Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a fantastic fantasy novel written for teens by Salman Rushdie. It probably speaks to my own poor taste in fiction that this remains my favorite book of my Lost series. But it was really, really good.
The book appears in the opening moments season six premiere LA X. Jack goes to the bathroom on Oceanic 815 after it hits turbulence. When he returns, he finds that Desmond has taken the seat next to his. Desmond is reading this book when Jack first talks to him.
Haroun and his parents, Rashid and Soraya, live in a city that is so sad that it has forgotten its name. Rashid is one of the city’s few bright spots. He is an accomplished storyteller and draws large crowds whenever he appears at an event.
But things are not going so well in their home life. Soraya is fed up with Rashid’s constant storytelling and leaves him for their neighbor Mr. Sengupta. Mr. Sengupta belittles Rashid to young Haroun, asking him: “What’s the use of stories that aren’t even true?” Haroun takes Mr. Sengupta’s question to heart and blames his father for his parents’ breakup and repeats the question to him.
Rashid is crushed. He suddenly loses his ability to tell stories. This becomes a pretty serious problem the next day, when a corrupt politician named Buttoo hires Rashid to speak to a crowd at a rally. Rashid cannot rouse the crowd and Buttoo and his henchmen are furious. They give Rashid one more chance to impress a crowd in the Valley of K or face their punishment.
Haroun and Rashid take a dangerous cab ride through the mountains to the Valley of K and stay overnight in Buttoo’s houseboat before Rashid’s speech the following morning. Haroun has trouble sleeping and switches rooms with Rashid. After falling asleep, he is awakened by a noise near the sink. Curious, Haroun walks to the bathroom, where he finds Iff the Water Genie. Iff explains that he is disconnecting Rashid’s subscription to the supply of imagination that comes from the faucet.
Haroun knows that Rashid won’t be able to tell any more stories without imagination and begs Iff not to cancel the subscription. Iff explains that that is out of the question – he is just doing his job and isn’t allowed to make that decision. Haroun steals the water genie’s disconnecting tool and refuses to give it back to him unless he takes Haroun with him back to his boss.
Iff turns out to be from Kahani, the Earth’s hidden second moon. Iff reluctantly allows Haroun to travel with him to Kahani upon Butt the Hoopoe. When they arrive at the capital, Gup City, they find that Rashid has also been brought to Kahani.
Half of Kahani is always light and the other half is always dark. Most of the light side Kahani is an ocean. The ocean contains millions of strands, which represent every story ever told. But it’s not all fun and games for the Gup City residents. They are about to go to war with the Chupwalas, the inhabitants of the dark side of the moon. Led by the evil Khattam-Shud, the Chupwalas are polluting the streams of stories near the South Pole. The stories at the South Pole are some of the oldest that humanity has ever told, so the Gup City inhabitants are worried that they may be lost forever, since no one is old enough to remember them. To top that off, a group of Chupwalas have captured the Guppee Princess Batcheat.
Haroun joins the Guppee army as it prepares for battle at the South Pole. On the way to the South Pole, the troops argue nonstop about battle plans. Haroun finds this strange, but the Guppees explain that free speech is important – if they discuss strategy openly, they will be more likely to win the battle. The army meets Mudra, a former Chupwala who explains just how evil Khattam-Shud is. Khattam-Shud has split his shadow from his body, so he can appear in two places at once. He rules the Chupwalas ruthlessly, but they are too scared to rebel against him.
The army splits in half – Haroun and a few others go to stop the pollution of the ocean and the rest go to Chup City to rescue Princess Batcheat. Haroun is quickly captured by the shadow of Khattam-Shud. The shadow has built a machine that burrows into the ocean and will soon pollute the entire thing, ruining every story. The machine is staffed by the shadows of the Chupwalas, who all look like Mr. Sengupta. Luckily for Haroun, Iff gave him some wish water before he went to battle. Haroun uses the wish water to temporarily rotate the dark side of the moon towards the sun, causing all the shadows to disappear. Haroun is able to destroy the machine and safely get out of the dark territory.
