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Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a 1990 children's book by Salman Rushdie. It was Rushdie's first novel after The Satanic Verses. It is a phantasmagorical story set in a city so old and ruinous that it has forgotten its name.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories is an allegory for several problems existing in society today, especially in Indiamarker and the Indian subcontinent. It looks at these problems from the viewpoint of the young protagonist Haroun. It is also interesting to note that Rushdie dedicated this book to his son, Zafar Rushdie, from whom he was separated for some time.

It was made into an audiobook read by Rushdie himself, but the more commonly available 2002 edition of the audiobook was read by Zia Mohyeddin.


While writing his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, Rushdie's 9-year-old son Zafar said that he should write novels that children could read. In response, Rushdie promised that the next book he wrote would be one that his son might enjoy reading. True to his word, Rushdie began to write the novel in the summer of 1989, a few months after the fatwa.

Plot Summary

The plot of Haroun and the Sea of Stories is based upon bath-time stories that Rushdie told to Zafar.

The "sad city", the novel's protagonists, and antagonist Mr. Sengupta are introduced and described. Soon after, the relations between Soraya and Rashid deteriorate until they finally collapse, whereupon Haroun, traumatized, repeats to Rashid Mr. Sengupta's question "What's the use of stories that aren't even true?", which combines with Soraya's desertion to depress Rashid. Thereafter Rashid continues as a storyteller, but his skill is diminished. Miss Oneeta, disowning her husband's name, becomes Rashid's frequent visitor.

Subsequently, Rashid is hired to speak on behalf of the corrupt politician known as Buttoo, but fails before an audience. Infuriated, Buttoo's henchmen (themselves stated to resemble Rashid's characterization of villains) demand that Rashid improve his performance before he speaks to Buttoo's constituents in the Valley of K and leave. To reach K, Haroun obtains the help of mail carrier Mr. Butt, who drives Rashid, Haroun, and numerous other passengers (whose names are never shown) to the Valley at dangerous speed, ignoring the warning signs placed on the road. These warning signs themselves resemble signs placed in India's capital of New Delhi in conveying their warnings by means of rhymes or witticism.

In the Valley of K, Rashid and Haroun travel across the Dull Lake, which Haroun discovers to be the center of the Moody Land (see above) when the weather changes in reflection of the characters' behavior. In the center of the lake, Rashid and Haroun are placed aboard Buttoo's houseboat, the Arabian Nights Plus One, where they are to sleep. Here, readers are introduced to the idea of an "Ocean of the Streams of Story", which becomes the setting of the second segment of the book. Having failed to sleep in the bedroom assigned him, Haroun exchanges beds with his father.

Haroun is later woken when Iff the Water Genie comes to cancel Rashid's subscription to the supply of imagination that enables him to tell stories, and upon seeing Iff seizes his Disconnecting Tool and uses it to blackmail Iff into taking him (Haroun) to Kahani to have the cancellation prevented. Iff and Haroun then travel to Kahani atop Butt the Hoopoe. En route, they discover that some of the stories of Kahani's Ocean are becoming polluted. They later arrive at Gup City, where it is revealed to them and to the reader that the Chupwalas have captured Princess Batcheat. Here, Goopy, Bagha, the Walrus, and Mali are introduced. Moments later, Rashid arrives on Kahani and shows himself to be a witness to Batcheat's capture. Upon hearing this, the Library of Gup organizes to rescue Batcheat and to stall Khattam-Shud's attack on the Ocean. During the organization, Haroun befriends the Page Blabbermouth, whom he discovers to be a girl.

En route to Chup, the Guppee army argues endlessly and without restraint about their purpose. This surprises Haroun, who considers doing so to be mutiny, but continues until the army has arrived in the Twilight Strip dividing Kahani. There, they encounter Mudra, who reveals Khattam-Shud's division of himself into two shadowy figures whereof one is an anthropomorphic shadow and the other a diminished man, states that many Chupwalas resent Khattam-Shud but are reluctant to rebel, and joins the Guppees. Haroun, Mali, Iff, Goopy, Bagha, and Butt go to Kahani's South Pole, where one of Khattam-Shud's two divisions of himself is poisoning the Ocean, while the army goes to Chup City to fight his other division and the armies it commands.

