Wednesday, September 15, 2004

It can't be Helped, Haroun and my Proposition (ENG 304)

Recently I have given a lot of thought about the MSU top 100 book list. When I re-examine it, I really don't understand why Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White is on there. Sure, it is a nice children's story, and we all love talking pigs, but Animal Farm had talking pigs too. My all time favorite children's book, The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame has very charming talking animals too (it's number 67 on the list). Charlotte's Web has charming animals, and a spider which can write, but in my opinion it just lacks that mythic quality that makes a lasting impression on us. Maybe I've become jaded as an adult, and dulled to the wonder of talking animals and the effect it has on the child's imagination. I don't know. It's just that Charlotte's Web is kind of boring. Nothing happens in it. A lonely pig meets a witty spider, they spell a few words together, go to a county fair, and that's basically it.

The story doesn't have the power to keep you coming back for more. Once the story ends, well, you smile and put it on the shelf. I haven't picked up my copy of Charlotte's Web in years. This doesn't mean I will never read it again. I'll probably read it to my daughter, but I have no inclination to pick it up again myself. It's a good children's story, but is it worthy of the top 100? As a piece of literature it is no more sophisticated than anything which has come before or after it. Again, it's not a bad story, but it's not a great story either. It's quaint. In the sea of stories, I don't believe it can stand out when contrasted against Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie.

I understand, like most children's literature that story follows a basic archetype. You can trace back any story to a more rough and previous template, and as Dr. Sexson believes, every new form of that original template or archetype is a signature. In other word’s the signature being a newer version, or a retooled telling of the original archetype. So in a sense, there are no new stories, just old ones. We can only retell something, because just as Iff told Haroun, "Nothing comes from nothing, Thieflet; no story comes from nowhere; new stories are born from old---it is the new combinations that make them new".

In Salman Rushdie's children's book, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, the protagonist Haroun (a small child whisked away on a magical adventure) seeks a way in which to return story to his father Rashid, the greatest story teller ever known, who has lost his ability to conjure his famous stories. In Haroun and the Sea of Stories, there is exactly that... a giant sea of stories floating on an invisible moon called Kahani, which traveling at light speed. On this moon's ocean various 'story streams' mingle and mix. A conglomerate of old stories combine with other stories and form new stories, new and old combine and form other new stories. The process of story mixing is endless, and that is the magic of Kahani's ocean of stories. Salman Rushdie is obviously aware of the underlying usage of archetype and signature type stories. Even his own book Haroun and the Sea of Stories borrows from other archetypes, including the Wizard of Oz (a book most personal to the author), and Alice in Wonderland. Yet, he borrows more from The Never Ending Story than any other text.

Even the main threat in Haroun and the Sea of Stories is the same dark void that plagued Atreyu in The Never Ending Story. Also, Haroun must fly on the backs of magical creatures (as did Atreyu fly on the back of Falkor --A magical white dragon); in a race against time to prevent the world he knows from ceasing to exist. Along the way he faces obstacles, in The Never Ending Story Atreyu must overcome "the swamp of sadness", as Haroun too must overcome the "Dull Lake" and all its glumfish and mists of sadness. Eventhough this looks almost like brash plagerism, I believe that Rushdie is making a poignent point. All we truly have are architypes, and so we draw from these original stories to tell varient signature versions of the same old ones.

The villainous threat in Haroun and the Sea of Stories is known only as Khattam-Shud, which means an end, emptiness, nothing left. In The Never Ending story the villain was known only as "The Nothingness", and it ate up the world turning everything into a vast wasteland of empty dark space, filled with nothing. Both heroes must journey out across magical new lands to find answers to the greatest fear, and gain comfort in realizing that the story is within themselves, and that all they have to do is remember. Rushdie, like other's before him, recognize the importance of "story", and wishes to bring awareness to his readers of the vastness of pulling from the architype. That the potency of the story lies within ancient original or base architype, and that all too often the "new" becomes poluted with realism and trivial gossip devices that don't lend to plot or depth. Rushdie reasures us that by pulling from the architypes we will get a more fulfilling experience.

As Rushdie himself takes familiar archetypes and weaves new tales, not so unlike is 'sea of stories' on Kahani moon number two, after reading Haroun and the Sea of Stories we are left with an experience which somehow has touched and altered us.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a tribute to every story ever told and I believe that, unlike Charlotte's Web, there is more imagination and meaning in Haroun. It comes down to the simple matter that, if I had the choice to read my child Charlotte's Web or Haroun and the Sea of Stories, there would be no contest. I would hands down choose Haroun. In my humble opinion, Haroun and the Sea of Stories should replace Charlotte's Web on MSU's top 100 list, if not for it's homage to litterature, for its simply outstanding genius of storytelling and imagination. One that we can come back to again and again, using it as a touchstone, and feel comforted by the power and potency of the original architype by means of this dazzling signature piece.


Nachiketa said...


nice write up... check out a foodie's interpretation of the book, Haroun n the Sea of Stories Inspires Vibha's Hoopoe Lemon Cake

The Variable, Crazy Over Desserts - Nachiketa
Catch me on facebook @ Crazy Over Desserts

Tristan D. Vick said...

Wow, a comment on one of my posts from six years ago.

Glad you liked it!