Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Infobox Book
name = Haroun and the Sea of Stories
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = 1991 Penguin paperback edition cover
author = Salman Rushdie
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = United Kingdom
language = English
series =
genre = Magic Realism Novel
publisher = Viking Books
release_date = November, 1990
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages = 218 pp
isbn = ISBN 0-670-83804-7
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"Haroun and the Sea of Stories" is a 1990 children's book [http://www.contemporarywriters.com/authors/?p=auth87 "Salman Rushdie"] by Salman Rushdie. It was Rushdie's first novel after "The Satanic Verses". It is a phantasmagorical story set in a city so old and ruinous that it has forgotten its name.

"Haroun and the Sea of Stories" is an allegory for several problems existing in society today, especially in India and the Indian subcontinent. It looks at these problems from the viewpoint of the 11-year-old protagonist Haroun. It is also interesting to note that Rushdie dedicated this book to his son, Zafar Rushdie, from whom he was separated for some time.

It was made into an audiobook read by Rushdie himself, but the more commonly available 2002 edition of the audiobook was read by Zia Mohyeddin.


* A work of magic realism, the story begins and takes place partly in "a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad it had forgotten its name", which is located beside "a mournful sea full of glumfish, which were so miserable to eat that they made people belch with melancholy". This city is thickly populated by people, of whom only the lead character Haroun and his parents are ever happy, while in the north of the city are factories wherein sadness is allegedly manufactured and exported. The factories produce air pollution that is only relieved during the monsoon, which also heralds the arrival of pomfret into the nearby waters.

* Most of the Earthly locations present in the book are located in the fictional nation of Alifbay, which is a combination of first two letters of the Arabic script based Urdu alphabet, "Alif" and "Bay" and therefore contains many places named after letters, such as the "Valley of K" and the "Tunnel of I (which was also known as J)".

* In the center of the Valley of K is the Dull Lake, which is said in the novel's appendix to be named after the Dal Lake in Kashmir. This implies that Kashmir is the place on which K is based. The Dull Lake itself is the location of the Moody Land, a landscape whose weather changes to reflect the emotions of the people currently present in it. It is the place where the lead characters go at the behest of a corrupt politician, and where their adventures begin.

* The larger part of the plot occurs on a fictional satellite of the Earth's, named "Kahani", whose orbit is controlled by "Processes Too Complicated To Explain". These processes enable it to fly over every single point on Earth. Kahani itself consists of a massive Ocean which itself is composed of an infinity of stories, each story taking the form of a current or stream of a unique color. The colors, therefore, encompass the whole visible spectrum and extend beyond into spectra that are not known to exist. Various islands and a continent are also shown on the moon. The name "Kahani" itself means "Story" in Urdu and Hindi, and is ultimately revealed to be the name of the sad city; a revelation that removes the sadness from the city's people.

* The Moon Kahani is, throughout most of the plot, divided into two sections equal in size, one of which is kept in perpetual daylight and the other in perpetual darkness. The two are separated by a narrow strip of twilight, which is marked by a force field named Chattergy's Wall. The daylight side is called "Gup" (meaning "gossip", "nonsense", or "fib" in Hindi) and the night-darkened side is called "Chup" (meaning "quiet"). Inhabitants of Gup value speech and are called "Guppees", meaning "talkative people", while inhabitants of Chup are stated to have historically valued silence and are called "Chupwalas", meaning "quiet fellows". The "u" in "Gup" rhymes with the "u" in "cup", the "u" in "Chup" is pronounced similarly to the "oo" in "good", and the "w" in "Chupwala" resembles a sound lying midway between the English letters "w" and "v". At the South Pole of Kahani is a spring known as the Source of Stories, from which (according to the premise of the plot) originated all stories ever communicated. The prevention of this spring's blockage therefore forms the climax of the novel's own story.

Plot Summary

Haroun's father is the famed storyteller Rashid Khalifa- sometimes known as the Ocean of Notions or the Shah of Blah, but his wife Soraya grows tired of his imagination and elopes with Mr. Sengupta, a stupid dull and dreary clerical drone. This leaves Rashid heartbroken, and unable to continue his profession of storytelling. Haroun feels he started the problem (by asking his father "What's the use of stories that aren't even true?" A question that his father had heard repeated many times by Mr. Sengupta), so he must fix it and help his father. Soon though, Haroun discovers that Rashid has already cancelled his subscription to the magical story waters of the invisible and magical moon Kahani, which give all storytellers their imagination, and in order to reverse the cancellation Haroun must go to Kahani. Thus Haroun embarks on a mystical journey to Kahani (meaning "story" in Urdu), a hidden moon of the Earth in a quest to restore his father's gift of the gab.