Goopy and Bagha are soon exhausted by the poisons, so that they stay behind the others. Near the South Pole, weeds and nocturnal animals have proliferated in the Ocean, so that Mali leaves his companions in order to remove them. They are prevented from rejoining when the anthropomorphic shadows of Khattam-Shud's men capture Haroun, Iff, and Butt in a net and bring them aboard the shadow of an ark. There, Khattam-Shud and all his men are shown to appear identical to Mr. Sengupta. He and Haroun quarrel for a short time. Here, too, are revealed the methods of the Chupwala plan to destroy the Ocean. These methods, consisting of an array of complicated machines powered by electromagnetic induction, are destroyed by Mali. Taking advantage of the resulting disturbance, Haroun distracts the Chupwalas by means of a source of artificial light, repairs Butt, who has been deprived of his brain, and uses some "wishwater" given him by Iff to turn Kahani so that Chup is illuminated and all the shadow-beings destroyed.

At Chup City, the Guppees defeat the Chupwalas on the plain of Bat-Mat-Karo (a Hindi phrase roughly translatable as "do not speak"). Before the battle, Blabbermouth is exposed as a girl and leaves Prince Bolo to work for Mudra. Soon after the battle, the civilian Chupwalas throw in their lot with the invading army and free Princess Batcheat. Haroun's use of the wishwater comes into play here, so that the ice palace of Khattam-Shud is melted and its master killed by the fall of his symbol of power, the statue Bezaban. All the protagonists return to Gup, where honors are bestowed on Haroun's companions and Haroun is promised a happy ending to his own story.

Upon their return to Earth, Haroun and Rashid sleep until the morning wherein Rashid is to speak on behalf of Snooty Buttoo. Instead of speaking in praise, however, Rashid recites the story of Haroun's adventure, provoking the audience to depose Buttoo from his position. Rashid and Haroun then return to their home city, where they find that Soraya has discarded Mr. Sengupta in favor of her former life, while the city has ceased to be sad on account of its denizens remembering its name. Thereafter all conflicts are resolved. The novel concludes with an appendix explaining the meaning of each major character's name.


  • A work of magic realism, the story begins and takes place partly in "a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad it had forgotten its name", which is located beside "a mournful sea full of glumfish, which were so miserable to eat that they made people belch with melancholy". This city is thickly populated by people, of whom only the lead character Haroun and his parents are ever happy, while in the north of the city are factories wherein sadness is allegedly manufactured and exported. The factories produce air pollution that is only relieved during the monsoon, which also heralds the arrival of pomfret into the nearby waters.

  • Most of the Earthly locations present in the book are located in the fictional nation of Alifbay, which is a combination of first two letters of the Arabic script based Urdu alphabet, Alif and Bay and therefore contains many places named after letters, such as the "Valley of K" and the "Tunnel of I (which was also known as J)".

  • In the center of the Valley of K is the Dull Lake, which is said in the novel's appendix to be named after the Dal Lakemarker in Kashmirmarker. This implies that Kashmir is the place on which K is based. The Dull Lake itself is the location of the Moody Land, a landscape whose weather changes to reflect the emotions of the people currently present in it. It is the place where the lead characters go at the behest of a corrupt politician, and where their adventures begin.

  • The larger part of the plot occurs on a fictional satellite of the Earth's, named Kahani, whose orbit is controlled by "Processes Too Complicated To Explain". These processes enable it to fly over every single point on Earth. Kahani itself consists of a massive Ocean which itself is composed of an infinity of stories, each story taking the form of a current or stream of a unique color. The colors, therefore, encompass the whole visible spectrum and extend beyond into spectra that are not known to exist. Various islands and a continent are also shown on the moon. The name "Kahani" itself means "Story" in Urdu and Hindi, and is ultimately revealed to be the name of the sad city; a revelation that removes the sadness from the city's people.

