Haroun and Iff the Water Genie speed along the Ocean of Stories on the back of Butt the Hoopoe. Haroun tries to find out more about Khattam-Shud from Iff. Iff tells him just what his father had told him: Khattam-Shud is “the Arch-Enemy of all Stories...the Prince of Silence and the Foe of Speech.” He adds that most of what is known about Khattam-Shud is “gossip and flim-flam, because it’s been generations since any of us went across the Twilight Strip into the Perpetual Night.” Because of Kahani’s rotation, a process generated by Guppee Eggheads, the Land of Gup is always in Endless Sunshine. In Chup, where Khattam-Shud resides, it is always the middle of the night. The Twilight Strip and the invisible Chattergy’s Wall divide the two.
They enter busy Gup City. Iff finds out that all units have been ordered back to base, but he did not get the message. A strange looking weed comes speeding along beside their boat. Butt tells Haroun that it is “A Floating Gardener,” and the weed transforms itself into the likeness of a person right before Haroun’s eyes. It runs across the surface of the water showing no signs of sinking. Mali, the Floating Gardener, untwists the stories in the water. Iff explains that as the stories grow longer, they also become twisted and braided. Mali tells Haroun that the pollution in the ocean is become very bad. “Certain popular romances have become just long lists of shopping expeditions. Children’s stories also. For instance, there is an outbreak of talking helicopter anecdotes.”
A group of Angel Fish comes to the surface. They are “as big as sharks” with “literally dozens of mouths.” Butt tells Haroun that these are Plentimaw Fishes (named because “they have plenty of maws, i.e., mouths”). These fish are always in pairs with their faithful partners for life. They look very sick because of the pollution. The fish swallow the stories in the sea and then miracles occur in their innards; “a little bit of one story joins on to an idea from another...when they spew the stories out they are not old tales but new ones.” Iff tells Haroun, “No story comes from nowhere; new stories are born from old--it is the new combinations that make them new.” The pollution is especially bad in the Old Zone, a place known as the Source of Stories, near the Moon’s South Pole.
Everyone in Gup City goes to the Lagoon, “a beautiful expanse of multicolored waters.” There are gigantic buildings all around, including the P2C2E House. Iff and Haroun walk to the Pleasure Garden where there are large numbers of dressed in rectangular garments covered in writing. These are the Pages of Gup, the city’s army. They are organized into Chapters and Volumes which is headed by a Title Page. The entire Library (or, army) is headed by General Kitab, who stands on a balcony on the Palace of Gup. Next to him is the Speaker of the Chatterbox and King Chattergy, a frail looking old man. Next to them are two other gentlemen. One is an agitated young man, Prince Bolo, “the fiance of King Chattergy’s only child, his daughter the Princess Batcheat,” and a man with a bald head and “a disappointingly insignificant mustache that looked like a piece of a dead mouse.” This is the Walrus. All the people around him hear Haroun ask about the man. They all have bald heads and wear white lab coats. They are the Eggheads. They tell Haroun that the man is called the Walrus because of his “thick, luxuriant walrus mustache.” Haroun thinks, “I suppose if you’re as hairless as these Eggheads...even that pathetic dead mouse on the Walrus’s upper lip looks like the greatest thing you’ve ever seen.”
Prince Bolo speaks to the crowd. Princess Batcheat is missing. The people of Chup have kidnapped her. The Speaker says that messages have been sent to Chup, but now a time of war has come. The Walrus tells the crowd that the Ocean and Batcheat are in grave danger. Iff asks for his disconnector since the Walrus will have no time to see Haroun now. Haroun refuses and Iff hands him a bar of chocolate. The people of Kahani have to get any “tasty and wicked luxury” foods from earth. Haroun realizes that this is where Unidentified Flying Objects come from.
There is a commotion amongst the leaders on the balcony. A spy has been caught in the Twilight Area. The spy is brought forth before the crowd. He is wearing a blue nightgown and a hood. The hood is removed, and Haroun is shocked to see his father, Rashid Khalifa.
Rashid proclaims that he is only a storyteller, a subscriber to the Story Water. Haroun pushes his way through the crowd. He wonders what punishment the people of Gup will give his father. Iff says that they have never actually caught a spy before; they will probably make him write, “I must not spy,” one thousand and one times, though maybe that is too severe. Haroun comes before his father and tells everyone, “The only thing wrong with him is that he’s lost the Gift of the Gab.”
A Page escorts Haroun away from the crowd. The Page’s name is Blabbermouth. Haroun reads the story written on the Page’s uniform. It is “Bolo and the Golden Fleece,” a story that Haroun thinks he remembers being about someone else. Other Pages in the palace also have familiar, yet altered, stories written on them: “‘Bolo and the Wonderful Lamp’...‘Bolo and the Forty Thieves’...‘Bolo the Sailor’, ‘Bolo and Juliet’, ‘Bolo in Wonderland.’” They go to the Throne Room where Prince Bolo, General Kitab, the Speaker, and the Walrus are gathered around Rashid.
