structure of parallelism in character depiction, physical appearances and speech patterns is a meta-commentary: one persona moving through the story/plot transforming itself on account of Haroun's psychological needs in the maturation process, the rescue-the-Sea plot and the storytelling issue. Textual cohesion thus enacts the political subtext. The characters are tied up in the narrative thread of various aspects of the same persona in one dream-like sequence, bringing the whole story together as a story that is being told to Haroun (rather than to the reader), the story-within-the-story. Haroun's psychological maturation process comes to fulfillment at the conclusion of the tale.

The clearest example of translation operating as a modifier of the political subtext is to be found in the Mr. Butt—Iff—Butt the Hoopoe—Sneaky Buttoo character sequence. The connection between the bus-driver Mr. Butt and Butt the Hoopoe is of course that they are both carriers, transporters, mediators between different (real and dream/magic) worlds in which their staccato language mirrors their constant movement, a symbolism that is strengthened by the presence of Iff the Water genie. The Hoopoe has often been used in various literary traditions, also the Persian one, as a message-carrier and guide. Buttoo is a reference to the former Pakistani Prime Minister, already parodied in Shame ). Yu is one of the few critics sensitive to the criticism of local-national Indo-Pakistani politics operating in Haroun, in particular the Kashmir conflict and the period of Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto's presidency.7 If we follow Yu's reading of the Kashmir issue as fundamental to the book, then it stands to reason that the Butt-Buttoo parallel is significant and has repercussions beyond the humorous. Also, maintaining the naming sequence and alliterative parallel in the translations would thus be important in order to maintain the novel's function as a Bildungsroman, as Haroun's personal coming-of-age narrative, as well as the more oblique political references (the Buttoo-Bhutto comparison is clearly intended, but not further probed). The Norwegian translator has privileged the But-Iff metaphor ("Om" and "Men" and the Hoopoe But "hærfuglen Men" in Norwegian and "Iff", "signor Butt" and "l'Upapa" in Italian), sacrificing the Buttoo (Bhutto) allusion (obviously only one could be chosen), whilst the Italian translator has chosen the opposite strategy. The oblique criticism of Bhutto through references to Buttoo's Mafia connections (the Boss, slick, movie-star smile, Super-Marvelloso, Incredibable, Fantastick) are sadly lost in both target texts.

Character sequence parallelism is created through similarities in speech patterns which are largely maintained in the translations, but in the Norwegian translation the speech patterns seem to have been maintained more successfully through puns at the lexical level, and at the syntactic and morphological levels. A telegraphic, staccato style with incomplete sentences (containing only key nouns and predicators, a great deal of metaphorical speech and rhyming, lexical parallelism, devoid of cohesive links and lexically repetitive) is a defining characteristic of Butt's speech. In the Italian translation, Mr. Butt the bus-driver's speech generally maintains the speech pattern, but because of the playfulness of his speech it is not always possible to reproduce puns, wordplays and rhymes:

"It was a figure of speech," Mr Butt replied. "But but but I will stand by it! A figure of speech is a shifty thing; it can be twisted or it can be straight. But Butt's a straight man, not a twister. What's your wish, my young mister?"


"Era un modo di dire" replicò il signor Butt. "ma ma ma lo rispetterò! Un modo di dire è una cosa equivoca; può essere storta e può essere diritta. Ma Butt è un uomo retto, non un imbroglione. Che cosa desideri?"


Mr. Butt's evasive speech (like gup nonsense generally and like Prince Bolo's conversation orders) is self-consciously and ironically ‘twisted’ but he clearly distinguishes between speech and moral stature, unlike Snooty Buttoo: "But Butt's a straight man, not a twister" (1990a:30). In the following example from the Norwegian TT, the telegraphic speech pattern has been maintained:

"Tunnel," Mr Butt announced. "At the far end, Valley of K. Hours to sunset, one. Time in tunnel, some minutes only. One view coming up. Like I said: no problem."


"Tunnel," opplyste Men. "I den andre enden, K-dalen. Timer til solnedgang, én. Tid i tunnelen, bare noen minutter. Utsikt skal bli. Som sagt: ingen sak."


Buttoo, however, although linked by way of appearance and name, is But and Butt's opposite in speech pattern and appearance (1990a:51):

‘Erudite Mr Rashid,’ Buttoo was saying, ‘you in your line of work will be interested in these. Here for your delectation and edification is the entire collection of tales known as The Ocean of the Streams of Story. If you ever run out of material you will find plenty here.’

