Viking Children's Books, 1990, 224 pages
Discover Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Salman Rushdie's classic fantasy novel.
Set in an exotic eastern landscape peopled by magicians and fantastic talking animals, Salman Rushdie's classic children's novel Haroun and the Sea of Stories inhabits the same imaginative space as The Lord of the Rings, The Alchemist, and The Wizard of Oz. In this captivating work of fantasy from the author of Midnight's Children and The Enchantress of Florence, Haroun sets out on an adventure to restore the poisoned source of the sea of stories. On the way he encounters many foes, all intent on draining the sea of all its storytelling powers.
Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a children's book by Salman Rushdie, much better known for bestselling literary novels like Midnight's Children and The Satanic Verses. I've read both of the latter, so his tone was familiar to me in this much lighter novel, despite the fact that it's aimed at children.
Haroun and the Sea of Stories is basically a portal fantasy following the usual formula: a boy is presented with a problem in the real world involving his parents (in this case, it's that his mother ran off with a sketchy neighbor, causing his father, a professional storyteller, to lose his voice, literally and figuratively), but encounters a magical being who takes him on an adventure to another world to solve the problem in a fantastical way.
Haroun is a likeable chap, and the large cast of characters is amusing and full of puns and alliterative speeches and imagination, from the giant shadow warriors to the page named "Blabbermouth" who is a feisty girl in disguise, to the dim-witted king questing to rescue his princess, who has such an abominable voice her captors and rescuers alike beg her to stop singing. There is a water genie, a Floating Gardener, Plentimaw fish, Chupwalas, and many other creatures.
It reminded me a bit of Catherynne Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland series, but Rushdie doesn't quite have Valente's wit or feel for absurdity and humor. Rather, Rushdie seemed to be inserting many allegories into his story, probably most of which will pass over the heads of non-Indian readers. It's still quite accessible, even to a young reader, but I felt like the story became a bit involved and multicasted for a children's book, as if the author of The Satanic Verses was trying a little too hard.
That said, it's a well-written book suitable for children, full of imagination and a non-Western setting. It's worthy of being a modern children's classic and I would probably give it to a well-read youngster to sit alongside their Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter.
Also by Salman Rushdie: My reviews of Midnight's Children and The Satanic Verses.
My complete list of book reviews.