Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a novel that’s a bit difficult to talk about. It’s by the prolific and celebrated author Salman Rushdie who’s managed to acquire a pretty controversial image while also being loved for his fiction. It also is one of those children’s novels that can be read as a simple adventure story from a child’s perspective, but as an adult can be a sort of allegory for something more political (example: Animal Farm by George Orwell).
At the surface level, this is a very competently written novel. The prose is sharp, not overwritten, with vivid and colorful descriptions. The world is very vibrant and there’s an undercurrent of humor and satire in just about every name and description. The story is only about 200 pages long, which is refreshing considering how overly bloated many fantasy books are today, even self-contained ones for young readers.
The characters are very well drawn. Haroun is a very good reluctant hero—resourceful, intelligent, and compassionate, with just enough naivety and hot temper to keep him balanced. Iff the Water Genie and Butt the Hoopoe were very fun characters, as were Blabbermouth, his father Rashid, Mali, and . . . Who am I kidding? I loved every character in this book—even the prince and his future wife.
As mentioned before, the story can be read as a simple adventure story as Rashid and Haroun work together to get Rashid back his ability to tell stories and also save the Sea of Stories. Yes, this is a novel about stories. If you like that kind of thing, this just may be the book for you. There were a few moments in the novel that reminded me of celebrated classics like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Phantom Tollbooth, and Alice in Wonderland. This comes as high praise as I can easily name all of the above as some of the best children’s fantasy I’ve ever read, and this book certainly makes it onto that list.
This is not to say that it’s perfect or for everyone. Some of the narrative moments were a bit daunting, though this may be due to its old school self-referential writing style and British English. Also, the story felt to be a bit too much like a boy’s club. Then again, so was The Phantom Tollbooth and that’s probably my third favorite novel ever, so it may not deter you. This is a tale that’s been told many times before and you may already be sick of reading stories like it. In terms of how well it delivers on its premise, this is a phenomenal novel and one of the most underrated children’s novels I’ve ever read. Hopefully in the future it will become popular enough in America to be taught in the school system—after all, it’s based on Indian folklore, which is always valuable in the on-going diversity conversation. And students should love it if only for it being a wonderful tale.
P. S. There's a sequel to this book that came out in 2010. I plan to read it at some point, but my college classes and my backlog is pretty long. If I like it, I may cover it—this blog is mainly about the positive.