His speech is florid, baroque, flowery and flattering, the register so high that it becomes parody, also of the late Prime Minister Bhutto; frequently he misunderstands and misuses formal-sounding vocabulary. Buttoo comes across as a kowtowing social climber. In this he is the exact opposite of the mild, humble, humorous and sincere But and Butt. The alliterative Butt-Buttoo-But-sequence is a clever way of ‘hiding’ the political critique and thus avoiding any potential censorship or political conflict. Generally, the Butt-But(-Buttoo) sequence works well at both readership levels and does not seem to pose much of a problem in translation. Still, the choice of translation strategies clearly privileges the textual traits (alliteration) over political allegory, and thus caters for the juvenile ‘half’ of the target readership, losing its more potent macro-structural function. The cohesion in speech pattern similarity in the characters (who share common discourse features) compensates for the break in the naming-chain. This illustrates, we believe, not only how a particular translation project reflects the prevailing ideology in the target country, manifested in publishing norms, but also how at the same time a balance between textual constraints and macro-structural constraints conditions translation decisions.

Names and Naming

The characters' names are significant throughout the book, and are an essential part of the political subtext as well as being an important motif in Haroun's maturation process, in which names symbolize identity, solidity, remembering (at the end of the book the anonymously named ‘alphabet’ town remembers its real name, Kahani, "story") and the fact that imagination and creativity are a fundamental part of each adolescent's growing sense of self and identity. Apart from Rashid(-Rushdie) himself and the Butt-Iff sequence which we have already discussed, the most crucial names are those of the characters in the Lands of Gup ("gossip") and Chup ("silence"), the bipolarity of which lies at the heart of the freedom of speech/oppression discussion. In the vociferous Gup camp we find Blabbermouth, King Chattergy, prince Bolo, Princess Batcheat, the Library Army of pages, each with a different fairy tale written on his tunic and divided into chapters and volumes as well as intertextual allusory names such as the Walrus, and the Egghead. Then there are General Kitab's ("book") secret battle-plans ("which, of course, he cheerfully revealed to anyone who cared to ask" 1990a:122). The ensuing battle is chaotic and the characters argue frequently, emphasizing the importance of dialogue and disagreement. In the Chupwala camp we find Bezeban ("tongueless") and Khattam-Shud ("finished"). Placenames also indicate speech/language, for example Haroun's own city of Alifbay ("the alphabet"), the valley of K, the City of G., the Mountain of M. named through letters of the alphabet, and the moon Kahani and the plain Bat-Mat-Karo ("don't speak!") surrounding Chup. The alliterative humorous function is as successful as the political function.

Of course, what works in English and in a combination of Hindi and English cannot always function in the target texts. Because Rushdie has used the root of the Hindi-Urdu words ‘bol’ and ‘bat’ (speak and speech) as well as the common name Butt-Bhutto-Batti the B-t and B-l alliteration works beautifully. The break with the Kh-/Ch root in the silence camps thus works particularly well. This cannot, of course, be transposed into other languages. In English too it is more immediate for a reader familiar with Hindi (as are many of the puns and humorous allusions in Midnight's Children ), and for this reason the book is furnished with a small glossary. In the target texts all the names that are based on English words have been translated in some fashion, and this also applies to the professions (Mali the Floating Gardener) and names of places (Sea of Stories) that are descriptive. King Chattergy is a combination of the English chatter and the common Bengali name Chatterjee. Here the Italian translator has kept the original whilst the Norwegian translator has made a brilliant compromise through the translation of chatter and the ubiquitous Hindi-Urdu suffix ji—which indicates respect—as well as maintaining the form of the original Chatterjee. Dull Lake, punning on Dal Lake, is translated descriptively in both target texts. The names of purely Hindi origin Bolo, Batcheat, Chupwala, Bezeban ("tongue/language-less"), Alifbay, Khattam-shud, Chupwala etc. are all maintained in the original and thus function solely at the aesthetic and in part allit- erative level (until the reader checks the reference in the glossary) for the target readership, as they do for a non-Hindi/Urdu speaking English readership. Names based on English words such as Blabbermouth have been translated, thus evoking the speech-theme but losing the aesthetic-alliteration function. It is also true that maintaining the names and their names of the groups—gupwalas and chupwalas—gives the characters a stronger sense of identity as protagonists in a ‘real’ story than a descriptive translation such as "the silent ones" or the "gossipy/chattering ones" would have given them.