On Kahani, stories are everywhere; they make up the ocean (which gives the book its title). However, the evil Khattam-Shud (whose name means "The End", "completely finished" in Urdu) is attempting to poison the sea of stories and render the inhabitants of Kahani silent by plugging the spring of stories (where all stories come from). He has also started a war with Gup, the central city where stories are made, by kidnapping the king's daughter, Princess Batcheat, angering her fiancée Prince Bolo. In a reversal of the traditional prince-princess story myth, Batcheat is incredibly ugly and a terrible singer, while Bolo is a hyperactive, melodramatic idiot and implied to be cowardly. Haroun, along with various interesting characters such as Iff the water-genie, Butt the mechanical hoopoe, the eggheads at the P2C2E (Processes Too Complicated To Explain) House, Mali the floating gardener, and a pair of rhyming fish set out to stop Khattam-Shud, thus saving Rashid, Batcheat, Kahani, and the stories of the world.


Haroun: The main character/central consciousness of the story. A young, curious, courageous, outspoken child. He is said to suffer throughout most of the story from a form of attention-deficit disorder, under whose influence he is unable to concentrate his attention for a longer measurement of time than eleven minutes, but overcomes it at the climax and does not suffer from it again.

Rashid: Haroun's father, also known as the Shah of Blah and the Ocean of Notions for his ability to create fascinating stories impromptu. Rashid is in fact a professional storyteller who is sometimes hired by corrupt politicians to persuade constituents that they should be re-elected. His attachment to his wife and to his practice of storytelling are probably his greatest psychological weaknesses; when either is lost, he becomes depressed and loses the other. To recover the latter, he travels to Kahani by a means known as 'Rapture', by which he is able to travel inside his dreams and wake up in the world the dream has created. This method consists of consuming "moonberries, comet's tails, planet rings, [and] primordial soup". Having reached Kahani, he alerts the Guppees to the location of their Princess Batcheat and later joins their army to recapture her from their enemies the Chupwalas.

Soraya: Rashid's wife, who tires of his imagination and leaves him for the dull and dreary Mr. Sengupta, a neighbor. That she is becoming alienated from Rashid is implied early on, where she is said to have abandoned her daily songs. At the end, she has returned to Rashid, having become disgusted by Mr. Sengupta's obnoxious behavior and revived her affection for her husband and son. Upon her return, the depression overwhelming Rashid and the unusual syndrome manifested by Haroun both dissolve and do not reappear. Her name is probably Persian in origin.

Mr. Sengupta: The dreary man who is Haroun's neighbor, and who elopes with Soraya. As a rule, Mr. Sengupta despises imagination and stories, which sets the stage for his later appearance on Kahani as Khattam-Shud, to whom he is evidently identical. Khattam-Shud's defeat seems to correspond with Soraya's desertion of Mr. Sengupta, who does not appear again in person. His name is a contraction of "Sen Gupta", a legitimate Indian name.

Miss Oneeta: Mr. Sengupta's obese, talkative, self-important, overwhelmingly emotional, generous wife, who is so disappointed in her husband after he takes Soraya and leaves the city wherein they live that she disowns him and her married name. It is she who reveals that Soraya's desertion has given Haroun his disorder, and she who announces both Soraya's desertion and her return.

Mr. Butt: The mail courier, a reckless driver who, when requested to provide transport for Haroun and Rashid (who is expected to speak at an election of public officers), ignores all other demands so as to take them to their destination before dusk. He is implied to be the counterpart of the Hoopoe, who also serves as Haroun's transportation.

