As Haroun and the Sea of Stories comes to a close, we say goodbye to all the colorful characters and dramatic plot. The novel ends on a quick, harsh note, after the war. This was actually a shocking aspect of the ending for me: the entire novel had been building up towards a war between the Guppees and Chupwalas, the war itself was very abrupt and more like an impromptu comedy skit than a war. I assume it is because Rushdie didn’t want to glorify war, and show that no matter what side of the war one is on, they will always look foolish in the end– this is just one of the many ways throughout the book that he slyly makes fun of the Western World.
Happiness is a Social Construct
Well… not really, but it’s true to a certain extent. The main point that the ending of the book revolved around was the true meaning of a “happy ending.” Haroun wishes for a happy ending for his city, and while he notices that they are happy now, nothing has truly changed- the happiness is only superficial. The following quote by the Walrus expands on this point:
“Happy endings must come at the end of something… If they happen in the middle of a story, or an adventure, or the like, all they do is cheer things up for a while” (202)
Rushdie uses this point to show that there is really no such thing as a happy ending for a story. Haroun’s father got his storytelling abilities back, Haroun’s mother came back, their city is happy again, and the Guppees won the war. Despite all of this, the book leaves you feeling empty and melancholic at the end. But this is not truly the ending to Haroun or Kahani’s story: happiness, in the end, is short lived, just like sadness is. No one’s story will ever end.
We also discussed this for most of our group’s Socratic seminar: we eventually came to the conclusion that happiness cannot be given, but it must come from within. This is why Haroun was genuinely happy when his mother came back, because it was what his adventure was driven by, but his city was only “fake” happy- they might have been laughing and dancing in the rain, but nothing changed at it’s core.
So… What’s the Use In Telling Stories that Aren’t Even True?
In my opinion, Haroun’s journey to Kahani is a metaphor for stories in the real world. I broke it down into two main points:
- As said above, Haroun’s wish doesn’t solve the deep-seated issues of his town or magically erase all the heartbreak him and his father have endured since his mother left. Instead, it provided everyone with a superficial happiness. While it might not last forever, it still counts for something. This is part of the reason we read stories: to make us feel. Obviously reading a journey about saving the princess won’t make you a hero, but you can live vicariously and experience the pain, love, heartbreak, and fear right along with the narrator.
- Before Haroun embarked on his journey, he never imagined something like this happening. Overnight, he saw fantasy lands, creatures, magic, and overall experienced things that otherwise would not be possible in the “real world.” But does this mean his journey is all for nothing? Of course not. What really matters is what he went through and the stories he learned. He learned of the importance of friends and family, perseverance, and the beauty of both silence and speech. These values, not the magic creatures, are what will stick with him until he grows old. The same holds true for stories: It doesn’t matter if stories are made up or 500 years old, because they contain “eternal” truths, which end up enhancing and guiding one through their understanding of their own life. Morals are the most valuable things a reader can take away from a book.
I was assigned to read the novel through the lens of the Hero’s Journey, the path that most heroes follow within a novel. The Hero’s Journey is very sequential and concrete, which gives readers little to analyze through this lens. The end of the book saw Haroun hitting a few crucial steps, including “Reward/Seizing the Sword” (when The Walrus gives Haroun a wish, and he wishes to make his city happy again), “Master of Two Worlds” (when Haroun makes Kahani start spinning again and restores peace), and finally, the “Return With Elixir” (when Haroun and his father return from Kahani. The Elixir can either be thought of as happiness, his father’s storytelling abilities, or his mother).
Overall, while it was extremely confusing and a little tedious to read at times, Haroun and the Sea of Stories was a fun and sweet book to read. The values that Rushdie managed to convey through a children’s story definitely made an impact on me and how I perceive storytelling. I would definitely recommend it! 6.5/10