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Hybridity of narrative form and language in 'Haroun and the Sea of Stories'

The children`s book Haroun and the Sea of Stories was published in 1990 by Salman Rushdie and as himself indicates, it should be read mainly as a fairy tale for children. However, it is hard to ignore the fact that the book was published one year after a fatwah was issued against the author by Ayatollah Khomeini, an ex-Iranian political and religious leader, for publishing the novel The Satanic Verses. The present paper wishes to analyze the book Haroun and the sea of stories from different perspectives, concentrating on few of the characteristics that outline the book is a work of postmodernist metafiction, focusing on patterns of language and narrative style. At the same time, I will address the characteristics that make the novel appealing to adolescents and young readers, as well as to adults. In the light of this arguments, it is compulsory to stress out the author`s view upon the book itself, which gives us a clear contour on the starting point for interpretation. Hence, in a small booklet published by the British Film Institute on The Wizard of Oz (1992), Rushdie describes the impact this movie had on his future career as a writer: When I first saw The Wizard of Oz, it made a writer of me. Many years later, I began to decise the yarn and eventually became Haroun and the Sea of stories, and felt strongly that if I could strike the right note it should be possible to write the tale in such way as to make it of interest to adults as well as children; or, to use the phrase beloved of blurbists, to <<children from seven to seventy>>1 It is therefore only fair to assume that the endeavor the author has put into his work was undertaken in order to target the adults as well and to pique their interest upon what the entire book seems to be concentrated upon: freedom of speech. All the oscillations around storytelling and freedom of telling stories is in fact connected with the personal liberty of the individual. The exploration of the value of fiction in Haroun and the Sea of Stories is initiated by Mr. Sengupta when he addresses Rashid`s wife the following question: what`s the use of stories that aren`t even true?2 The challenge this question poses is combated in the course of the narrative. The author pinpoints that Rashid`s intention was never to relay on fact or truth, as a matter of fact, as Haroun outlines, people had faith in him because in contrast to all the politico he admitted that his stories were completely untrue and out of his head. Furthermore, Rashid`s

Suchismita Sen, Memory, Language, and Society in Salman Rushdie's "Haroun and the Sea of Stories" , Literature, Vol.36, No. 4 (Winter, 1995), p. 662, Published by: University of Wisconsin Press, Article stable URL: 2 Salman Rushdie, Haroun and the sea of stories, Granta Books, London, 1990, p.20

denial of offering facts and truths and his choice for fiction made him more trust-worthy that the truth-tellers because he was not attempting to capture the reality into political slogans. 3 This first argument is the starting point in proving the metafictional character of the book as the author choses to deal with a large and broad work of fiction, the stories. In this context, Nick Bentley`s characterization of the author`s writing techniques, expands the horizons for further analysis. Rushdie has often been associated with magic realism, a novelistic genre established mainly by Latin American writers such as Carlos Fuentes, Alejo Carpentier and Gabriel Marcia Marquez. This form of writing often merges classic European realism with magical stories (drawn in Rushdies case from Asian and Middle- Eastern legends) which deconstruct the notions of rationality and order normally associated with the Western Enlightenment. It is then, a hybrid form that combines two modes of fiction that are most usually separate.4 The cultural context from which Haroun draws much of its substance needs to be understood in its broadest sense and beyond Rushdie`s current ordeal as it is shaped by the author`s experience in India, the West and of course Islam.5 In Haroun, Rushdie has managed to re-create his Indian Childhood not only through images but also by shaping the English language in a way that reverberates with the nuances of an Indian existence. Contemporary Indian Existence is torn between loyalty to its own tradition and its obvious admiration for many Western values.6 Ensuing, we have the Guppees as representatives of a free society, in which multiculturalism and diversity are represented by the Sea of Stories. Furthermore, their dedication is visible in the will to fight against anyone that wants to put an end to freedom of speech. For them the freedom of speech is the most important liberty of all, as it leads towards a more tolerant society, in which different ideas manage to coexist side by side. Due to this premise, many times Rushdie`s novel has been criticized for being full of naivet, as the author tries to assume that speech does not have the capacity to cause direct harm, thus ignoring the political implications of such an assumption.7

