Class 12, November 27th: Intertextuality in “Haround and the Sea of Stories”

Content for the test, “Postmodernism – Dec. 4”


  • “Intertextuality”, Bakhtin and Kristeva.
  • “The death of the author”, Barthes.
  • “Haround and the Sea of Stories”, Rushdie. (Ch. 1-5)
  • “Monsters”,  Smith.
  • “A woman on the roof”, Lessing.
  • “Downtown”, Seidel
  • “The continuity of parks”, Cortázar.

 Indian-Pakistani conflict explained


Activity 1



Born on June 19, 1947, into a middle-class Muslim family in Bombay, India, Rushdie attended the Cathedral Boys’ High School. His education continued in England at the Rugby School and later at King’s College, Cambridge. After earning an M.A. with honors in 1968, he performed for one year at an experimental theater and then worked as a freelance advertising copywriter during the 1970s. His first novel, Grimus, was published in 1975, and was followed by Midnight’s Children (1981). The latter received wide critical praise and earned Rushdie the Booker McConnell Prize. Rushdie gained international notoriety in 1988 with the publication of The Satanic Verses. Devout Muslims, outraged by a perceived belittling of the Islamic faith within the novel, staged public demonstrations and placed bans on its importation. Eventually, a fatwa, or death sentence, was issued by Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruholiah Khomeini, calling for the execution of Rushdie. It was not until a public pardon of sorts was issued by the Iranian government in 1995 that Rushdie felt he could safely emerge from hiding. Despite lingering death-threats, the author returned to the public stage with a determination to use his work as a platform for the exposure and denouncement of institutional violence and intolerance. Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children was named the best novel to win the Booker Prize during the award’s first quarter century. The Satanic Verses and The Moor’s Last Sigh (1995) both received the Whitbread Prize and were also short-listed for the Booker Prize. In 2003 Midnight’s Children was voted by the British public as one of the nation’s 100 best-loved novels.


Likely inspired in part by such enduring works of children’s literature as The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, Gulliver’s Travels, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Haroun and the Sea of Stories is an allegorical fable infused with Rushdie’s trademark magic realism. The story surrounds the teenaged Haroun and his quest to heal his father’s lost gift for storytelling. Haroun lives in an ancient city that is so sad and somber that its people have forgotten its name. Haroun lives in this dispirited place with his father, Rashid Khalifa, a professional storyteller who is better known as Rashid the Ocean of Notions or, more disparagingly, as the Shah of Blah. Rashid’s wife Soraya runs off with their dour neighbor, the unimaginative Mr. Sengupta, who is far too sensible to see the value in fiction. Dismayed at the damage his mother’s betrayal has wrought upon his father, Haroun confronts him, asking “What’s the use of stories that aren’t even true?” Utterly deflated by his son’s loss of confidence in him, Rashid loses his gift for communication. Haroun immediately regrets hurting his father so deeply and seeks to restore his father’s desire and creativity by venturing out on a quest to Kahani, the Earth’s other moon, where the Sea of Stories is located. Assisted by Iff, a water genie, and a hoopoe bird named Butt, Haroun searches for Walrus, the Chief of the Eggheads and Comptroller of the P2C2Es (Processes too Complicated to Explain) who might be able to restore his father’s spring of story water. However, along the way, Haroun learns that Khattam-Shud, the ruler of the city of Chup, has been poisoning the Sea of Stories. Khattam-Shud has long desired to control the universe, but his goals have been blocked by his inability to control the fictions born of imagination and the endless body of stories that spring forth from its unlimited power. To circumvent that power, he has been destroying the Sea of Stories, from which all inspiration is created, with the inadvertent help of Walrus who has been hoarding sunlight, thus starving the Sea of Stories. Haroun enlists the aid of the people of Gup, whose society is organized like a book, with soldiers—called pages—dressed in laminated squares and organized into groups of Chapters, all under the command of General Kitab. The people of Gup are constantly engaged in a cacophony of voices and opinions, in direct contrast to the people of Khattam-Shud’s city of Chupwala, who are renowned for their silence. Haroun worries about the ability of the Guppees to defeat the Chupwala, until he sees that the debates between the Guppees have united them into a whole, while the deathly quiet Chupwala are disorganized and weak in the face of the now-harmonious Gup army. Ultimately, Khattam-Shud is defeated by a rising sun that decimates the frozen dark sterility of Chup. Having restored the spring of the Sea of Stories, Haroun is granted a wish, and he wishes for a happy ending for his city. Returning home, he learns that his city has remembered its name, Kahani, and that his mother has reunited with his father. Most importantly, however, Rashid, with his son’s faith in him restored and the spring repaired, has rediscovered the power of stories.



