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Literature / Haroun and the Sea Of Stories

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Even in all the Arabian Nights you will never have a night like this.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a children's fantasy novel by Salman Rushdie. Haroun Khalifa lives with his parents, Rashid and Soraya, in a city so sad it has forgotten its name. Haroun, however, is happy — until one day his mother runs away with their neighbour. This event devastates Haroun, who develops a kind of ADHD as a result. Even worse is the effect on his father: Rashid, formerly a storyteller of seemingly boundless imagination, suddenly finds himself unable to spin his marvelous tales.

Haroun and Rashid travel to the Valley of K, where Rashid is supposed to speak at a major political rally. The night before the performance, Haroun catches a magical creature in his father's bathroom who has come to disconnect Rashid's supply of Story Water. Haroun, insisting that his father still needs his stories, blackmails the creature into taking him back to the magical world of Kahani, where he hopes to plead for Rashid to be reconnected. However, when he arrives, he finds that the Ocean of the Streams of Story, where all stories come from, has become polluted. Haroun must now work not only to restore his father's Gift of the Gab, but to save the Sea of Stories from being destroyed forever.

Typical of Rushdie's books, Haroun and the Sea of Stories is chock-full of satire and social commentary. However, unlike his adult novels, it takes a decidedly optimistic and idealistic tone. This is probably because it was written for children.

Examples of tropes present in the novel:

