Books at Bedtime: Haroun and the Sea of Stories

As one of the books in our PaperTigers Reading the World Challenge (and I’ll be bringing you a full update on that later on in the week), Younger Brother and I have read together Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie (Granta Books, 1990). My brother gave a first edition to my boys several years ago but this is the first time we’ve read it – and I see that it is now available in many editions, with a lovely array of book covers, which I can’t resist including here (and see this project book cover/splash page from Art Slug).

But back to the story. We both adored it. I was practically tied down at bedtimes and made to read on. For any child (or adult) who loves words and playing with language and ideas, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Haroun’s father, the Shah of Blah, has lost his story-telling Gift of the Gab because his wife has left him. Haroun, who has become a little jaded with his father’s focus on fiction himself, soon finds himself in possession of Iff, a Water Genie’s Disconnector and spinning into a spiral of adventures. He discovers that stories are physically real and that the balance of human happiness is being threatened because the menacing land of Chup, where it is always night, is poisoning the Sea of Stories, despite all the attempts to keep it clean by the happy land of Gup across the water, where it is always light…

Haroun meets a wonderful array of characters – as well as Iff, there is Butt, the oxymoronically magical mechanical hoopoe depicted on the book’s cover; Bagha and Goopy, two of the plentimaw fishes who swim in the sea (don’t you just love it?!), Mali the Head Floating Gardener, and many more – and of course, there are also the often shadowy baddies, led by the terrifying Khattam-Shud. Despite all the P2C2E, Processes Too Complicated To Explain (I told you you’d love it!), Haroun finds a way to help his new friends, and in so doing restores the balance of happiness to his own life.

Yes, this is definitely one of the most wonderful readalouds we’ve shared. The prose is like poetry – you almost chew the words. We relished the huge, unanswerable questions that the book explores – what is Reality? What is Story? Who is that character, that person… who am I? – as well as the allegories of light and darkness (which make this so relevant to an adult as well as a young audience), environmental responsibility and empathy. And we revelled in each little bit of wordplay, from character names to gleeful patter.

If your child enjoys stories of worlds within worlds, like Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, or the Harry Potter series, they will love Haroun and the Sea of Stories.

3 Responses to “Books at Bedtime: Haroun and the Sea of Stories”

  1. Uma Krishnaswami Says:

    “I was practically tied down at bedtimes and made to read on.” That was precisely our experience when I read Haroun to my son. Now, so many years later, he’s enjoyed Luka and the Fire of Life, as I have. I don’t think it would stand on its own for me, however, without that incredible early memory of Haroun and the Sea of Stories. It’s a brilliant work that gets richer with each visit.

  2. Marjorie Says:

    Yes, I do think we need to read it all over again, as there are so many nuances that will emerge from already knowing what comes later. I haven’t read Luka and the Fire of Life yet, but other Rushdie books, namely Midnight’s Children and The Moor’s Last Sigh, are among my “grown-up” favorites ever.

  3. Sally Says:

    O my, I’d like to get this one for my daughter!