Salmon Rushdie first began orally composing the stories that comprise Haroun and the Sea of Stories while writing his famous novel The Satanic Verses. During this time, Rushdie's nine-year-old son, Zafar, chastised his father for not writing books that children could read. Rushdie made a deal with his son that the next novel he wrote would be for children.
Rushdie began comprising the stories in the book by telling them to his son during bath time. According to Rushdie, "I would have these basic motifs, like the Sea of Stories, but each time I would improvise--not only to please him but to test myself, to see if I could just say something and take it elsewhere." By beginning the novel's stories in oral form, Rushdie mirrors the challenge of the character of Rashid: how to create meaningful stories in a world that does not value fantasy.
In terms of genre, Rushdie wrote the novel as something that children would enjoy but that adults would understand. The surface tension of the novel is the relationship between a father and a son, yet the deeper meaning of the novel centers on the meaning of stories and storytelling. It incorporates many of the themes of Rushdie's other works; magic realism, identity, and politics, amongst others.
Critics have also read Haroun in terms of the personal and political struggles that Rushdie experienced during the fatwa issued against him by the leader of Iran, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini for his novel The Satanic Verses. The fatwa called for Rushdie's death and death to those that facilitated the book's publication for its depictions of Islam and Muslims. Haroun, which was partially written while the controversy was going on, playfully deals with the reality of violence directed against Rushdie for his fictional work by engaging the idea of silence and the power of storytelling.
Rushdie did not mean for the book to be a serious allegory, however. His perception of the work is that it must be read as a playful work of fiction. Rushdie explained the book as primary a work of story: "Haroun is a tale. Even to call it a parable is too much. It must have, as they say, no designs upon it. Zafar will not read it to advance the public good, or even to comfort his father. He must read it for fun."