When we spoke with Salman
Rushdie, he had recently finished the screenplay of Midnight's Children and hopes to complete the movie by the end
of the year. He was also nearly a quarter of the way through his memoir, which
he says is "about the problem I've developed of having an interesting
life." We talked with him about why he wrote a book for each of his sons
on the cusp of their adolescence and how the works tapped into the larger
themes of his life philosophy.
| The author with his son Milan.
Did you write Haroun and the Sea of Stories for your oldest
son, Zafar? And was that your first book after the controversy surrounding The Satanic Verses?
was writing The Satanic Verses, Zafar
said that he thought it was disappointing that I didn't write books that he
could read. Until then, I hadn't thought about writing for children. I told
him, "Let me finish what I'm writing now, and then I'll write one you can read." Then everything that
happened happened, and I thought it was right that I should keep that promise.
I'd had the germ of the idea of Haroun
before I started Satanic Verses, so I
knew where to begin. And I kept that promise to what was then my only son.
now 13. He was very aware that Haroun
was written for his older brother. The principle of equality demanded that I
write another one. The experience of Haroun
has been one of the most joyful in my life. It's had a very rich afterlife: It's
put on at schools, it was a New York City opera, there have been puppet theater
versions of it. I didn't want to return to the Sea of Stories, so the question
was how to find another imaginative world and how to go back there.
Haroun tells Luka, "You've
reached the age at which people in this family cross the border into the
magical world." Is there a significance to the age of 12?
exactly 12, but that borderland when children can seem extraordinarily wise and
confident and at other times are still little children. That particular moment
is fascinating. It's a magical time.
In Luka, everyone seems to seek a kind of "forgetfulness."
In the Real World people go to Obliviums ("giant malls where everyone went
to dance, shop, pretend, and forget") and in the World of Magic, they
travel on the Flying Carpet into Oblivion. As a culture, are we forgetting our
those moments in the book sprang from the sense that as a culture we're losing
our memory. We don't have a long, deep connection to the past in the way that
humans always have. If you don't understand the past, you don't understand why
things are the way they are now. Living in a culture where there's Muzak and
everything's brightly lit, you lose something.
There's also that poignant quote
from Soraya, "Magic is fading from the universe. We aren't needed anymore,
or that's what you all think, with your High Definitions, and low expectations."
age in which we live, she's suggesting that we may be turning away from that
side of human nature, which is fanciful and dreaming and magical, and being
forced into a more narrow and impoverished side of human nature.
And that relates to Luka's
defense when he gets close to the Ring of Fire: when he says to the gods, "Look
at you! Instead of real Powers you have Beauty Contests!"
it's true that once upon a time--frankly, within living memory, my own memory--you
could assume that people you were talking to would have a certain level of
knowledge about mythology, the world of Greek or Roman gods, and when you
mentioned Jupiter or Apollo, people would know who you were talking about. That's
no longer the shared knowledge of our culture. There are other forms of shared
knowledge; we all know who's on Jersey
Shore. But that might be a lower form of shared knowledge. Creative art is
the way to maintain our connection to a world that is rich and powerful in
meaning. Only through its retellings can we preserve it. This book is in a
little way an attempt to do that.
Do you think as a culture, we're
losing our connection to words and story?
know if we are. I do think--and it's a phrase I often use--one of the most intrinsic things about us is that we're
storytelling animals. The need to understand the world through our stories is
profoundly embedded in human nature. When I'm feeling optimistic, I feel this
activity cannot die out. When children are born, one of the first things they
want is to be told a story. We tell about our families, our countries, our
religions as a way of understanding the culture in which we live. Through
story, we come to understand each other and ourselves. I've been a believer in
the profound power of storytelling at the center of human life.
In Haroun and the Sea of Stories, there's a passage that talks about
the ocean holding the stories "in fluid form, ...so that unlike a library
of books, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was much more than a storeroom of
yarns. It was not dead, but alive." That made me wonder about your view of
e-books. Do you see the Internet like that Ocean of the Streams of Story?
wrote a story in which I was given credit for foreseeing the possibilities of
the Internet, with that very passage you quoted from Haroun. It appears as though I invented the Internet. [Laughter.]
My son Milan has an iPad, and I don't, and I'm enormously envious of it.
Frankly, I have a Kindle, but I don't use it. But the e-book experience on the
iPad is significantly better than anything I've seen before. I like the idea of
the literal storytelling possibilities of the Internet, and the way in which,
through this wonderful world of hyperlinks, stories can be connected.
Does Bear (the dog) give up his
immortality because he sees what immortality does to the gods? Or out of love
for Luka? Luka talks about how the idea of immortality "strikes him as
more frightening than exciting."
that moment was about two things, really. If you say in a book, somebody's got
to die, you cannot duck that issue. The book is about life and death, and if
the figure of death comes and says, "The catch is somebody's got to die,"
then you have to fulfill your contract with the reader. And you have to show
readers that life is real; you don't get a free pass, without dealing with the
thing that was a catch.
the love Bear has for Luka. If you really think about it, do you really want to
be immortal? Do you want to be 6,000 years old and everyone else you know is
dead? Do you want to outlive your life and time? If all you had to do was eat a
potato to live forever, would you do it or not? And they deal with it quite
beautifully: they put it in the pantry to decide another day. Do you really
want to live 6,000 years, or is this life enough? Soraya is the wise character,
and she thinks life is life and that's plenty. Readers have to make up their
own minds about that.