Snooty Buttoo: A corrupt politician who hires Rashid to convince constituents that he (Buttoo) should be re-elected. Buttoo is a class-conscious, pompous, arrogant, self-assured, insincere, callous person whose chief hold over his constituents is that he has been re-elected before. To persuade Rashid to sympathize with him, he places both Rashid and Haroun on a luxurious houseboat called "The Arabian Nights Plus One", where they spend the night. When Buttoo learns that Soraya has deserted Rashid, he dismisses Rashid's misery, remarking that "there are plenty more fish in the sea", as if to indicate that in Soraya's absence Rashid may find another companion. Buttoo is ultimately deposed and banished from the valley wherein he is trying to be re-elected when the people thereof are inspired to take action against him by Rashid's recitation of Haroun's story. The name "Buttoo" means "little child" in Hindi, and is probably given to this character as an act of contempt.

Butt the Hoopoe: A machine in the form of a Hoopoe who becomes Haroun's steed in Kahani. He is revealed as needed to possess a mechanical brain, which is capable of almost all known mental feats, including telepathy. The latter is used throughout his role, producing a recurrent joke wherein his spoken lines are followed by the statement that he "spoke without moving [his] beak". This ability also appears in scenes wherein he replies to Haroun's unspoken thoughts, which sometimes move in synchronity with the narration. He is shown to be capable of flying at impossible speeds, travelling between Earth and Kahani, and answering to any name preferred by his rider. Because he shares with Mr. Butt the idiosyncrasy of saying "but but but" at the beginning of sentences, in addition to some superficial details of appearance, he is called by the same name. At his introduction, he is described as "the bird that leads all other birds through many dangerous places to their ultimate goal".

Iff: A "water genie" from Kahani who accompanies Haroun in Kahani. Iff's task is to control Rashid's supply of imagination, which appears in the form of waters transmitted to Rashid via an invisible faucet by a means that is never revealed, but which is called a "Process Too Complicated To Explain". Iff himself is a benevolent character having a blue moustache and beard; an effusive, somewhat cantankerous personality; and a habit of speaking in lists of synonyms. His name, like that of Butt the Hoopoe, is derived from the saying "if and but". During the denouement, he has been placed in command of the other Water Genies, who perform tasks similar to his throughout the world.

Prince Bolo: A possible parody of the archetypal awe-inspiring hero or Prince Charming, Bolo is the fiancée of Princess Batcheat (see below) and the only person to believer that she is a beauty. Bolo is a reckless, slightly stupid, melodramatic figure who is nominally the leader of the charge to rescue the captured Batcheat from Chup, but who wields little authority; who is prone to becoming excited at the least provocation; who is obsessed with rescuing Batcheat, so that all other things appear to him as of little significance; who frequently draws his sword when it is unwise to fight; who extends diplomatic immunity to an assassin bent on killing him; and who gives the impression to readers of being somewhat out of harmony with the realities of his situations. His name is the imperative form of the verb "bolna", and therefore means "Speak!".

Princess Batcheat: A damsel in distress. Batcheat is the daughter of King Chattergy, ruler of Gup, and the fiancée of Prince Bolo, whose affiliations are unknown. She is somewhat foolish; romantic; reckless; and completely infatuated with Bolo, who is the only person to think her beautiful; all other characters have low opinions of her nose, teeth, and singing voice. Most references (including, in one passage, those of the narration) to any of these inevitably conform to this pattern: "... that nose, those teeth — but there's no need to go into that". The narrator evidently follows his own advice, for no graphic description is given of Batcheat's face at all. Her name is pronounced "Baat-cheet" and can be translated as "chit-chat". When she is captured by Chupwalas during an excursion to the border between Gup and Chup, they plot to sew her mouth shut and rename her "Khamosh", meaning "silent", but never carry this out.

General Kitab: Literally "General Book". General Kitab is the commander of the Guppee 'Library', which functions in peacetime as a system of aides and in war as an army. It consists of a multitude of Pages, each of which is a thin person clad in an oversized sheet of paper bearing part of a story. The Pages are organized into divisions called 'Chapters', which are themselves organized into 'Volumes', each of which is led by a Page called the 'Title'. The General, in turn, leads the Titles, participates in every debate regarding the worth of the cause on which the army has embarked, and frequently foments such debates on purpose to resolve all conflict of interest or opinion. The whole army, therefore, takes part in every campaign of a gigantic Rogerian argument, whose sole aim is to produce conciliation and eventual unity among the Pages. Because Guppee laws permit an unlimited freedom of speech, these debates are unrestrained to an extent that would (as Haroun remarks) be considered insubordination in the reader's real world. General Kitab himself is often flustered and embarrassed by Prince Bolo's impetuosity, to which he responds by using colorful language and attempting to rectify a damaged situation.

