Automata Abound in Paris and the Wondrous Sea of Stories

Of the wondrous words in Haroun’s Sea of Stories and the automata and other wonders discovered in Hugo Cabret’s world – As I play catch-up with the alphabet days of April (please read my note to my readers here), trying to keep up with the Blogging from A to Z Challenge – April 2018  and the Ultimate Blog Challenge – April 2018here are my posts for the letters H and I (days 9 and 10) for you to enjoy and (re)discover the books for these letters and what lies within them!


H is for Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie. Rushdie is a master of wordplay and that talent of his comes to the fore here in this book. Words originating from and derived from other languages make the book all the more richer and beautiful. A helpful appendix at the end of the book explains many of the names used in the book. Symbolisms abound and are sprinkled like stars in that wondrous story sky that is this book. I have mentioned this book earlier in my blog here.

A brief look into the book: Haroun, who hails from the sad city of Alifbay (whose citizens are so sad that they have forgotten its original name), is the son of much-hailed story teller Rashid, also known as the Shah of Blah. In an unforeseen turn of events, the Shah of Blah loses his story telling ability before a trip to the most beautiful Valley of K which is the home of the Dull Lake, where he was invited by a politico, Mr.Buttoo, to help in his election campaign. As a result of the same turn of events, Haroun loses his ability to concentrate for more than eleven minutes. This leads Haroun on a mission to restore his dad’s talent – a mission to the moon, literally. And on an adventure of a lifetime (all in the span of way lesser than that).

And from within this book I bring you – wordplay (not all of it, because, as I mentioned before, Rushdie’s mastery of wordplay is at fore here):

‘WELCOME TO K; but somebody had daubed it with crude, irregular letters, so that it now said WELCOME TO KOSH-MAR’……….’the Valley, which is now simply K, had other names. One, if I remember correctly, was “Kache-Mer”. Another was this “Kosh-Mar”.’’

The Valley of K here is a reference to the beautiful Kashmir and its meanings also refer to what it was and is – Rashid says it was known before as  Kache-Mer which meant ‘the place that hides a sea’. This is possibly derived from the French cache mer (meaning exactly what Rashid says it does). Rashid then says that it was known as Kosh-Mar which was the sign Haroun saw. And that word meant ‘nightmare’ and the word cauchemar in Russian means ‘nightmare’. This word ‘Koshmar’ also finds its way into CW’s super hero TV series – ‘Arrow’ – Koshmar (Russian: Кошмар, lit. as Nightmare), also known as Nightmare Gulag[1], is a prison located in Moscow. According to Anatoly Knyazev, it is the worst prison in Russia.

And then we find ourselves pretty soon on Earth’s second moon (wouldn’t it be loverly to have a moon like the one described here) – the name of this moon unseen to human eyes is ‘Kahani’ meaning ‘story’. In Kahani, we have Gup City (gup meaning gossip) and the Land of Chup (chup meaning quiet). Gup is ruled by King Chattergy (a play on the common Bengali name Chatterjee and the word ‘chatter’) while Chup is ruled by the dreaded Cultmaster of Bezaban (Leader of Chupwalas) known as Khatam-Shud (Bezaban means ‘without a tongue’ or without the power of speech) and Khatam-shud means simply ‘the end of it all’.

The Parliament of Gup – it is called Chatterbox – because that is exactly what it sounds like; and its army is led by General Kitab (Kitab meaning book).

spoiler alert? (maybe, but the book will still not lose any of its magic)..

As the reader learns all this along with Haroun, we are soon part of a war aptly named ‘Bat-Mat-Kar’ (which means ‘do not talk’) in order to rescue the Princess Batcheat (Baatcheat meaning conversation) from the Land of Chup. Haroun is joined by the army of Gup and Prince Bolo (who is the princess’ fiance and his name means ‘speak’!). The army of Gup is called ‘the Library’ and the soldiers are ‘pages’ organized into books, volumes, and so on – fascinating, really!!  The wonderful sea of stories mentioned in the title is managed by floating gardeners and one of them is Haroun’s ally from the beginning – his name ‘Mali’ meaning – well ‘gardener’….Another ally is Butt the mechanical Hoopoe bird who can talk without opening his mouth (is he from the Land of Chup or from the land of Gup? What do you think?)

I will stop here since there is so much to discover in the book and you should read it for yourself. You can buy it here.

You can also refer to wikipedia and this tv tropes wiki site for more wordplay references from the book..


I is for the Invention of Hugo Cabret and within this, I discovered many facts. I have written more about them in an earlier post here. And below are a couple of points from that post.George Melies – a central character of the book and an inspiration for it – Melies’ most famous movie (which is also featured in the book and the movie) is ‘A Trip to the Moon‘ – (one of) the first science fiction movies made.

The book mentions and depicts a photo with a scene from Harold Lloyd’s 1923 movie ‘Safety Last!’- where the hero is hanging from the hand of a clock. In the book, Hugo himself does not really hang from the clock while in the movie there is a scene where he is hanging from the clock. This is a nod to the scene Hugo talks about in the book (in addition to showing the scene from the ‘Safety Last!’ movie itself)

Hugo’s father dies in a museum fire and the automaton is almost destroyed (Hugo retrieves it from the trash and works on restoring it hoping there is a hidden message from his dad – this is one of the central themes of the story). In life –  Robert-Houdin’s Hand Writing and Drawing Automaton was in Barnum’s American Museum in NYC and it was lost forever when the museum burnt to the ground. In the movie, the automaton made for the movie  actually does what it is supposed to (and takes about 46 minutes to complete it;  the only difference being the book one is mechanical and the movie one computer software based!  The automaton in the book (and the movie) was inspired by an existing automaton at display in The Franklin Institute.

Q to the Reader: What words (from a different language than the primary language of the book) have caught your eye and made you curious? Which real character did you learn about in a work of fiction whom you wanted to find out more about?
Signing off on Days 9 and 10/letters H and I on #UltimateBlogChallenge for April 2018.
My #atozchallenge and #UBCPosts:
Theme_0  A1  B2 C3 D4 E5 F6 G7 Day8 H9 I10 J11 K12 L13 M14 Day15 N16 O17 P18 Q19 R20 S21 Day22 T23 U24 V25 W26 X27 Y28 Day29 Z30

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