  • All Just a Dream: It's at first implied that the trip to Kahani may have been this, though the balance of the evidence seems to be against it.
  • Astral Projection: Rashid uses a form of this to get to Kahani, though he winds up near the Twilight Strip, leading the citizens of Gup to think he's a spy.
  • And You Were There: Most of the things and people Haroun encounters on Kahani seem to be somehow "based on" or "inspired by" people and ideas from the real world. Lampshaded by Butt the Hoopoe when he reads Haroun's thoughts on how similar he and Butt the Mail Coach Driver are: "I can't help it if I remind you of someone."
    • Also Lampshaded by Khattam-Shud. Haroun thinks he's Mr. Sengupta, but Khattam-Shud finds the notion insulting and that "Stories have warped the boy's brain".
  • Applicability: Invoked. At the end of the novel, Rashid tells a crowd at a political rally the story of Haroun's adventures on Kahani. The listeners see the tale as an allegory for their own situation, and so inspired by it that they rise up and run a corrupt politician out of town. Of course, the story Rashid tells isn't an allegory for anything; it's simply a truthful recounting of the previous night's events. But it clearly has applicability for the people who hear it.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: It's a P2C2E!note 
  • Arc Number: 11. After Haroun's mother, Soraya, leaves for Mr. Sengupta, Haroun is only able to concentrate on anything for eleven minutes, as 11:00 was when his mother left.
  • Arc Words: "What's the use of stories that aren't even true?" Answering this question is the Central Theme of the story.
  • Badass Boast: Bordering on Badass Creed since he says it frequently (albeit with various variations, all rhyming): Mali the gardener, whenever he is attacked, will shout "You can chop an [X], you can chop a [Z], you can chop a [Y], but you can't chop me!"
  • Big Bad: Khattam-Shud, the leader of Chup.
  • Bilingual Bonus
    • Many of the names don't mean much in English, but are derrived from Hindustani words. Fortunately most of these are explained in the appendix.
    • See also Stealth Pun for a pun involving two French words.
  • Body Horror: Haroun turning into a spider in his Princess Rescue Story dream.
  • Catchphrase: Butt the Mail Coach driver and Butt the Hoopoe share several, most notably, "But but but", and "no problem".
  • Chekhov's Skill: Blabbermouth's juggling skills come in handy when stealing a bomb away from a would-be assassin.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: When Rashid is captured by the Guppees, Haroun wonders aloud what kind of torture he will be subjected to. Iff speculates that that he might be scolded. Or made to stand in a corner. Or have to write I must not spy one thousand and one times. "Or is that too severe?"
  • Dark Is Evil: Subverted. When first introduced, the land of Chup is represented as an evil, repressive country where there is everlasting night and all Speech is banned. However, it turns out that only the leadership of the land is evil; most ordinary Chupwalas turn out to be decent enough. Moreover, Haroun comes to realise that darkness and quiet have beauty in their own right, and that just as silence can be oppressive, so too can constant chatter be annoying.
    "If Guppees and Chupwalas didn't hate each other so,' [Haroun] thought, "they might actually find each other pretty interesting. Opposites attract, as they say."
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Mudra the Shadow Warrior isn't evil. In fact, he seeks out the heroes precisely so he can help them.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Butt the Mail Coach Driver, who takes delight in pointing out the sites of gruesome crashes while he barrels down narrow mountain roads like a maniac.
  • Empathic Environment: Justified with the Dull Lake, which really does seem to mimic the emotions of the people on it.
  • Evil Plan: Khattam-Shud seeks to poison the Sea of Stories because he can't rule the fictional worlds inside them.
    Khattam-Shud: The world is not for fun. The world is for controlling.
    Haroun: What world?
    Khattam-Shud: Your world, my world, all worlds.
  • Great Big Library of Everything: The titular Sea of Stories is basically a library of every story that has ever existed.
  • The Great Wall: Chattergy's Wall, which encircles Kahani, separating the perpetual daylight of Gup from the benighted land of Chup.
  • Heroism Equals Job Qualification: Iff, Mali, Goopy, and Bagha all get put in charge of their respective departments at the end of the story, despite having no special qualifications other than having helped Haroun out. Then again, considering in the land of Gup, the worst they would do to a spy is have them write "I must not spy" 1001 times (and they think even that is too severe), it seems entirely fitting to the setting.
  • Hurricane of Euphemisms: Iff the Water Genie uses these whenever possible.
  • In Defence of Storytelling: Pretty much the entire point of the book. Rashid is a storyteller who lives in a town where stories aren't appreciated. Going through the Sea of Stories and his journey with his son reinvigorates him.
  • In-Series Nickname: Rashid has two of them. To his admirers and fans, he's the Ocean of Notions. To his rivals, he's the Shah of Blah.
  • Lampshade Hanging: At one point, Prince Bolo asks how they know Mudra isn't going to lead them into some kind of trap. It's actually a reasonable question, but because it's Bolo, everyone feels comfortable ignoring it.
  • Living Shadow: All of the Chupwala's shadows.
  • Mad Libs Catchphrase: Snooty Buttoo always addresses Haroun's father as "[adjective] Mr Rashid".
  • Meaningful Name: Pretty much everyone and everywhere. Many of the less obvious ones are helpfully explained in the appendix.
    • One notable example is Haroun and Rashid Khalifa, who are named after Haroun al-Rashid, the Caliph of Baghdad in the Arabian Nights.
    • Alifbay, the country where the actions on Earth take place, means "alphabet"
    • Batcheat, the princess of Kahani, means "chit-chat."
    • Kahani, the name of the Earth's second moon ( and the sad city where Haroun's family is from, as revealed in the end), means "story"
    • Khattam-Shud means "finished" or "over and done with"
    • Kitab, the general of Gup, means "book" (his soldiers are also called "Pages")
    • Mali, the Floating Gardener, means "gardener"
    • Mudra is named after a gesture that makes of the language of Abhinaya, which he and his Shadow "speak".
  • Non-Indicative Name: The Dull Lake, which, as Haroun points out, shoud be called "Interesting".
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted with Butt the Mail Coach Driver and Butt the Hoopoe.
  • Phrase Catcher: Prince Bolo is described repeatedly as "dashing" and "foolish", and everything he does is done "dashingly" and "foolishly".
  • Pun: Khattam-Shud makes one when explaining his evil plan. For every story, there is an anti-story. When combined, the two cancel each other out, and boom; "end of story".
  • Rhymes on a Dime: The Plentimaw fish, with the variation that one fish always speaks the first line, and the other the rhyming one.
  • Rouge Angles of Satin: Snooty Buttoo's "plenty more" fish (as in, "There are plenty more fish in the sea.") become the Plentimaw fish of Kahani, who have plenty of maws, i.e. mouths.
  • Shout-Out: As usual, Rushdie liberally peppers his narrative with an eclectic range of pop and literary references from both Western and Eastern culture. Notably:
    • The head of the P2C2E House is called the Walrus. His underlings are the Eggheads. Goo goo g'joob.
    • When the characters encounter Mudra for the first time, he tries to explain that he speaks Abhinaya. In his garbled English, the sentence comes out as, "Spock Obi New Year."
    • Goopy and Bagha are named after two characters in a movie by Satyajit Ray. "The movie characters are not fishes, but they are pretty fishy."
  • Silly Rabbit, Cynicism Is for Losers!: One of the central themes of the story, and Haroun's biggest character flaw. Haroun's problem is that he has become so cynical, he can't accept the reality of the Sea of Stories despite being beaten over the head with it. Besides just defending stories, the work posits the theme of "being cynical will never get you anywhere." Blabbermouth even lampshades it.
    "That's the problem with you sad city types. You think a place has to be boring and dull as ditch water before you accept it as real."
  • Stealth Pun: Rashid explains that in olden times the Valley of K was known as "Kache-Mer" (meaning "the place that hides a Sea"), or "Kosh-Mar" (meaning "nightmare"). While the etymology is purely fictitious, the words Rashid uses sound remarkably like the French words "cache mer" and "cauchemar" - which mean exactly what Rashid says they do! The words are, of course, chosen to evoke the name of a real Indian province: Kashmir.
  • Take Our Word for It: Princess Batcheat must be pretty ugly, with that nose, those teeth... but there's no need to go into that.
  • Troperiffic: As befits a story about storytelling.
  • The Voiceless: Most of the Chupwalas, due to Khattam-Shud's vows of silence, though some may be unable to talk at all.
  • Voice for the Voiceless: Rashid becomes this for Mudra, as he understands Abhinaya.