King Chattergy: Princess Batcheat's father and Prince Bolo's father-in-law, a symbolic figure who forms the nominal head of Gup's government but has little real power. He is given very little role in most of the story. The Wall dividing Gup from Chup is named after him, although he is stated to have had no involvement with its creation. His name is a legitimate name in India.

Blabbermouth: A Page of the Library of Gup. Blabbermouth is a talkative, ill-tempered, contemptuous, stubborn, unscrupulous, quarrelsome girl who despises Princess Batcheat, disguises herself as a boy, and is skilled at the art of juggling, which Haroun compares to storytelling. Blabbermouth joins the army of Gup to march on Chup, but is later exposed as a girl and expelled from the army by Bolo. She then becomes aide to Mudra, an ally of the Guppees, with whom she is implied to be infatuated. Haroun is said to have a soft spot for her, but never confesses it.

Mudra: Second-in-command to Khattam-Shud, who becomes disgruntled with his master's policies and defects to the Guppee side. His shadow, like the shadows of each and every person in Chup, can behave independently of himself and is therefore his sidekick. Mudra himself is an able warrior skilled in the art of hand-to-hand combat. He is described as having green paint and exaggerated features covering his face; as being clad in bulky armor that increases his appearance of size; and as having eyes that are white at the pupil, grey at the iris, and black at upon the larger surface of the eyeball. Such eyes are common to all Chupwalas, and are entirely blind in bright light, being given their vision by the reflection of darkness from objects. Mudra is nearly mute, being able only to communicate his own name and the fact that he "speaks" by means of Abhinaya, a type of sign language used in classical Indian dance. His own name is said in the appendix to be the generic term for all signs used in this language. After the climax, Mudra becomes President of Chup. The question of whether or not he reciprocates Blabbermouth's infatuation is never answered.

Khattam-Shud: The villain of the story, whose name means "completely finished". He represents silence, and is therefore said to be invoked at the termination of every story told. As a character, he is the "Prince of Silence and the Foe of Speech" feared by most Guppees. He is the ruler of Chup, the Kahanian counterpart of Mr. Sengupta, and the founder of a religion whose supreme commandment is abstinence from speech. By the time the story begins, he has intensified his war against Gup and is conducting an operation by which he intends to block the source from which all stories are born, which is located at Kahani's south pole. To conduct this operation while simultaneously organizing the war against Gup, he has changed his shadow into an autonomous replica of himself, done the same to several of his assistants, and created a massive ark out of shadow, where his shadow-men synthesize "anti-stories" by which to ruin all the stories ever composed and construct a plug by which to clog the Source of Stories below the ship. These things are all ultimately destroyed when Haroun uses a substance called "wishwater" to turn Kahani around, so that Chup is illuminated by sunlight. The shadow-men, their ship, and all their equipment dissolve into oblivion, while the plug (which is solid) lands at the bottom of the ocean "beside" the Source of Stories, which then continues unblocked. The corporeal Khattam-Shud is destroyed when Chup Citadel, which is made of black ice, melts in the sunlight; during the dissolution of the citadel, the gigantic ice statue representing Khattam-Shud's religion collapses onto the religion's founder, crushing him.

Bezaban: Literally "without a tongue", this is the name of the ice statue located atop the Citadel of Chup, where it symbolizes Khattam-Shud's power. It is used as an object of worship by the Cult of Silence. Later, Bezaban is melted and collapses onto Khattam-Shud, killing him under its weight.

The Eggheads: Originally a derogative name for an enthusiast in some subject, the term here describes the technicians of Kahani, who are white-coated, completely bald, enthusiastic, cheerful, and intelligent. The Eggheads of Gup City are said to be the inventors of all "Processes Too Complicated To Explain", by which impossible feats such as Kahani's bizarre orbit, the creation of artificial happy endings for stories, and the transmission of "story water" to Earthly storytellers are easily accomplished. They are quite in awe of their superintendent, the Walrus, for his possession of a moustache.

Walrus: The superintendent of the Eggheads, distinguished from them by his possession of a small moustache which gives him his name.