Given that the source text was already ‘legitimized’ for its adult readership through the canonization of the author's oeuvre and his unique authorship experience, it seems that the Italian translator felt bound to adhere more closely to the social space of the source text. In other words, as an authoritative text Haroun allowed for less adaptive manipulation than a children's text normally requires (translators often tend to take more liberties in translating marginal, less authoritative and prestigious genres). This explains why in the Italian translation the register and language complexity have generally been maintained or even increased. Risvik, on the other hand, seems to have been less constrained by the author's reputation, or by other books that she herself had translated. She has aimed more boldly and unambiguously at a children's market. We suggest that in this the translators were also guided by the status and prestige of the children's literature genre in their respective polysystems.

We have also suggested that the larger macrostructural conditions in the political and publishing environment generated an atmosphere of caution that might have influenced translational decisions (or even the decision to publish the book at all), but in the two cases studied here they seem to have had no significant impact. Indeed the impression we received from the Norwegian translator was the contrary, that she was intent on translating the book at all costs and felt a strong solidarity and respect for the author precisely because of The Satanic Verses episode and the consequences for the author's personal life. In addition to her translation awards, Risvik won a prize for free speech in the wake of the Rushdie affair. In translating Haroun, she says, the publishing house did not pressure her to tone down the political overtones or censor the subtext; on the contrary, she had their full support, despite the international repercussions of The Satanic Verses and the attempted assassination of the publisher. She felt duty bound, she says, to translate faithfully despite daunting material risks.

In terms of centripetal/centrifugal forces ‘pulling’ the text in different directions, it could be said that the source text is highly centrifugal and innovative in its linguistic creativity and playfulness (puns, neologisms, literalization of metaphor, intertextuality). At the same time, it is centripetal and conservative, actively and ironically drawing upon normative orders of discourse and familiar genres and text-types (the Bildungsroman, the Arabian Nights, Chinese-box structure). We find here the familiar interplay and tension between varying degrees of homogeneity and heterogeneity. The translations, tending to be vaguely centripetal at the textual level, generally uphold this interplay, with the Italian translation remaining somewhat more ambiguous than the Norwegian translation. In terms of foreignizing and domesticating translation strategies we found a general tendency towards domestication in speech patterns: both translations use less marked structures, and Hindi or Indian-English words are removed. However, the translation of a dual audience source text can never be fully domesticating without risking the loss of its dual orientation. On the whole, we can conclude that the Norwegian translator went much further in domesticating the source text than the Italian translator, who makes a distinct effort at retaining the adult stylistic features of the source text.

We have attempted to show that the text functions fairly well at the level of literalization in both target languages. Thus the political subtext is maintained in the (in our view) main function of the literalization technique: social critique, and in particular the criticism of oppressive regimes for their suppression of free speech and imposition of silence over speech/language, which comes to the fore in the last chapter. There we discover that the tyrant Khattam-Shud is poisoning the Sea of Stories and plugging (quite literally) its Source to stem the flow of stories forever. His response to Haroun's question about why he hates stories so much when stories are so much fun is "The World, however, is not for Fun … The World is for Controlling … inside every Stream in the Ocean, there lies a world, a story-world, that I cannot Rule at all" (1990a:161), a brilliant analysis of the psychology of dictatorship. We have also attempted to show that the book's main ‘adult’ theme, namely the importance of Imagination, speech, creativity and story-telling, is generally upheld at the level of plot in both target texts, but it loses some of its force due, for example, to the lack of continuity in the naming sequence of the characters in the Gup and Chup; these almost all have names evoking speech, which are inevitably lost in transposing a text from one language to another. Intertextuality too loses some of its force in translation because the shared literary-cultural heritage of the children's literature canon in the source text is clearly not shared by the target readership of the translated texts (in particular Dr. Seuss, Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, which in themselves carry the theme of storytelling; many of the other literary allusions to Kafka, Star Wars, Bladerunner, The Arabian Nights, etc. are or have become pan-European). The Kubla Khan rewrite maintains the give-away Xanadu reference in the Norwegian preface, but in Italian it is maintained in English, the aim of which remains a mystery to us, unless it is to raise the register and therefore status of the text. In terms of character sequences and parallelism, the text loses some of its force, as it must inevitably do in transposing word formations based on the form-content link in English or Hindi into another language (especially Butt-Iff). We lose, then, some of the strength of the parallelism in translation, at least at the level of language if not at the level of content (appearance, plot). In terms of attempting to create an equivalent effect for the target readers, the text has posed a serious challenge to the translators in keeping the balance between the humorous function for both readerships at several different levels, not least the child-like language, the aesthetic-alliterative function and the political function.

