Haroun and the Sea of Stories Summary and Analysis
There is unhappiness in the air of Dull Lake. It smells terrible and all think that someone has made a stink. Haroun realizes this must be Moody Land. Moody Land is a fantastical land from his father’s stories. In Moody Land, the weather changes according to the mood of the people. Haroun sees that his father is so sad that it has brought the Mist of Misery. Mr. Snooty Buttoo is so full of hot air that he has brought a boiling wind.
The waters begin to rock and the oarsmen cry out that the boat is going to sink. Haroun tells everyone to think of the most pleasant thoughts they know. As soon as they do, the waters calm and the “malodorous mist” breaks. Haroun now knows “that the real world is full of magic, so magical worlds could easily be real.”
Mr. Buttoo’s houseboat is called Arabian Nights Plus One. Inside there are elaborate decorations and luxurious rooms. In the library, there are shelves of books (though most of the books are fake). In the middle of Rashid’s bedroom, there is an enormous wooden peacock that is removed to reveal a large bed. Haroun’s room has a large turtle that does the same thing. Haroun says the accommodations are “very pleasant,” which infuriates Mr. Buttoo who wishes that Haroun call the boat “Super-Marvelloso, Incredibable, and wholly Fantastick.”
Haroun and Rashid both find it difficult to sleep in their respective beds and so they decide to trade. Rashid is mostly worried that he will get up on stage the next day and have nothing to say but “ark.” In the new room, Haroun dozes off and then hears some commotion in his bathroom. He wakes to see an astonishing figure; it has “an outsize onion for a head and outsize aubergines for legs.” It holds a toolbox and mumbles. Haroun sneaks over to the bathroom and listens to his mutterings.
The figure is an old man wearing a purple turban and baggy silk pajamas. He is muttering about how he is being forced to uninstall something at the last minute because a subscription ran out and how he does not have time for such things. Haroun accidentally steps on a creaky board and the old man looks up, spins around several times, and disappears. As he leaves, he drops a wrench on the floor.
Haroun grabs the wrench. It is a strange tool, “it had the general outline of a wrench, but it was somehow more fluid than solid.” Slowly the old man rematerializes in front of Haroun. The old man demands the wrench back, but Haroun refuses. The old man tells Haroun that he is the Water Genie, Iff from the Ocean of the Streams of Story. He is there to turn off the Story Water from the Great Story Sea because “the gentleman no longer requires the service; has discontinued narrative activities, thrown in the towel, packed it in.” Haroun is shocked at the thought that his father has shut off the Story Stream and asks how the genie knows his father is quitting. Iff tells him it the news was sent by a “P2C2E” (Process Too Complicated To Explain) involving Thought Beams.
Haroun asks how the order can be reversed and Iff tells him to take the issue up with the Grand Comptroller at P2C2E House, Gup City, Kahani. All letters must be addressed to the Walrus. Iff explains that many brilliant people, the Eggheads, are employed at Gup City but that only the Walrus is the Grand Comptroller. Iff reveals the invisible story water tap to Haroun and Haroun then makes the “most important decision of his life.” He asks Mr. Iff to take him to Gup City to see the Comptroller. Iff initially refuses, but when Haroun threatens to keep his wrench, he relents and tells Haroun they must leave that night.
The Water Genie tells Haroun to pick a bird, though there are no birds around. The Genie says that just by saying the bird’s name, he can summon it, even if it is not a real creature. “To give a thing 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.” Haroun tell the Genie that this does not happen in the real world. The Genie answers, “Believe in your own eyes and you’ll get into a lot of trouble, hot water, a mess.”
The Genie pulls out a handful of tiny, magical bird creatures and tells Haroun to pick one. Haroun is amazed and picks the Hoopoe, the “bird that leads all other birds through many dangerous places.” The Genie throws the Hoopoe out the window and into the water where it balloons to a huge size. Haroun and the Water Genie jump onto the Hoopoe’s back and suddenly it accelerates through the air to a speed so fast “that the Earth below them and the sky above both dissolved into a blur.”
Looking at the Hoopoe, Haroun cannot help but think it looks much like Mr. Butt from the mail coach. Hearing Haroun’s thoughts, the Hoopoe turns around and telepathically speaks to him. Haroun gives the bird the name of “Butt.” Haroun sees a moon in the distance and Butt tells Haroun that this is Kahani, the Earth’s second Moon. Kahani is only visible because of “Speed” which “brings light to reveal” but can also be used to conceal. Kahani travels so fast that Earth’s instruments cannot detect it; the moon moves in various trajectories to make sure that Story Water is evenly distributed throughout the planet. Butt glides in for a landing on Kahani in the middle of a giant sea.
