Salman Rushdie Talks About His New Children’s Book

Luka and the Fire of LifeMost parents may know Salman Rushdie as the author of adult novels such as “Midnight’s Children” and the controversial “The Satanic Verses,” but Rushdie has also written two children’s books; chapter books geared toward the tween/teen set. 

The first chlidren’s book, “Haroun and the Sea of Stories,” was written in 1990 and was considered a contemporary story akin to “Alice in Wonderland.”  Written ten years later and released recently in November, “Luka and the Fire of Life” is a continuation of “Haroun”; the characters are the same but a different child hero (Luka, the younger brother of Haroun) is at the center of the story. 

When Luka and Haroun’s father, Rashid Khalifa (the Shah of Blah), suddenly falls ill, Luka must journey to the Magic World and steal the Fire of Life in order to restore his father’s soul and spirit.  Along for his first adventure, Luka is accompanied and assisted by Dog (the Bear), Bear (the Dog), the Magic World’s version of Rahshid, Princess Soraya and her magic carpet, and Memory Birds. 

“Luka” is full of clever wordplay and themes, phantasmagorical cities and creatures, and crucial acts of courage.  Recently, had the chance to ask Salman Rushdie a few questions about his new book.  Read the interview below:

How was the writing process for “Luka and the Fire of Life” better or more challenging compared to “Haroun and the Sea of Stories”?

It was the opposite of Haroun, in a way. For the first book, I knew the story more or less from the start, and the problem was to find the right tone of voice, not too childish for adults, not too adult for children. This time I knew the tone, having worked it out for Haroun, but the story took a lot of working out.

In both books, it’s the young children who are empowered to save the parents, whether from divorce or from death.  How did you decide to have children take on the responsibility of being solitary heroes?

It’s just more fun that way around. Parents saving children is too obvious, and 12-year-old boys all think their dads need helping out with almost everything, anyway.

Given the increasing appeal of video games and decreasing appeal of print books, “Luka” is cleverly structured in a video game-like narrative. What inspired you to outline the story as a video game? Was it a conscious way to bridge both genres?

It was a way of using a new language to reinvigorate an ancient story, the story of the quest for fire. Also, I hadn’t seen it done before, and that made it irresistible.

At the heart of your two children’s books is the belief in magical reality plus the deities and creatures of mythologies/legends.  What is the one important thing in your own magical reality?

Oh, I guess the imagination: that’s the source of magic.

Your latest novel also has important themes that children face as they grow up: life vs. death, choices vs. fate, past vs. present, decisions vs. consequences, etc. What are the lessons you want your son or other children to learn as they grow up?

That life is real, that it can be painful, and that you need to take responsibility for your own part in it.  Also, that it can be full of joy, fun, and love.

As a father, what is your biggest fear or challenge when raising children? As an author, what is your biggest fear or challenge when writing books for your sons?

Well, of course you worry that your kids will go badly wrong somehow and that you will mess up your relationship with them, but neither of those things has happened, so all that worrying was a waste of time. As for writing books for the boys, the greatest fear is that they won’t like them, but they did. Phew. 

Which children’s books did you love growing up and which ones do your kids love?

Above all, [I loved] the two “Alice in Wonderland” books and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. My younger son, Milan, loves Tolkien, too.

More on “Luka and the Fire of Life”:

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