Saving the Streams of Story

Frank Kermode

  • Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
    Granta, 224 pp, £12.99, September 1990, ISBN 0 14 014223 1

No doubt it would be possible to apply to this exercise in magic irrealism the terminology of V. Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale, by way of demonstrating that Salman Rushdie’s story has a perfectly normal structure. Temporal-Spatial Determination (‘There was once, in the kingdom of Alifbay, a sad city ...’); Composition of the Family (Haroun, the Future Hero, his father Rashid, a professional storyteller, etc); Interdictions (Rashid loses his talent, Haroun cannot concentrate longer than 11 minutes); Helpers or Donors (a friendly hoopoe, a magic drink, a cartridge, concealed under Haroun’s tongue, which will emit blinding light at the moment of dark crisis); an Opponent or Villain with magic powers; an Arrival at an Appointed Place; an Imprisoned Princess; the Completion of the Task. Haroun, in short, is a folk tale, and indeed this is perfectly evident without the support of Propp’s insights. Of course, Rushdie’s story has more to do with the Arabian Nights type than with the Slavic. And as it incorporates English fantasy and humour, and could hardly have been as it is without an infusion of Alice, it can be seen as illustrating just such a glowing confusion of narrative traditions, of the diversities and affinities of stories, as it is itself about.

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