Although the paper does not investigate this particular aspect, it might also be legitimate to ask which view of childhood is mirrored, affirmed and generated in Haroun, and how this is transported into the target texts, particularly non-Western target texts. One would then need to ask which (implied) child reader—historically and culturally situated—is being addressed and how he or she changes with each target text: Haroun follows the classical model of the Anglo-Saxon children's text (a model which follows the European fairy tale tradition), at least in structure. This would indicate a bourgeois-Western child readership or Westernized Asian readership. The non-Western literary traditions drawn upon are many, but the basic structure is that of the fairy tale-cum-adventure story. Given the fact that Rushdie was at the time of writing Haroun a naturalized British subject, that his literary, cultural and ideological environment was British, and that his own English-speaking childhood milieu in India was cosmpolitan and Westernized, it would have been odd if this had not been the case.


1. Francesca Orlati has analyzed the Italian translation and prepared the Power Point presentation for the conference at which this paper was originally presented. She has contributed significantly with comments and editing suggestions to the body of the text. Mette Rudvin's contribution has been the writing up of the text and the theoretical underpinning, as well as the analysis of the Norwegian translation.

2. One fact that has passed unnoticed by many critics but to which Yu (2001) draws attention is that the book was begun while Rushdie was still working on the Satanic Verses. Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990) holds a unique place in Salman Rushdie's oeuvre. Created initially for his young son Zafar and read, in an earlier form, to him as serialized bedtime stories, Haroun is the only piece of children's fiction Rushdie has ever published. Conceived while Rushdie was working on The Satanic Verses (1988) and completed shortly after the imposition of the fatwa by Ayatollah Khomeini, Haroun has been received in the shadow of the ‘Rushdie Affair’. Reviewers were quick to draw our attention to Haroun's allegorical dimension concerning Rushdie's predicaments as a writer prosecuted by Islamic fundamentalism.

If Haroun was indeed written before the fatwa episode, this significantly affects its reading as solely a cry for freedom of speech disconnected from Rushdie's personal and professional experiences. It also challenges the criticism levelled at it for being simply a private, simplistic attack on the Ayatollah and his like. Put in this light it could be still read as a call for freedom of speech and an attack against censorship (themes already present in the Satanic Verses and Midnight's Children) but a more generalized and less personal, targeted attack. Furthermore, it also shifts the focus of the book more towards the theme of imagination and narrative and the role of the storyteller and author.

3. It is interesting to note, however, that this was not the first libel suit issued against Rushdie: Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi filed a libel suit against him for Midnight's Children be- cause of the oblique criticism of her governance and a more direct reference to her son Sanjay Gandhi.

4. See especially Chapter 3, ‘The Ambivalent Status of Texts’, pp. 63-92.

5. In an interview with Teverson, Rushdie says that the inspiration for Haroun was drawn from his appreciation of the filmed version of The Wizard of Oz starring Judy Garland. See www.salon.com/06/features/interview2.html.

6. It might also be interesting to analyze Haroun structurally in a classic Proppian framework, not so much because so many of the components and functions of the Propp model are present but because as a meta-commentary on story telling the book is self-referential and constantly referring in a pleasant tongue-in-cheek manner to fairy tale characters and motifs.

7. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto became president of Pakistan in 1971. His party (the Pakistan People's Party) ruled until President Zia ul-Haq took power in a military coup in 1977. Bhutto was found guilty on numerous counts (including murder of opposition party members) and hanged in accordance with the newly promulgated Islamic penal code.


Chandran, M. (2002) ‘Fabulation as Narrative in Haroun and the Sea of Stories’, Jouvert: A Journal of Postcolonial Studies 7(1). http://social.chass.ncsu.edu/jouvert/v7is1/con71.htm.

