“Haroun and the Sea of Stories”

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

This book first caught my attention as I was cataloging the Salman Rushdie portion of the Booker Prize Collection at the Morgan Museum & Library.  One particularly rare edition, replete with illustrations, beckoned a closer glance, which motivated me to read through a few pages.  I didn’t have time then, but I told myself that I would one day read this novel…and the time has come.

Reminiscent of “The Never Ending Story” or “Alice in Wonderland,” this work is quite unlike any of Rushdie’s other novels in theme, but quite similar in terms of imagination and descriptive creativity.  It is the story of Haroun, the protagonist, on a quest to preserve clever storytelling in the Kingdom of Gup.

So Iff the Water Genie told Haroun about the Ocean of the Streams of Story, and even though he was 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 a 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 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 by alive.

Along with an accompaniment of a few other lively characters, Haroun ventures into the neighboring Kingdom of Chup in order to both rescue a captured princess and defeat  the evil cult master Khattam-Shud, whose aim is to poison the Ocean of the Streams of Story, thereby ensuring silence and glumness among all the land.  A fanciful battle unfolds–and you can probably guess who wins.  But to say much more would ruin the story…

As an eccentric fantasy novel, it is appropriate for children and adults alike.  That is, the story at face value is a fun, imaginative, dream-like tale to be enjoyed by anyone with an appreciation of whimsical fiction.  But  when read between the lines on a deeper level, the author has inserted allegorical commentary on the prevailing political and cultural status quo.

By all means, I endorse this lighthearted foray into fantasy fiction as a recommended read!