Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

Creative Fear in Salman Rushdie's Haroun and Luka: The "Safe House" of Children's Literature

Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

Creative Fear in Salman Rushdie's Haroun and Luka: The "Safe House" of Children's Literature

Article excerpt

I will tell you a secret about fear: it is an absolutist. With fear it's all or nothing Either, like any bullying tyrant, it rules your life with a stupid, blinding omnipotence, or else you overthrow it and its power vanishes in a puff of smoke.

And another secret. The revolution against fear, the engendering of that tawdry despot's fall, has more or less nothing to do with "courage." It is driven by something much more straightforward-the simple need to get on with your life.

Salman Rushdie, The Moor's Last Sigh, 164

Despite the twenty-year gap between the two forays by Salman Rushdie into the domain of children's literature, Haroun and the Sea of Stones (1990) and Luka and the Fire of Life (2010), the themes and topics show a marked continuity. Even a preliminary acquaintance with Rushdie's writing reveals that strong persistent concerns run through all his fictional works, with one of the most notably recurrent strains being personal fears, which lie at the creative origins of all his novels. Extended exposure to his fiction reveals that because these fears have had a real, potent, and directional role to play, both in his life and in inspiring his literary efforts, his pen has given them extensive dramatic space. It is significant, and possibly natural, that this offering of considered reactions to the tyranny of fear and its terrorizing grip on his life and creativity informs his children's books as well. The interplay between the writer's forced absorption with his own fear-ridden real-life experience and the pervasive fear of creative extinction under threat of censorship, terror-generating fatwas, and the terrifying calamities of life itself becomes the identifying characteristic of both these narratives.

What is most striking about Rushdie's treatment of fear in children's narrative is that he deliberately turns the schema on its head. When Rushdie logs fear as one of the themes that interests and concerns him, he does not seem to be doing anything out of the ordinary. It seems perfectly normal for him, as an adult writer, to attempt a diagnostic and cathartic treatment of issues that are troubling him in his writing for adults. But when, in his children's tales he most seriously brings his own self into the picture, by placing himself within the concerted, investigative gambit of his pen, he is certainly doing something unusual and remarkable. One would not typically expect an author to engage in such obvious self-analysis, but Haroun and Luka allow Rushdie to do just that by atypically becoming more pointed and personal in addressing these apprehensions head on.

Interestingly, even though in the adult novels Rushdie concentrates his energies and artistic abilities on keeping himself under the cover of distanced, effaced narration so as to effect an impartial analysis, in the children's narratives he deliberately and overtly turns inward to his own self to confront his fears, to name them, to fight them, cashing in on what Donald Haase identifies as the "fairy tale's potential as an emotional survival strategy" (361). Just as a child needs to be tested and exposed to his fears to emerge stronger, so too do Rushdie's young protagonists and intended readers-and the novelist feels the need to confront his own anxieties to liberate himself.

Critics such as Bruno Bettelheim, Jack Zipes, and Maria Tatar have noted this liberating agenda of children's literature, all recognizing the fairy tale as a literary form most intimately connected with the theme of fear. According to Bettelheim, the fairy tale, gives "body to [the child's] unconscious anxieties," and "relievefs] them" (15). In fact, the fairy tale makes life more amenable and less frightening because "by denying access to stories which implicitly tell the child that others have the same fantasies, he is left to feel that he is the only one who imagines such things. This makes his fantasies really scary" (122). This legitimates Rushdie's choice of form, which constructs a special place for the theme of fear. …

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