Zembla, Zenda, Xanadu:
All our dream-worlds may come true.
Fairy lands are fearsome too.
As I wander far from view
Read, and bring me home to you.

Haroun is dedicated to Rushdie’s son who was around ten when Rushdie wrote the book. The first letter of each line if read down the page spell out his son’s name. The “poem” touches on a number to the novel’s themes: “magical places” (Zembla, Zenda, Xanadu); the importance of “wishing” (All our dream-worlds may come true); The connection between the dream world and “reality” (Fairy lands are fearsome too); the power and importance of books (As I wander far from view/ Read, and bring me home to you). In some ways the book seems to serve not only as a link between the exiled Rushdie and his son, but between him and a more innocent time. It is also an affirmation of his craft.



Rushdie and the Romantics: Intertextual

Politics in Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Daniel Roberts (extract)

“At this point I would like to draw upon the second of the Romantic texts which I adduced in relation to Haroun, as a link that brings us yet closer to the themes of nationhood and empire that speak across the periodized divide between Romantic and postcolonial literatures. None of the commentators on Haroun I have come across so far seem to have noticed that Rushdie’s second chapter of Haroun entitled “The Mail-Coach” is in fact a fairly elaborate reworking of Thomas De Quincey’s celebrated essay of 1849, “The English Mail-Coach.” De Quincey’s retrospective

celebration of the English mail-coach system as the means by which news of the great English military victories during the Napoleonic wars were “distributed over the face of the land, like the opening of apocalyptic vials” (409) is at first glance a strongly imperialistic and therefore

unusual text for a postcolonial writer like Rushdie to absorb into his work. Rushdie’s use of the outmoded mail-coach—a form of transport that had already been superseded by the railway by the time De Quincey wrote his essay—in Haroun, a text that has been seen as science-fictional

in some respects, could be even more surprising unless it is explained in terms of Rushdie’s fascination with De Quincey’s text. In his essay De Quincey recounts his experiences as an Oxford undergraduate riding the crest of a wave of national sympathy and fervour on the mail-coaches

of the day. It was the English mail-coaches, as De Quincey recalls, that distributed “over the face of the land, like the opening of apocalyptic vials, the heart-shaking news of Trafalgar, of Salamanca, of Vittoria, of Waterloo” (16: 409). They thus represented “a central intellect, that, in the midst of vast distances, of storms, of darkness, of night, overruled all obstacles into one steady co-operation in a national result” (16: 409). The remembrance of the mail-coaches evokes in De Quincey an extraordinary paean to the glory days of English triumphalism:


Heads of every age crowd to the windows—

young and old understand the language of our victorious symbols—

and rolling volleys of sympathising cheers run along behind and before our

course. The beggar, rearing himself against the wall, forgets his

lameness—real or assumed—thinks not of his whining trade,

but stands erect, with bold exulting smiles, as we pass him. The

victory has healed him, and says—Be thou whole! Women and

children, from garrets and cellars, look down or look up with

loving eyes upon our gay ribbons and martial laurels—sometimes

kiss their hands, sometimes hang out, as signals of affection,

pocket handkerchiefs, aprons, dusters, anything that lies

ready to their hands. (16: 425–26)


Gender, class, and age differences are blithely elided as the national symbol of glory, the English mail-coach, rolls by. the beggar’s lameness is miraculously healed through a secularized, nationalized agency arrogating to itself supernatural powers such as those reflected by the

traditional beliefs in Christ’s miraculous powers and the laying of royal hands. The rationalist scepticism of the post-Kantian critic is passed over parenthetically as the real or assumed nature of the beggar’s infirmity seems hardly to matter in the moment of victory. As he surveys the joyful scene De Quincey is ready to arrogate to himself these evident displays of national unity, reading the semiotics of “pocket handkerchiefs, aprons, dusters, anything” as personal “signals of affection” for himself, placing himself at the centre of what Benedict Anderson has rewardingly described as the “imagined community” of the nation. Britain’s imperial destiny is matched, in the strongly Evangelical terms of De Quincey’s own upbringing, by his own election as the apostle of such news”.





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