Plentimaw Fish: Large, sharklike Angelfish living in the waters near Gup, which is built on several islands. The name is derived from their multiplicity of mouths, through which they constantly ingest the stories conveyed by the waters. Inside their bodies, the stories are then mixed, producing new stories that join the Oceanic canon of all the stories ever told. It is never suggested that the stories they ingest are destroyed or weakened. A typical Plentimaw Fish is extremely talkative through all of its mouths, though pollution in the Sea of Stories can cause it to speak through only one at a time. Plentimaw Fish mate for life and always travel in pairs, which then speak in rhyme. The name is also used to assonate with Buttoo's statement that "there are plenty more fish in the sea", whereas the angelfish-like physique of the two recalls to Haroun's mind (and therefore to the reader's) Rashid's reply that " [one] must go a long, long way to find an Angel Fish", which Haroun can be said to have done by traveling to Kahani. The two Plentimaw Fish present in the story, Goopy and Bagha, travel with Haroun, Iff, Butt, and Mali (see below) to the Source of Stories, but are overwhelmed by the pollution and must stay behind the others. After the climax, they are appointed leaders of their species.

Mali: A 'Floating Gardener' composed of interwoven flowering vines and water plants that behave as a single organism. He is one of many, whose task is to prevent stories from becoming irretrievably convoluted and to cut away weeds that grow on the Ocean's surface. Floating Gardeners are divided into a hierarchy of classes, of which Mali belongs to the First Class; presumably the highest. At the denouement, he is made Head Floating Gardener. Mali, and presumably other Floating Gardners, is virtually invulnerable, being able to withstand any and all attacks made against him by the Chupwalas. Though normally taciturn by human standards, he is shown singing rhymes when defying the attacks, exemplified by the following:

"You can chop a flower-bush,

You can chop a tree,

You can chop liver, but

You can't chop me!

You can chop and change,

You can chop in ka-ra-tee,

You can chop suey, but

You can't chop me!".

Here, "ka-ra-tee" is probably a variant of "karate", a Japanese martial art invented on Okinawa. Mali, while singing, is shown using the vines that make up his body to destroy the Chupwalas' machinery that is used to poison the Ocean. His name literally means "Gardener", as is stated in the appendix.

Allusions/references in other works

*In May 2006, it came to light that Kaavya Viswanathan may have plagiarized passages from "Haroun and the Sea of Stories" in her novel "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life"Fact|date=May 2008.

Allusions/references to other works

The two fishes are called 'Goopy' and 'Bagha', in tribute to Satyajit Ray's fantastical film, Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne.

Gup City employs Eggheads (bald-headed academics) who are headed by the Walrus. This is a reference to the Beatles' song "I am the Walrus". This is exacerbated in the fact that the Walrus' full name is "I.M.D. Walrus, Esquire" and in the introduction "They are the Eggheads. He is the Walrus", which is a variation of the song's refrain.

Elements of the story are indicated to have been drawn from Baum's "The Wizard of Oz" and Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings".

The names Haroun and Rashid are a reference to Harun al-Rashid, who appears in many stories in the One Thousand and One Nights. Frequent use is made of the number "one thousand and one" throughout the novel.

When the character Mudra is first encountered, the noises he emits are the gurgling sound "Gogol" and the coughing noise "Kafkafka", both obvious references to writers Nikolai Gogol and Franz Kafka, whose names they are distorting. Rushdie makes another reference to Kafka when Iff describes the Plentimaw Fishes in the sea, who swallow stories, as hunger artists.

A reference is made to the folktale "Rapunzel" in the book's fourth chapter.

References to Popular Culture

When Mr. Butt is driving recklessly to the Valley of K, he is once called a "looney tune" by one of his many passengers; a reference to the cartoons of the same name.

The Walrus and the Eggheads are both mentioned in the popular 1960's Beatles song "I am the Walrus"


* Writer's Guild Award (Best Children's Book)

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

*A play based on the book was adapted for the stage by Tim Supple and David Tushingham. It had its stage premiere in 1998 at the Royal National Theatre in London.

*An opera, "Haroun and the Sea of Stories", by Charles Wuorinen with libretto by James Fenton, written in 2001, was premiered at the New York City Opera in Fall 2004. [ [http://nymag.com/nymetro/arts/music/classical/reviews/10326/ Haroun and the Sea of Stories - New York Magazine Classical Music Review] ]


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