Andrew S. Teverson, Fairy Tale Politics: Free Speech and Multiculturalism in <<Haroun and the Sea of Stories>>, Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 47, No.4, Salman Rushdie (Winter, 2001), pp. 444-446, Published by: Hofstra University, Article Stable URL: 4 Nick Bentley, Contemporary British Fiction, Edinburgh University Press, 2008, p. 67 5 Aron R. Aji and Salman Rushdie, "All Names Mean Something": Salman Rushdie's "Haroun" and the Legacy of Islam, Contemporary Literature , Vol. 36, No. 1 (Spring, 1995), pp. 103-129, Published by: University of Wisconsin Press, Article Stable URL: 6 Suchismita Sen, Memory, Languagep.665 7 Teverson, Fairy Tale Politics

Hybridity in Rushdie`s book challenges the reality-effect of content, either if it is understood as ethics or as a narrative of identity. The signifying systems that one culture uses to understand itself cannot be rendered transparently in a new language. The author argues in his essay Imaginary Homelands particularly on this topic: Many have referred about the appropriateness of [English] to Indian themes. And I hope all of us share the view that we can`t simply use the language in the way the British did; that it needs remaking for our own purposes. Those of us who use English do so in spite of our ambiguity towards it, or perhaps because we can find in that linguistic struggle a reflection of the other struggles taking place in the real world, struggles between the cultures within ourselves and the influences at work upon our societies. To conquer English may be to complete the process of making ourselves free.8 It is easy to depict that even Haroun confronts the the struggles between the cultures in immigrant identity. Rushdie argues in his book Imaginary Homelands, that the cultural displacement gives rise to modernism in the sense of, those constructions of reality experienced more than once become suspect or provisional, making realism impossible. Speakers of Indian English often use old fashioned expressions such as: How is your good self? or What is good your name, sir?, adding flavor to the narration. In fact, not to many recognize that good name is a literal translation of the Bengali expression bhalo naam and it refers to a person`s formal name. Due to the widespread dual naming, the adjective good is used with a special different meaning in conversations by South Asians.9 Salman Rushdie is part of a new generation of Indian fiction writers who manage to combine elements of an ancient Indian civilization with elements of the new independent nation it strives to become. Thus, as in all postmodernist types of novel, in Haroun we acknowledge the presence of contradictory positions for the sake of ideologies, religious beliefs and conventions.10 Also, the cultural hybridity manages to offer certain advantages in reducing the disparities between language, race and art through the unification of all in one world. Turning back to the second premise stated in the introduction, it is clear that the novel manages to capture the attention of the young readers as well, for it can be described as a short literary fantasy that combines elements of fairy tale. The quest of the little boy who travels in unknown lands in order to save his father from losing his storytelling gift, proved to be a captivating story for children. The narrative uses fantastical and nonsensical scenarios to hide the true satirical intentions. The hero of the book also travels in a world parallel to his own and when he reaches home he acknowledges that everything has changed and clarified. The similarities between

Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands. Essays and Criticism 1981 -1991, Published by Granta Books in association with Penguin Books, New York, 1992, p. 17 Stable URL: 9 Sen, Memory,Language,p.667 10 Teverson,Fairy Tale Politics

Haroun and Alice in Wonderland are striking in this context. However, with a further insight we can easily depict the different background the stories have. While Alice in Wonderland derives from a the English storytelling tradition of the Victorian age, Rushdie`s novel manages to demonstrate a resistance to the exclusiveness of the European narrative forms and modes of perceptions and beautifully intertwines it with Indian storytelling. 11 For instance, the elements of European storytelling mix, with allusions to the East and Eastern mythology is visible in the discussion Rashid has with Haroun about the spirits of dead kings who live in the appearance of hoopoe birds and who also are helpful companions on quests. A sort of mechanical hoopoe bird is going to carry Haroun to the Ocean of the Streams of Story and to Gup City, travel that actually represents the first part of his quest. Furthermore, Haroun`s companion is the Water Genie Iff, who seems to have been taken directly from the Arabian Nights. All the metaphors, the foreign words, the synonyms repeated by Iff the Water Genie, the wordplay and the literary allusions contained within the pages, successfully captivate the young readers due to the symbolism they carry. The youngsters find themselves caught between the worlds of childhood and adulthood, between the ambiguity of the story and the sophisticated critique on our freedoms. Many of the intertextual elements refer to texts which are part of traditional children reading, although no child reader manages to grasps all the allusions to other works of fiction, the motivation for further inquiry it is provided. In Haroun and the Sea of Stories the allusions used throughout the text are however sewed in such way in which they manage to communicate a metafictional statement. Hence, the answer to the question Haroun asks his father in the beginning, What is the use of stories that aren`t even true?, is to be found on his quest in its different phases. In the first part of his journey, the beauty of the stories is revealed in the colours of the Ocean of the Streams of Story. In this world the stories are called differently. For instance Princess Rescue Story G/1001/RIM/777/M(w)I better known as Rapunzel12. However, when Haroun drinks from the Ocean and enters the story, the entire saga takes a wrong turn due to the mix up of the stories by Kahttam Shud. What Haroun was experiencing, though he didn`t know it, was Princess Rescue Story Number S/1001/ZHT/420/41(r)xi; and because the princess in this particular story had a haircut and therefore had no long tresses to let down[], Haroun as the hero was required to climb up the outside of the tower by clinging to the cracks between the stones with his bare hands and feet.13 Eventually, when Haroun transforms into a spider and the princess pushes him down because she does not want to be saved by a spider, the reader can realize the allusions the author makes to

