Interdisciplinary Teaching Ideas

Brief description

This allegorical work about the suppression of art and the nature of storytelling was written by Salman Rushdie for his young son, Zafar. At the time, Rushdie was in hiding under the protection of the British police because he was under the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini after penning The Satanic Verses, deemed an offense against Islam. This lyrical tale features a young protagonist who unintentionally freezes his father’s storytelling ability and who must go on a quest to restore his father’s gift. Along the way, he learns that dark powers are attempting to stop up the sea of stories, and he becomes a part of a much larger quest to free ideas and fancy.

The novel may be read as a children’s story or an allegory regarding the dangers of infringing upon free speech and limiting creativity. Symbolism and elements of magical realism abound.


  • Base any visual art project on scenes from the novel.
  • Research the various covers issued for the book. Design your own cover for a new edition.
  • Review illustrations created for children’s books such as 1001 Arabian Nights, The Wizard of Oz, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with specific focus on how the art has shaped perceptions of the characters.
  • Study the history and development of the visual arts in India.



  • Although symbolic in nature, the pollution of the Ocean of Stories shapes a large portion of the plot of Haroun. Discussion of pollution and its effects on species and climate may be useful in classes in biology and environmental science.
  • When the Sea of Stories is allowed to flow freely again, the narrator mentions that it will become clean again. Research the steps necessary to slow pollution of our oceans and what will need to be done to reverse current damage to species such as coral reefs.
  • Research the rise of bacterial growth (such as Necrotizing fasciitis) in the world’s oceans and its possible ties to climate change and rising ocean temperatures.
  • Research the ways in which children’s literature attempts to educate children on serious scientific topics from a young age (an example might be The Lorax).



  • Research the publication of books that have been subject to censorship (some possibilities might be The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Madame Bovary, Forever, etc.) What effect did the controversy have on the sales of those works?
  • In Haroun, much of the technology is simply described as a Process to Complicated to Explain (P2C2E). Choose any emerging technology that a general audience might consider a P2C2E, and explain it in a way that can be understood by a novice.



  • What limits exist to free speech as guaranteed by the first amendment to the Constitution in the United States?
  • Research ways in which works that have been deemed controversial or offensive have been dealt with in the United States. What laws exist to govern what can and cannot be printed/published?  Do laws vary from state to state?
  • What responsibilities exist for the speaker in a country that guarantees that the government shall not infringe upon to right to free expression?



  • Research the opera based on the novel Haroun and the Sea of Stories. Starting with a list of reviews of the opera may be useful.
  • Learn about abhinaya, the language of gesture used by the character of Mudra in the novel. What is its role in performance?



  • Research the development of children’s literature as a genre.
  • Haroun loses his ability to focus on anything for longer than 11 minutes after his mother leaves. Research the potential effects of childhood trauma on children, and discuss ways this might affect them in an educational setting.
  • Discuss whether schools have the right to censor the literature they present to children. Does this ever vary based on the age of the children?
  • Much literature written for children contains an element of didacticism. Determine if this holds true for Haroun and the Sea of Stories.



  • Examine any of the symbolic elements of the novel (some examples would be the army of Gup, the sea of stories, and the number 11).
  • For Children’s Literature, encourage students to choose another allegorical work to compare to Haroun and the Sea of Stories.
  • Address the central question of the novel: “What’s the use of stories that aren’t even true?”
  • Research and discuss stories initially communicated in the oral tradition and later adapted to print.
  • Examine the term “bildungsroman” and determine if Haroun falls under this category.
  • Haroun and the Sea of Stories has become a love letter to freedom of expression. Research other works (meant for children or adults) that convey important messages about political issues.  Compare to this novel (suggestions include Uncle Tom’s Cabin, North and South, 1984, etc.)  How is literature used as a force for social change?
  • Discuss the “happy ending” of the novel and if it may be considered an acceptable resolution to the work. What does it indicate about the nature of stories?



  • Discuss ways in which Haroun and the Sea of Stories might be adapted to film.
  • Research other filmed works often compared to Haroun, such as The Wizard of Oz and Arabian Nights. How are these non-realistic/fantastical works adapted for the screen?  How have advances in special effects contributed to the filming of such works?



  • After reading, classes may discuss why shared reading (such as our college novel) is required on many college and university campuses nationwide.  See the description of our college novel initiative on the college website.  What is the purpose of the novel and how does that relate to a liberal arts education? How might that be tied into the idea presented in Haroun and the Sea of Stories that creativity is a vital part of our humanity?
  • Haroun and the Sea of Stories addresses the importance of human expression without political interference. What, if any, is the value for contemporary American college students of studying this fanciful portrayal of this topic?



  • Compose a movie poster or book jacket for Haroun and the Sea of Stories.
  • Illustrate any scene or theme from the novel.
  • Research any art/posters/advertisements/etc. that have been used to decry the publication of a fictional work deemed offensive by one or more groups.
  • Create a handbill or poster announcing a speech by Salman Rushdie.



  • As the novel deals so heavily with issues of governmental censorship, it is ripe for a variety of assignments in the fields of history and political science. For example, what regimes have censored literature?  What has the outcome of such censorship been?
  • Research the furor and fallout surrounding the publication of Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.
  • Research the origins of the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
  • Discuss the types of governmental structures mentioned in Haroun and the Sea of Stories.
  • Review the definition of “Rushdie Affair” in the Oxford Dictionary of Islam



  • The entire novel deals with the freedom to tell stories, albeit fictional. Journalism classes may find discussions of the First Amendment helpful as it applies to journalistic practice in the United States.
  • Examine any threats to freedom of the press in contemporary American society.
  • Compare American journalistic practice to journalism in other countries, particularly those with different structures of government than our own. What is allowed to be published?  What controls or limits (if any) are placed upon reporters?  What penalties exist for violating those limits?



  • Haroun loses his ability to focus on anything for longer that 11 minutes after his mother leaves. Discuss whether this is purely a fictional construct on the part of the author, or if this has any roots in psychology.
  • Read some of the works of Bruno Bettleheim regarding fairy tales, especially The Uses of Enchantment which discusses fairy tale characters as symbolic of Freud’s elements of personality (id, ego, super-ego).
  • Discuss the idea of freedom of expression from a psychological standpoint.
  • Research ways in which literature has been used as propaganda, and how propaganda is successful at influencing the behavior of a group of people.



  • Examine Rushdie’s use of names in the novel within the tradition of Islam. One scholarly source that could be useful to support this research is “’All Names Mean Something’: Salman Rushdie's ‘Haroun’ and the Legacy of Islam” Author(s): Aron R. Aji and Salman Rushdie Source: Contemporary Literature, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Spring, 1995), pp. 103-129
  • Discuss Plato’s desire to banish poets from the Republic. Why are storytellers seen as a potentially dangerous influence?
  • Define faith and discuss in the context of the P2C2Es mentioned in the story.



  • Research the use of fiction to assist children in dealing with childhood trauma or events beyond their understanding such as war, illness, etc.



  • Read the novel in conjunction with scholarly essays such as “Fairy Tale Politics: Free Speech and Multiculturalism in ‘Haroun and the Sea of Stories’” Author: Andrew S. Teverson Source: Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 47, No. 4, Salman Rushdie (Winter, 2001), pp. 444-466
  • Another source that may be helpful as it deals with the influence of colonialism on narrative is “Memory, Language, and Society in Salman Rushdie's ‘Haroun and the Sea of Stories’” Author: Suchismita Sen Source: Contemporary Literature, Vol. 36, No. 4 (Winter, 1995), pp. 654-675
  • Research gender roles in the military and how they have changed over time in our country and others around the world.