Meanwhile, the army attempts to rescue Princess Batcheat at Chup City. Haroun’s wish water comes in handy again – Khattam-Shud’s palace is made of ice and melts when the sun shines upon it. After this symbol of power melts, the Chupwalas rise up and join the Guppees to defeat Khattam-Shud and rescue Princess Batcheat. The army returns to Gup City and Haroun persuades the powers that be to give Rashid his storytelling ability back.
Haroun and Rashid wake up the next morning on Buttoo’s houseboat. Rashid is confident that he has regained his storytelling ability. However, at Buttoo’s rally, he goes off-script and tells the story of Haroun’s journey to Kahani. The residents of the Valley of K are inspired by the story and overthrow Buttoo, their own Khattam-Shud.
Haroun is still a little upset because he wants his own happy ending. However, when they return to their home city, they find that it has remembered its name (it’s actually called Kahani) and is no longer sad, Soraya has left Mr. Sengupta and returned to Rashid, and Haroun has his own happy ending after all.
Rushdie’s book seems to hold the key question behind the flash-sideways (and really, all of season six): “what’s the use of stories that aren’t even true?” Most of the complaints about season six centered around the flash-sideways world. Even before the reveal in the finale of what the flash-sideways world really was, many Lost fans couldn’t help but wonder: why are the creators wasting their time with this brand new story, when they could be answering the plethora of questions that we have about the Island? The flash-sideways story didn’t seem to be true; and even if it was true, it might as well have been false because it was a complete reset of everything that we knew about the characters.
So what is the use of stories that aren’t true? Well, for the Lost characters, it turns out that there’s a lot of use. The flash-sideways world wasn’t true: it was created by the Losties as a post-death ideal world. However, it was extremely important for each one of them to work their issues out before they “moved on.”
Just like the citizens in the Valley of K needed a story to inspire them to overthrow the evil Buttoo, the Oceanic survivors needed a story to help them with their various issues. Locke needed to come to terms with his disability. Jack needed to come to terms with his issues with his father. Ben needed to be a true father figure to Alex. Sawyer needed to shed his uncaring con man persona. Desmond needed Widmore’s affection. And so on. All of them got what they needed in the flash-sideways world and this allowed them all to move on. Just like Haroun, they received their own happy endings in the flash-sideways story. Now that is the use of stories that aren’t true.
The book also explores the light and dark theme that appears throughout Lost. The Guppies live in a world called Gup (“gossip” in Hindi) that is entirely light. They are an incredibly talkative people with no real leader. As we find out in Ab Aeterno, this is the similar to the way Jacob rules his people. Jacob takes a hands-off approach and wants people to talk amongst themselves and figure out right from wrong.
On the other side of the moon, the Chupwalas live in a world called Chup (“quiet” in Hindi). The Chupwalas value silence and rarely speak. Because of this, Khattam-Shud is able to rule with an iron fist. This is similar to the way that the Man in Black wants to run things. Unlike Jacob, he will go directly to his people and intimidate them (or flat-out lie) in order to get what he wants. He pretends to value questions, but never gives the right answer. Since he continually supplies his followers with mis-information, there is no discourse.
But in both Kahani and Lost, the line between light and dark isn’t crystal clear. On Kahani, the simple fact that one side of the moon is always light while the other is always dark is what causes the war between Gup and Chup. Free speech is generally good, but silence isn’t necessarily bad – it’s a combination of the two that is ideal. In the end, the Guppees and Chupwalas decide that they should continue to allow the moon to rotate, because they see the value of both light and dark.
In Lost, light is good most of the time and dark is bad most of the time. But there’s not a solid line between the two. Although we never sympathize with the Man in Black, once we learn his back story in Across the Sea, we at least understand him. Leave it to Hurley to figure this out in the series finale. As the new protector, Hurley immediately feels the pressure of keeping Desmond on the Island and not letting him go back to Penny. But Ben points out that that’s just the way Jacob ran things; Jacob saw the world in black and white and good and evil. It doesn’t have to be that way – the new leader can work in the in-between gray zone and everyone might just end up happier.