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Idem Rushdie, Haroun, p. 73 13 Idem

Kafka`s famous story as well. The obvious idea to be drawn here by the intertwining of these two old stories is that even conventional stories can be enjoyable. Furthermore, the multiplicity of streams in the Ocean indicates that there is an immense reservoir for producing other stories by mingling up the existent ones. This process of mixing up different traditions and which characterizes Rushdie`s book is most certainly postmodern, as modernists oppose traditions. This review of traditions is considered to be an ironical one, as various cultures are brought together to give rise to a new multi-cultural consciousness.14With the help of these post-modern elements of narration the author manages to provide an in-depth view into the workings of language and texts of fictional or nonfictional works. Despite the many different opinions on the idea that in Haroun one can or cannot depict the allusion Rushdie makes to the death sentenced issued against him, the text actually offers clear indications that there are different way in which we can interpret it. The story of a monster who hates stories can be a reference to the person of Ayatollah Khomeini on one level, and on another level it can represent the people who believe in business-like rationalism in the narrowest sense of the word, as Khattam Shud also resembles Mr. Sengupta, the town clerk Soraya ran off with. The imperceptible way in which the different traditions are mixed up makes the book a masterpiece of literature. Neither the East, nor the West can be designated as being superior as the narrative elements from both sides seem to be on equal footing. Thus, the reader is invited to portray multicultural fiction and intercultural exchange as liberating forces which can work against all kinds of power abuse and totalitarian control. In a nutshell, Haroun and the Sea of Stories successfully enlarges the scope of fantasy and makes new combinations of old traditions possible. Through the creative imagination of children, the author manages to address both children and adult readers, and as Meenakshi Mukherjee affirms, Rushdie`s example-his inventiveness, his irreverence, his audacity, and above all his success-has been liberating for a large group of Indian writers living either at home or abroad. Nobody may have been as widely read as him as yet, but collectively the young writers have been able to enter the discursive space in literature which in the western world was earlier reserved for the privileged race only.15

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Teverson, Fairy Tale Politics Meenakshi Mukherjee, The Anxiety of Indianness: Our Novels in English, Economic and Political Week, Vol. 28, No. 48 (Nov. 27, 1993), p. 2610, Published by: Economic and Political Weekly, Article Stable URL:

Works Cited
Aji, Aron R., and Salman Rushdie. ""All Names Mean Something": Salman Rushdie's "Haroun" and the Legacy of Islam." Contemporary Literature ( University of Wisconsin Press) 36, no. 1 (Spring 1995): 103-129. Bentley, Nick. Contemporary British Fiction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008. Lundell, Michael. Salman Rushdie on fictionality. March 26, 2010. (accessed May 2012). Mukherjee, Meenakshi. "The Anxiety of Indianness; Our Novels in English." Economic and Political Week (Economic and Political Weekly) 28, no. 48 (November 1993): 26072611. Orlowski, Victoria. Metafiction. Spring 1996. (accessed May 2012). Rushdie, Salman. Haroun and the Sea of Stories. London: Granta Books, 1990. . Imaginary Homelands. Essays and Criticism 1981-1991. New York: Granta Books in association with Penguin Books, 1992. Sen, Suchismita. "Memory,Language and Society in Salaman Rushdie`s "Haroun and the Sea of Stories"." Literature (University of Wisconsin Press) 36, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 654-675. Teverson, Andrew S. "Fairy Tale Politics: Free Speech and Multiculturalism in Haroun and the Sea of Stories." Twentieth Century Literature (Hofstra University) 47, no. 4 (Winter 2001): 444-446.