"The Old Zone":Religious Sources in Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Mark McDannald, Washington and Lee University

In Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990), Salman Rushdie uses the Old Zone of the Sea of Stories as an allegorical representation of the source of his conflict with censorship: "The Old Zone had fallen into disuse; but it was believed that all the Streams of Story had originated long ago in one of the currents flowing north across the Ocean from the Wellspring, or Source of Stories"(86-87). The Old Zone is the source of all stories but, "There was little demand for the ancient stories flowing there. 'You know how people are, ne things, always new. The old tales, nobody cares'"(86). In other parts of the Ocean, the Guppees constantly tend to the Streams of Story. The Plentimaw Fishes, "swallow stories through every mouth, and in their innards miracles occur; a little bit of one story joins on to an idea from another, and hey presto, when they spew the stories out they are not old tales but new ones"(86). Through this creative activity the stories stay fresh and hearlthy. The Guppees no longer tend to the Old Zone in this way, however, and Khattam-Shud first poisons the stories of the Old Zone because they have remained stagnant for so long. Thus, after Khattam-Shud poisons the Old Zone the Guppees feel that:

It's our own fault...We are the Guardians of the Ocean, and we didn't gaurd it...The oldest stories ever made, and look at them now. We let them rot, we abandoned them, long before this poisoning. We lost touch with our beginnings, with our roots, our Wellspring, our Source...just look! No colour, no life no nothing. Spoilt!(146)

From an allegorical perspective, the Old Zone represents what many consider to be the oldest, most influential, and most important writing in history, namely religious scriptures(as well as old tales such as The Arabian Nights). It was Rushdie's liberal use of Muslim scriptures in The Satanic Verses that landed him in trouble and ultimately caused him to write Haroun and the Sea of Stories. Interestingly, the Old Zone lies in the Twilight Strip, nearest to the Chup and eternal darkness, and, because of that, emerges as the easiest area of the Ocean for the Chupwalas to corrupt, not only because of neglect but also because of proximity. Thus, religious writings border both sides of the conflict and exist as the possible source of all of the stories on the one side and as the easiest, most stagnant(and stable) area in which the other side may apply its pressure. Rushdie twists the expected solution to the Old Zone, though, and uses its susceptibility to poisoning and subsequent solution to support his own actions toward the scriptures in The Satanic Verses, in which he altered the traditional Muslim writings to fit his own needs, much as the Plentimaw Fishes do. Rushdie proposes that all stories, even those in the Old Zone, must undergo constant changes and mutations in order to remain healthy. Stories, even those of tradition, religion, and culture, are not meant to lie stagnant forever, lest they become corrupted. He does not suggest that writers ignore those stories, but take them and change them in order to create new ones. Therefore, Rushdie's solution to the problems in the Old Zone serves as a retroactive justification of his own writing.

[These materials have been adapted from a paper written by Mark McDannald for Professor Suzanne Keen's English 350, Postcolonial Literature, Washington and Lee University, 1997.]

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