  • The Moon Kahani is, throughout most of the plot, divided into two sections equal in size, one of which is kept in perpetual daylight and the other in perpetual darkness. The two are separated by a narrow strip of twilight, which is marked by a force field named Chattergy's Wall. The daylight side is called Gup (meaning "gossip", "nonsense", or "fib" in Hindi) and the night-darkened side is called Chup (meaning "quiet"). Inhabitants of Gup value speech and are called "Guppees", meaning "talkative people", while inhabitants of Chup are stated to have historically valued silence and are called "Chupwalas", meaning "quiet fellows". The "u" in "Gup" rhymes with the "u" in "cup", the "u" in "Chup" is pronounced similarly to the "oo" in "good", and the "w" in "Chupwala" resembles a sound lying midway between the English letters "w" and "v". At the South Pole of Kahani is a spring known as the Source of Stories, from which (according to the premise of the plot) originated all stories ever communicated. The prevention of this spring's blockage therefore forms the climax of the novel's own story.


Haroun: The main character/central consciousness of the story. A young, curious, courageous, outspoken child. He is said to suffer throughout most of the story from a form of attention-deficit disorder, under whose influence he is unable to concentrate his attention for a longer measurement of time than eleven minutes, but overcomes it at the climax and does not suffer from it again.

Rashid: Haroun's father, also known as the Shah of Blah and the Ocean of Notions for his ability to create fascinating stories impromptu. Rashid is a professional storyteller who is sometimes hired by corrupt politicians to persuade constituents that they should be re-elected. His attachment to his wife and to his practice of storytelling are probably his greatest psychological weaknesses; when either is lost, he becomes depressed and loses the other. To recover the latter, he travels to Kahani by a means known as 'Rapture', by which he is able to travel inside his dreams and wake up in the world the dream has created. This method consists of consuming "moonberries, comet's tails, planet rings, [and] primordial soup". Having reached Kahani, he alerts the Guppees to the location of their Princess Batcheat and later joins their army to recapture her from the Chupwalas who have captured her.

Soraya: Rashid's wife, who tires of his imagination and leaves him for the dull and dreary Mr. Sengupta, a neighbor. That she is becoming alienated from Rashid is implied early on, where she is said to have abandoned her daily songs. At the end, she has returned to Rashid, having become disgusted by Mr. Sengupta's obnoxious behavior and revived her affection for her husband and son. Upon her return, the depression overwhelming Rashid and the unusual syndrome manifested by Haroun both dissolve and do not reappear. Her name is probably Persian in origin.

Mr. Sengupta: The dreary man who is Haroun's neighbor, and who elopes with Soraya. As a rule, Mr. Sengupta despises imagination and stories, which sets the stage for his later appearance on Kahani as antagonist Khattam-Shud, to whom he is evidently identical. Khattam-Shud's defeat seems to correspond with Soraya's desertion of Mr. Sengupta, who does not appear again in person. His name is a contraction of "Sen Gupta", a legitimate Indian name.

Miss Oneeta: Mr. Sengupta's obese, talkative, self-important, overwhelmingly emotional, generous wife, who is so disappointed in her husband after he takes Soraya and leaves the city wherein they live that she disowns him and her married name. It is she who reveals that Soraya's desertion has given Haroun his disorder, and she who announces both Soraya's desertion and her return.

Mr. Butt: The mail courier, a reckless driver who, when requested to provide transport for Haroun and Rashid (who is expected to speak at an election of public officers), ignores all other demands so as to take them to their destination before dusk. He is implied to be the counterpart of the Hoopoe, who also serves as Haroun's transportation.

Snooty Buttoo: A corrupt politician who hires Rashid to convince constituents that he (Buttoo) should be re-elected. Buttoo is a class-conscious, pompous, arrogant, self-assured, insincere, callous person whose chief hold over his constituents is that he has been re-elected before. To persuade Rashid to sympathize with him, he places both Rashid and Haroun on a luxurious houseboat called The Arabian Nights Plus One, where they spend the night. When Buttoo learns that Soraya has deserted Rashid, he dismisses Rashid's misery, remarking that "there are plenty more fish in the sea", as if to indicate that in Soraya's absence Rashid may find another companion. Buttoo is ultimately deposed and banished from the valley wherein he is trying to be re-elected when the people thereof are inspired to take action against him by Rashid's recitation of Haroun's story. The name "Buttoo" means "little child" in Hindi, and is probably given to this character as an act of contempt.

