Salman Rushdie wrote one of my favorite novels of all time: Haroun and the Sea of Stories. So when I found out that he had written a sequel, Luka and the Fire of Life, I just had to check it out. And what I mean by “check it out” is that I bought it as soon as I saw it.
I found that this novel was very similar to its prequel. So similar, in fact, that I was a little disappointed. For all intents and purposes, it’s the same story. Like it’s predecessor, Luka and the Fire of Life introduces Rashid Kahalifa, an eccentric storyteller, and centers around one of his sons and his journey into the World of Magic. This novel’s protagonist is Rashid’s youngest son, Luka. Rushdie often reminds his readers that the importance of storytelling is the main idea behind this novel, such as when he writes “…Man is the Storytelling Animal,” and “Man alone burns with books” (34). This theme is one of the reasons I like Rushdie’s stories.
Luka and the Fire of Life is primarily the story of Luka’s quest to steal a part of the Fire of Life from the World of Magic and bring it back into the Real World in order to save his dying father. Luka is a left-handed video game enthusiast who is constantly living in the shadow of his older brother, Haroun (who has already had his own adventure in the World of Magic).
Shortly after Rashid falls into a deep, deathly sleep, Luka “stumbles to the left” and enters the World of Magic. He encounters a creature named “Nobodaddy,” who looks identical to his father and is a sort of grim reaper come to collect Rashid’s soul. Luka enlists the help of his two pets, Dog (the bear) and Bear (the dog), to accompany him deep into the World of Magic in order to steal part of the Fire of Life – the only thing that can save his father from death. However, the Fire of Life is almost impossible to reach. Its location is described in a way very characteristic of Rushdie: “The Torrent of Words, by the way, thunders down from the Sea of Stories into the Lake of Wisdom, whose waters are illumined by the Dawn of Days, and out of which flows the River of Time. The Lake of Wisdom, as is well known, stands in the shadow of the Mountain of Knowlege, at whose summit burns the Fire of Life” (11).
Along with Bear, the dog, and Dog, the bear, an assortment of magical beings join Luka on his journey: Soraya, two Elephant Birds, Coyote, three dragon sisters, and the Greek god Prometheus. The most important magical character that Luka meets is Soraya, the Insultana of Ott. Without her and Resham, the flying carpet of King Solomon the Wise, Luka wouldn’t have made it very far.
Luka’s quest through the World of Magic plays out like a video game. He can earn extra lives and can hit a glowing block at the end of each “level” to save his progress. Luka and his friends must make their way through several levels and defeat countless enemies before they can reach the Fire of Life. The most entertaining enemy is the Fire Bug, who spouts sarcastic remarks such as: “What an idea. Life is not a drip. Life is a flame. What do you imagine the sun is made of? Raindrops? I don’t think so. Life is not wet, young man. Life burns” (59). Luka’s final challenge is to defeat three cloaked figures. They are called the Aalim and they rule the World of Magic; more specifically, their names are: Jo-Hua (the past), Jo-Hai (the present), and Jo-Aiga (the future).
Young Luka matures considerably throughout his quest and delivers an impressive speech during his final confrontation with the Aalim. His most powerful words in the story are inspired by something his mother said when Luka was born: “A few particular children … who can defy Time’s power just by being born, and make us all young again” (199). Luka realizes that he can defeat the Aalim because the World of Magic was actually created by his father. And as Rashid slips closer and closer to death, the World of Magic starts to fall apart.
Luka and the Fire of Life often sounds like a children’s book; for example, Rushdie uses words like “P2C2E” (Processes too Complicated to Explain) and “M2C2D” (Machines too Complicated to Describe) and creates his own scientific theories: “The Karman line, the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere, is – to put it simply – the line above which there isn’t enough air to support a flying carpet. That is the true frontier of our world, beyond which lies outer space, and it’s roughly sixty-two miles, or one hundred kilometers, above sea level” (106).
Rushdie throws in the occasional reference to pop culture. He alludes to the band Ratatat and to the The Lord the Rings trilogy. My favorite was the following reference to Dr. Who: “Appearing and disappearing at various points on both banks was a dark blue police telephone booth, out of which a perplexed-looking man holding a screwdriver would periodically emerge” (61).
Overall, Luka and the Fire of Life is a fun romp throughout a magical world. It reads like a children’s book but is enjoyable for anyone who likes fantasy and remains a kid at heart despite their age. However, if I had to recommend either this novel or Haroun and the Sea of Stories, I would always chose the latter.