Least Tern > English Class > MS Fiction
by Salman Rushdie
A study guide by John McIlvain & Elizabeth Sky-McIlvain
Text: Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Salman Rushdie. Penguin, 1990
In 2002, the novel was produced as an audiobook, read by Zia Mohyeddin.
Salman Rushdies Haroun is a wonderful book to teach in Middle School. I used it in a fairly advanced sixth grade class for at least eight years. Every year students juniors and seniors stopped me in the hall if they saw me carrying a copy of Haroun to say, the best book ever. I think what makes it the best book ever is the energy of its language and its uninhibited quality of adventure.
Although it was written for his 10 year old son (see below) while Rushdie was in exile because of the fatwa against him, the book is characteristic of childrens tales that have also delighted adults. It has a richness of theme and language that can be appreciated on numerous levels. The following is a study guide designed to help the reader keep track of certain people, places and things, and provide him or her with some quotes to think about.
Students who wish to read this book should spend some time before, during, and after reading with the following resources: Salmon Rushdie & India and Allusions in the text
Biography of Salmon Rushdie
Author Profile Kashmir
(Couchemar = nightmare) - http://columbia.thefreedictionary.com/Vale+of+Kashmir
Dull Lake Lake Dahl ~ There are many pictures available, but the sites (mostly tourist sites) keep changing. We recommend you use Google.
A brief description of a journey to Kashmir which includes a bus ride ~ http://www.people.virginia.edu/~pm9k/mcalk/Words/kash.html
Map of India, showing the areas alluded to in the text.
Note: Pakistan disputes the claims India has on Kashmir so maps of the area often reflect the political position of the mapmakers.
Allusions - People, Places, Things
The allusions serve both to entertain (readers of all ages who recognize an allusion tend to be pleased with their flashes of erudition) and underscore the universality of stories.
About the Names in this Book ~ this section appears at the end of the novel and covers many, but by no means all, of the place and character names.
Other words and names & our additions:
le cauchemar = nightmare (French) ~ see p.40 ~ Kashmir above
Alifbay ~ explained in the author's appendix, but this name also should remind the reader of Pig-Latin ~ Alifbay (Alibag?) (http://www.onesmartclick.com/alibag/alibag.html) (To me, this entire sight seems to capture a spirit that runs throughout Haroun)
Two of the key names in the book - Haroun and Rashid - are taken from one name, Haroun Al-Rashid, who was both the leading character in the Arabian Nights tales and a famous ruler (the Caliph of the Abbasids from 766 to 809). Like the rulers of Kahani, he gave control of state affairs to his Grand Vizier (the Walrus). Haroun was a patron of the arts and of learning and somewhat the antithesis of some current Arab rulers. Read about both characters at The Arabian Nights Resource Centre.
Alice in Wonderland ~ Rushdie acknowledges an admiration of and debt to this classic by Lewis Carroll. In addition to reading or reviewing that short classic and Through the Looking Glass, you should investigate resources to be found at the Least Tern study guide to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Some specific allusions that should attract your attention are:
The Pages as compared to the Queen and her Court (cards) ~ both are extended metaphors used in similar ways
the Adventure itself, which takes Haroun (and the reader) into a new, dreamlike and "mixed up" land in which he both errs terribly and grows measurably through his own defiant and decisive actions. Consider as well his drinking of magic liquids as compared to Alice's. The nature of the Court in Wonderland should be compared to the leadership of Gup.
the Language of wordplay, puns, and seeming nonsense.
Logic - is logic present in a world with characters named Buttoo, Butt, and Iff and a game called "Iffing and Butting"? Where is it operable? What are the rules? What are the operators?
Time, especially time stopped (The Mad Tea Party and the word-play involving time).
The Arabian Nights ~ the one thousand and one stories told by Shaharazad to the Caliph to save the lives of herself, her sister and her father. These stories can be found on the web by visiting this listing of e-texts from the Open Directory. They include the stories of Sinbad, whose impossible adventures in far-off lands are also alluded to throughout Haroun. See also the note about the name Haroun, above. A particularly readable version of Sinbad is available here.
The Arabian Nights Resource Centre (caution - this has a definite point of view - it does not seem, however, to preach)
A Study Guide with shortened versions.
At this site, a commercial site for pinball machines, you will find some neat soundclips you can use in Haroun or Arabian Nights presentations. Scroll down.
Kathasaritsagara, the original "Ocean of Stories (a 900 year old collection of Kashmiri stories some of which can be found at http://koausa.org/Folk/)
The Wizard of Oz by Frank O. Baum ~ Another classic to which Rushdie is indebted. Dorothy's adventures in search of happiness, a way home and a happy ending are alluded to throughout Haroun. Some specific allusions that should attract your attention are:
the Journey itself ~ the suspension of time and the element of speed in Haroun's journeys with Butt echo Dorothy's tornadoic ride. Like Haroun, Dorothy finds companions over whom she gradually assumes leadership, with whom she completes a dangerous task, and who assist her in her final journey home.
Characters from this and other tales of Oz ~ flying monkeys, lions, the Wizard (many similarities to Khattam-Shud and his shadow), the soldiers of Oz.
The Beatles ~ This British singing group's song entitled "I am the Walrus" (I.M.D. Walrus) from the Magical Mystery Tour Album, 1976, contains references to the Walrus and the Eggman (close!) ~ Wikipedia and SongFacts
The Rubyiat of Omar Kayam ~ this collection of short verse poems is romantic poetry in short form. Translated by Fitzgerald, it has long been available to Western students of Eastern cultures.
Fairy Tales - Journeys, endings, quests, sons in search of adventure, bad men doing bad things illogically ~ all of these belong to the fairy tale tradition.
Cartoons and Comic books ~ see if you can identify some allusions to Batman and his various foes, to Looney Tune characters and other characters from old cartoons.
Teachers may wish to investigate the following resources, in addition to those listed above.
http://www.rockyhill.org/UPPER/ClassroomEvents/APEnglish/Haroun_Web_Page.html - This is an assignment for students to make a Haroun webpage. It includes both technical and writing objectives, a detailed list of material to be included and an assessment rubric. An excellent model for this type of assignment.
Themes and concepts:
- Stories are vital and important. A life without them is meaningless.
- Words are also vital, as are family, freedom of speech, humor, and tolerance.
- Stories are constantly interwoven and reborn.
- Stories can be cheapened and polluted through the absense of imagination and the insistence that they serve some kind of purpose.
- The mess of democracy is preferable to the darkness of dictatorship.
- In the end, the world needs both light and darkness.
- The world is filled with opposites which in the end must be reconciled.
- Sticking up for what you believe in defines a person:
- Haroun becomes a hero by volunteering to fight for stories because he believes in stories.
- Mudra becomes a hero for standing up to Khattam Shud.
- Blabbermouth becomes a hero because she refuses to accept the role Prince Bolo thinks she should play.
- Even Prince Bolo becomes a hero (of sorts) because of his loyalty to the woman (Princess Batcheat) he loves.
- Analogies to story-telling: dreams, singing (good and bad), juggling (blabbermouth), dancing (the language of gesture Mudra).
- The relation between the imaginary world and the real world is complex and important.
Indian sagas and folklore
Criticism of Salman Rushdie ~
. From Mark McDannald,Washington and Lee University:
British politics in general and the Royal family in particular. In fact, there are few global political stories that can not be interwoven with Haroun.
Elizabeth Sky-McIlvain 12/30/06