Chaulia, Sreeram, (2002) ‘An Evening with Salman Rushdie’, Asia Times Online, April 6. http://student.maxwell.syr.edu/schaulia/Rushdie%20Article.htm.

Galef, D. (1995) ‘Crossing Over: Authors Who Write Both Children's and Adult's Fiction’, Children's Literature Association Quarterly 20(1): 29-35.

Hunt, P. (1991) Criticism, Theory, & Children's Literature, Oxford: Blackwell.

Kortenaar, Neil (1995) ‘Midnight's Children and the Allegory of History’, ARIEL 26: 41-62.

Rushdie, Salman (1981) Midnight's Children: A Novel, New York: Penguin.

———, (1983) Shame, New York: Penguin.

———, (1988) The Satanic Verses, New York: Penguin.

———, (1990a) Haroun and the Sea of Stories, New York: Penguin.

———, (1990b) Harun og Historienes Hav, trans. Kari Risvik, Oslo: Aschehoug.

———, (1990c) Harun e il Mar delle Storie, trans. Ettore Capriolo, Milano: Mondadori.

———, and W. Nygaard (1996) The Price of Free Speech, Oslo: Scandinavian Press.

Shavit, Zohar (1986) Poetics of Children's Literature, Athens & London: The University of Georgia Press.

Teverson, Andrew S. (2001) ‘Fairy Tale Politics: Free Speech and Multiculturalism in Haroun and the Sea of Stories’, Twentieth Century Literature. Available at: http://www.findarticles.com/cf_0/m0403/4_47/91653347/p1/article.jhtml.

Yu, Eric K. W. (undated/2001) ‘Salman Rushdie's Magical Journey through Kashmir: Haroun And the Sea of Stories, (Post-)coloniality, and the Fairy Tale’. Available at http://www.cc.nctu.edu.tw/˜ericyu/Notes/Haroun.htm. A slightly shorter version of this article appears in Rudolphus Teeuwen (ed) Crossings: Travel, Art, Literature, Politics, Taipei: Bookman, 2001, 277-96.



Aji, Aron R. "‘All Names Mean Something’: Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Legacy of Islam." Contemporary Literature 36, no. 1 (spring 1995): 103-29.

Analysis of the meaning of names in Haroun and the Sea of Stories.

Blishen, Edward. "A Pudding of Puns." New Statesman and Society 3, no. 120 (28 September 1990): 33.

Assesses the strengths and weaknesses of Haroun and the Sea of Stories.

Mukherjee, Meenakshi. "Politics and Children's Literature: A Reading of Haroun and the Sea of Stories." ARIEL 29, no. 1 (January 1998): 163-77.

Draws upon Indian writer Satyajit Ray's works for children for a contextual analysis of Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories.

New, W. H. "Last Page." Canadian Literature, no. 128 (spring 1991): 234.

Offers a critical reading of Haroun and the Sea of Stories.

Sen, Suchismita. "Memory, Language, and Society in Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories." Contemporary Literature 36, no. 4 (winter 1995): 654-75.

Explores the roles of memory and identity in Haroun and the Sea of Stories.

Additional coverage of Rushdie's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 65; Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction: Biography & Resources, Vol. 3; Bestsellers, Vol. 89:3; British Writers Supplement, Vol. 4; Concise Major 21st-Century Writers, Ed. 1; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 108, 111; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 33, 56, 108, 133; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 23, 31, 55, 100, 191; Contemporary Novelists, Eds. 4, 5, 6, 7; Contemporary Popular Writers, Ed. 1; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 194, 323, 326; DISCovering Authors: British Edition; DISCovering Authors: Canadian Edition; DISCovering Authors Modules: Most-studied Authors, Novelists, Popular Fiction and Genre Authors; DISCovering Authors 3.0; Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Ed. 3; Literary Movements for Students, Vol. 2; Literature and Its Times Supplement, Ed. 1; Literature Resource Center; Major 20th-Century Writers, Eds. 1, 2; Major 21st-Century Writers, Ed. 2005; Modern British Literature, Ed. 2; Novels for Students, Vols. 22, 23; Reference Guide to English Literature, Ed. 2; Reference Guide to Short Fiction, Ed. 2; St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers; Short Story Criticism, Vol. 83; Twayne's English Authors; World Literature and Its Times, Ed. 4; World Literature Criticism Supplement; and World Writers in English, Vol. 1.