Rashid begins his story. He had been looking for a special concoction of food that cures his insomnia. The food carries the eater to Rapture where “a person may choose to wake up in the place to which the dream takes him; to wake up, that is to say, inside the dream.” He goes to Gup, but because of a miscalculation, he ends up in the Twilight Strip where he almost freezes to death. Bad things are happening in the Twilight Strip. There is an encampment of the Chupwala Army, “black tents, wrapped in such a fanatical silence!” The Land of Chup has fallen under the power of the “Mystery of Bezaban,...a Cult of Dumbness or Muteness.” In this cult, Khattam-Shud declares hatred against stories. Now he “opposes Speech for any reason at all.” There are members of the Mystery that sew their lips together and they die of hunger and thirst as sacrifices to Bezaban. Rashid explains that Bezaban is a giant idol made of ice. It is in Khattam-Shud’s palace. It is a frightful idol.
There are many soliders in the Twilight Strip now. They come into Gup through holes in Chattergy’s Wall. While in the Twilight Strip, Rashid saw a young woman with the worst singing voice he had ever heard, come in a swan boat. Iff explains that the young people of Gup often go to the Twilight Strip because, “It is a daredevil thing to do...Dark has its fascinations: mystery, strangeness, romance.” The Princess wanted to touch Chattergy’s Wall. As she and her handmaidens go to touch it, the Chupwala Army seizes her. Rashid relays the message that the Army is planning to sacrifice her to Bezaban during the Great Feast to the god.” Bolo declares war on Chup and Rashid offers to show them the Chupwala tents.
Haroun becomes very tired and Blabbermouth leads him out of the Throne Room and to his room to rest. They become lost in the palace because Blabbermouth talks incessantly about her dislike of Princess Batcheat and of how she changed all the stories on their uniforms so that the hero was always Bolo, her fiancé. Haroun, upset that they are lost, knocks the hat off of Blabbermouth’s head. Long dark hair falls out and Haroun realizes that Blabbermouth is a girl. She is indignant at Haroun’s surprise. “You think it’s easy for a girl to get a job like this? Don’t you know girls have to fool people every day of their lives if they want to get anywhere?” Blabbermouth hits a button in a closet, and they are suddenly transported to the roof where they gaze out on the Pleasure Garden and the Land of Gup. Haroun realizes, “he had never felt more completely alive in his life....” Blabbermouth takes out balls of golden silk from her pocket and begins to juggle. She adds more and more balls until she is juggling a dozen or more. This is like storytelling, Haroun thinks. “You keep a lot of different tales in the air, and juggle them up and down, and if you’re good you don’t drop any.”
Haroun wakes up hours later. There is a heavy weight on his chest and someone is squeezing his neck tightly. It is Blabbermouth, who warns him not to tell anyone about her or she will squeeze harder next time he is asleep. He agrees. Blabbermouth tells him to get up and get ready because the Gup army is ready to march.
There is a strong autobiographical theme to Haroun and the Sea of Stories. In 1989, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran, issued a death fatwa against Salman Rushdie for his depiction of Islam in his award winning novel The Satanic Verses. The fatwa meant that Rushdie was forced into protective isolation. Admittedly, he went into a prolonged period of writer’s block because of the situation. Haroun and the Sea of Stories was Rushdie’s first novel following the fatwa.
Rushdie uses the power of Khattam-Shud as the symbol for this difficult period of his life. Khattam-Shud is the antagonist of the novel, but it is also a concept larger than a single character. Khattam-Shud is the antithesis of story; it is complete silence. This is not simply a matter of condemning or criticizing a work of art. It is, instead, an act of dictatorial control through a total silencing of an author and artist. This theme of silence is explored in many different angles through the novel. Rushdie even includes himself in the novel. “Rashid” is a very close anagram to “Rushdie,” a sly nod that Rushdie is himself the storyteller that has had his heart broken and his gift taken from him.
This tension between silence and story is symbolized between the competing lands of Gup and Chup. Gup is Hindi for “gossip” or “nonsense.” This represents the fact that the Guppees exist in one extreme spectrum of the propensity for speech. They talk so much that their talk begins to lose its efficacy and meaning. On the other extreme of the spectrum is Chup, which is Hindi for “quiet.” In Chup, silence has been ordered. Some take it to such an extreme that they sew their lips together and sacrifice themselves by starving and thirsting to death.
Rushdie often alludes to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Rushdie’s Haroun follows a journey very similar to that of Alice; he is transported to a dreamlike land with the aid of a magical creature where he must fight an evil ruler in order to restore the land to its right state and then return home. One of the most humorous allusions is the description of the Guppee army, or “Library.” Just as in Alice the Queen’s army is made of cards, here the Guppee army represents the propensity for story and speech. The members of the army are dressed as pages with stories written on them. The stories have been changed, however. This symbolizes the fact that even benevolent rulers contain the desire to usurp a legend’s meaning for their own gain.
Although Gup and Chup both fall on extreme ends of a spectrum of speech, Rushdie is careful not to let these lands fall at the extreme ends of a spectrum of good and evil. Factors such as the manipulation of stories, the secrecy of the Walrus and the Eggheads, and the questionable reasoning for casting darkness over Chup all suggest that Gup is not the embodiment of goodness. In fact, as will be seen in a forthcoming chapter, any land that participates in war cannot be entirely benevolent and good. Likewise, Chup is initially seen to be evil and destructive. Haroun, however, will find a sense of beauty in the darkness of the land.