Butt the Hoopoe: A machine in the form of a Hoopoe who becomes Haroun's steed in Kahani. He is revealed to possess a mechanical brain which is capable of almost all known mental feats, including telepathy. The latter is used throughout his role, producing a recurrent joke wherein his spoken lines are followed by the statement that he "spoke without moving [his] beak". This ability also appears in scenes wherein he replies to Haroun's unspoken thoughts, which sometimes move in synchronity with the narration. He is shown to be capable of flying at impossible speeds, travelling between Earth and Kahani, and answering to any name preferred by his rider. Because he shares with Mr. Butt the idiosyncrasy of saying "but but but" at the beginning of sentences, in addition to some superficial details of appearance, he is called by the same name. At his introduction, he is described as "the bird that leads all other birds through many dangerous places to their ultimate goal".

Iff: A "water genie" from Kahani who accompanies Haroun in Kahani. Iff's task is to control Rashid's supply of imagination, which appears in the form of waters transmitted to Rashid via an invisible faucet by a means that is never revealed, but which is called a "Process Too Complicated To Explain". Iff himself is a benevolent character having a blue moustache and beard; an effusive, somewhat cantankerous personality; and a habit of speaking in lists of synonyms. His name, like that of Butt the Hoopoe, is derived from the saying "if and but". During the denouement, he has been placed in command of the other Water Genies, who perform tasks similar to his throughout the world.

Prince Bolo: A possible parody of the archetypal awe-inspiring hero or Prince Charming, Bolo is the fiancée of Princess Batcheat (see below) and the only person to believe that she is a beauty. Bolo is a reckless, slightly stupid, melodramatic figure who is nominally the leader of the charge to rescue the captured Batcheat from Chup, but who wields little authority; who is prone to becoming excited at the least provocation; who is obsessed with rescuing Batcheat, so that all other things appear to him as of little significance; who frequently draws his sword when it is unwise to fight; who extends diplomatic immunity to an assassin bent on killing him; and who gives the impression to readers of being somewhat out of harmony with the realities of his situations. His name is the imperative form of the verb bolna, and therefore means "Speak!".

Princess Batcheat: A damsel in distress. Batcheat is the daughter of King Chattergy, ruler of Gup, and the fiancée of Prince Bolo, whose affiliations are unknown. She is somewhat foolish; romantic; reckless; and completely infatuated with Bolo, who is the only person to think her beautiful; all other characters have low opinions of her nose, teeth, and singing voice. Most references (including, in one passage, those of the narration) to any of these conform to this pattern: "... that nose, those teeth — but there's no need to go into that". The narrator evidently follows his own advice, for no graphic description is given of Batcheat's face at all. Her name is pronounced "Baat-cheet" and is translated as "chit-chat". When she is captured by Chupwalas during an excursion to the border between Gup and Chup, they plot to sew her mouth shut and rename her Khamosh, meaning "silent", but never carry this out.

General Kitab: Literally "General Book". General Kitab is the commander of the Guppee 'Library', which functions in peacetime as a system of aides and in war as an army. It consists of a multitude of Pages, each of which is a thin person clad in an oversized sheet of paper bearing part of a story. The Pages are organized into divisions called 'Chapters', which are themselves organized into 'Volumes', each of which is led by a Page called the 'Title'. The General, in turn, leads the Titles, participates in every debate regarding the worth of the cause on which the army has embarked, and frequently foments such debates on purpose to resolve all conflict of interest or opinion. The whole army, therefore, takes part in every campaign of a gigantic Rogerian argument, whose sole aim is to produce conciliation and eventual unity among the Pages. Because Guppee laws permit an unlimited freedom of speech, these debates are unrestrained to an extent that would (as Haroun remarks) be considered insubordination in the reader's real world. General Kitab himself is often flustered and embarrassed by Prince Bolo's impetuosity, to which he responds by using colorful language and attempting to rectify a damaged situation.