Haroun wonders why they land in the middle of an ocean, and the Water Genie tells him it is to facilitate a bureaucratic shortcut. By drinking Wishwater from the sea, Haroun’s desire for his father’s storytelling to return can be accomplished without having to see the Walrus. They find the water and Haroun takes a gulp. He feels a golden glow all around him and tries to wish for his father’s storytelling to come back. When he does, however, he only sees an image of his mother. He hears his father crying to help him, but he cannot fully concentrate on the wish. After eleven minutes, his concentration is broken and the golden glow goes away.
Butt decides that Haroun needs a “cheering up procedure.” The sea is full of a thousand different currents, the Streams of Story. These are “all the stories that had ever been told and many that were still in the process of being invented.” Iff dips into the Ocean and produces a golden cup with a story inside. Haroun drinks the water and finds himself looking through the eyes of a young hero in a land full of monsters and strange things. There is a princess in a tower and Haroun watches as the hero dispenses with the monsters and begins to climb the tower. Haroun is in “Princes Rescue Story Number S/1001/ZHT/420/41(r)xi.” Halfway up the tower, the hero begins to turn into a spider and when he reaches the top, the princes begins to hack away at the horrible creature until the hero falls to the ground.
Haroun wakes from the story and tells his friends of the awful ending. Iff tells Haroun that the Ocean has become polluted by the leader of the Land of Chup, “on the Dark Side of Kahani.” The leader’s name is Khattam-Shud.
Rushdie borrows themes from numerous literary works. One of the most often referenced works in the novel is One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. This work of stories and folktales originally written during the Islamic Golden Age (mid-8th to mid-13th centuries C.E.) is considered the classic example of Eastern folktale. Throughout the novel, there are numerous references to the number one thousand and one, the first being Mr. Snooty Buttoo’s boat. In addition, the names of Haroun and Rashid allude to the same work. Haroun al-Rashid is a recurring hero in the Arabian Nights.
There are also multiple references to Kashmir, which points towards the real setting on which Rushdie bases his fantastical land. Kashmir is a disputed piece of land on the border of India and Pakistan. Rushdie has roots in Pakistan and considers it a homeland. The Valley of K is a reference to Kashmir, as is the “Dull Lake,” a variance on Dahl Lake, which is found in Kashmir. The political situation in Kashmir is also fictionalized. Mr. Snooty Buttoo represents the authoritarian government that currently rules Pakistan. This government, Rushdie suggests, manipulates the people in order to stay in power. Rushdie explores this theme of cultural manipulation further in the novel.
The appearance of Iff the Water Genie is another allusion to One Thousand and One Arabian Night. One of the most famous tales in that work is “Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp,” in which a young boy is given a ring with a genie inside that does the bidding of those that command it. In the same way, Iff is forced to do the bidding of Haroun because Haroun holds his magic wrench. Another character introduced her is Butt the Hoopoe, a mechanical bird capable of telepathy and flying at impossible speeds. Because the Hoopoe uses the same alliteration of speech (“but but but”) and shares similar physical characteristics to Butt the mail coach driver, Haroun gives the Hoopoe the same name.
The setting of the novel shifts to Kahani, the earth’s second moon and source of the Sea of Stories. Kahani is where all of earth’s stories originate. They are distributed throughout the world by the forces of gravity. The moon travels at the speed of light. This speed allows light to be revealed, but it also allows things to be concealed since they move so fast that the human eye cannot see it. The theme of revealing and concealing with light recurs throughout the novel. Kahani is Hindi for “story.”
Haroun’s adventure in the princess rescue story is an allusion to the classic tale of “Rapunzel,” in which a prince must climb a tower to rescue a princess. In the traditional story, the prince uses the princess’s hair to climb the tower. “Rapunzel” is the classic narrative of rescue. This story is an example of the framing narrative in which a story is framed within the narrative of another story. This is a technique used in many classic folk tales including One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. In this case, Haroun becomes part of an adventure tale through the mechanism of a dream while also being a part of another adventure tale in his non-dream life.
Haroun and the Sea of Stories Essays and Related Content
- Haroun and the Sea of Stories: Major Themes
- Haroun and the Sea of Stories: Essays
- Haroun and the Sea of Stories: Questions
- Haroun and the Sea of Stories: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Salman Rushdie: Biography
- Haroun and the Sea of Stories Summary
- About Haroun and the Sea of Stories
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Quotes and Analysis
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1-2
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 3-4
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 5-6
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7-8
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 9-10
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 11-12
- The Source Stories
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