King Chattergy: Princess Batcheat's father and Prince Bolo's father-in-law, a symbolic figure who forms the nominal head of Gup's government but has little real power. He is given very little role in most of the story. The Wall dividing Gup from Chup is named after him, although he is stated to have had no involvement with its creation. His name is a legitimate name in India.

Blabbermouth: A Page of the Library of Gup. Blabbermouth is a talkative, ill-tempered, contemptuous, stubborn, unscrupulous, quarrelsome girl who despises Princess Batcheat, disguises herself as a boy, and is skilled at the art of juggling, which Haroun compares to storytelling. Blabbermouth joins the army of Gup to march on Chup, but is later exposed as a girl and expelled from the army by Bolo. She then becomes aide to Mudra, an ally of the Guppees, with whom she is implied to be infatuated. Haroun is said to have a soft spot for her, but never confesses it. He is, however, extremely pleased after she kisses him.

Mudra: Second-in-command to Khattam-Shud, who becomes disgruntled with his master's policies and defects to the Guppee side. His shadow, like the shadows of each and every person in Chup, can behave independently of himself and is therefore his sidekick. Mudra himself is an able warrior skilled in the art of hand-to-hand combat. He is described as having green paint and exaggerated features covering his face; as being clad in bulky armor that increases his appearance of size; and as having eyes that are white at the pupil, grey at the iris, and black at upon the larger surface of the eyeball. Such eyes are common to all Chupwalas, and are entirely blind in bright light, being given their vision by the reflection of darkness from objects. Mudra is nearly mute, being able only to communicate his own name and the fact that he "speaks" by means of Abhinaya, a type of sign language used in classical Indian dance. His own name is said in the appendix to be the generic term for all signs used in this language. After the climax, Mudra becomes President of Chup. The question of whether or not he reciprocates Blabbermouth's infatuation is never answered.

Khattam-Shud: The villain of the story, whose name means "completely finished". He represents silence, and is therefore said to be invoked at the termination of every story told. As a character, he is the "Prince of Silence and the Foe of Speech" feared by most Guppees. He is the ruler of Chup, the Kahanian counterpart of Mr. Sengupta, and the founder of a religion whose supreme commandment is abstinence from speech. By the time the story begins, he has intensified his war against Gup and is conducting an operation by which he intends to block the source from which all stories are born, which is located at Kahani's south pole. To conduct this operation while simultaneously organizing the war against Gup, he has changed his shadow into an autonomous replica of himself, done the same to several of his assistants, and created a massive ark out of shadow, where his shadow-men synthesize "anti-stories" by which to ruin all the stories ever composed and construct a plug by which to clog the Source of Stories below the ship. These things are all ultimately destroyed when Haroun uses a substance called "wishwater" to turn Kahani around, so that Chup is illuminated by sunlight. The shadow-men, their ship, and all their equipment dissolve into oblivion, while the plug (which is solid) lands at the bottom of the ocean beside the Source of Stories, which then continues unblocked. The corporeal Khattam-Shud is destroyed when Chup Citadel, which is made of black ice, melts in the sunlight; during the dissolution of the citadel, the gigantic ice statue representing Khattam-Shud's religion collapses onto the religion's founder, crushing him.

Bezaban: Literally "without a tongue", this is the name of the ice statue located atop the Citadel of Chup, where it symbolizes Khattam-Shud's power. It is used as an object of worship by the Cult of Silence. Later, Bezaban is melted and collapses onto Khattam-Shud, killing him under its weight.

The Eggheads: Originally a derogative name for an enthusiast in some subject, the term here describes the technicians of Kahani, who are white-coated, completely bald, enthusiastic, cheerful, and intelligent. The Eggheads of Gup City are said to be the inventors of all "Processes Too Complicated To Explain", by which impossible feats such as Kahani's bizarre orbit, the creation of artificial happy endings for stories, and the transmission of "story water" to Earthly storytellers are easily accomplished. They are quite in awe of their superintendent, the Walrus, for his possession of a moustache.

Walrus: The superintendent of the Eggheads, distinguished from them by his possession of a small moustache which gives him his name.

Plentimaw Fish: Large, sharklike Angelfish living in the waters near Gup, which is built on several islands. The name is derived from their multiplicity of mouths, through which they constantly ingest the stories conveyed by the waters. Inside their bodies, the stories are then mixed, producing new stories that join the canon of all the stories ever told. It is never suggested that the stories they ingest are destroyed or weakened. A typical Plentimaw Fish is extremely talkative through all of its mouths, though pollution in the Sea of Stories can cause it to speak through only one at a time. Plentimaw Fish mate for life and always travel in pairs, which then speak in rhyme. The name is also used to assonate with Buttoo's statement that "there are plenty more fish in the sea", whereas the angelfish-like physique of the two recalls to Haroun's mind (and therefore to the reader's) Rashid's reply that "[one] must go a long, long way to find an Angel Fish", which Haroun can be said to have done by traveling to Kahani. The two Plentimaw Fish present in the story, Goopy and Bagha, travel with Haroun, Iff, Butt, and Mali (see below) to the Source of Stories, but are overwhelmed by the pollution and must stay behind the others. After the climax, they are appointed leaders of their species.

Mali: A 'Floating Gardener' composed of interwoven flowering vines and water plants that behave as a single organism. He is one of many, whose task is to prevent stories from becoming irretrievably convoluted and to cut away weeds that grow on the Ocean's surface. Floating Gardeners are divided into a hierarchy of classes, of which Mali belongs to the First Class; presumably the highest. At the denouement, he is made Head Floating Gardener. Mali, and presumably other Floating Gardners, is virtually invulnerable, being able to withstand any and all attacks made against him by the Chupwalas. Though normally taciturn by human standards, he is shown singing rhymes when defying the attacks, exemplified by the following:

"You can chop a flower-bush,

You can chop a tree,

You can chop liver, but

You can't chop me!

You can chop and change,

You can chop in ka-ra-tee,

You can chop suey, but

You can't chop me!".

Here, "ka-ra-tee" is probably a variant of "karate", a Japanese martial art invented on Okinawamarker. Mali, while singing, is shown using the vines that make up his body to destroy the Chupwalas' machinery that is used to poison the Ocean. His name literally means "Gardener", as is stated in the appendix.

Allusions/references in other works

In May 2006, it came to light that Kaavya Viswanathan may have plagiarized passages from Haroun and the Sea of Stories in her novel How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life.

Allusions/references to other works

The two fishes are called 'Goopy' and 'Bagha', in tribute to Satyajit Ray's fantastical film, Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne.

Gup City employs Eggheads (bald-headed academics) who are headed by the Walrus. This is a reference to the Beatles' song I am the Walrus. This is exacerbated in the fact that the Walrus' full name is "I.M.D. Walrus, Esquire" and in the introduction "They are the Eggheads. He is the Walrus", which is a variation of the song's refrain.

Elements of the story are indicated to have been drawn from Baum's The Wizard of Oz, Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, and Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

The names Haroun and Rashid are a reference to Harun al-Rashid, who appears in many stories in the One Thousand and One Nights. Frequent use is made of the number "one thousand and one" throughout the novel.

When the character Mudra is first encountered, the noises he emits are the gurgling sound "Gogogol" and the coughing noise "Kafkafka", which are obvious references to writers Nikolai Gogol and Franz Kafka, whose names they are distorting. Rushdie makes another reference to Kafka when Iff describes the Plentimaw Fishes in the sea, who swallow stories, as hunger artists.

A reference is made to the folktale Rapunzel in the book's fourth chapter.


Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

  • An opera, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Charles Wuorinen with libretto by James Fenton, written in 2001, was premiered at the New York City Opera in Fall 2004.


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