What to Read After... Holly Webb 12/05/21
Luka and the Fire of Life
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
For many people who have grown up or brought children up over the past 30 years, the adventures and labours of Mario, Sonic or Link are at least as significant as those of Hercules, the Abrahamic prophets or Tom Sawyer. We really did care about saving Princess Peach from Bowser, Wowser or King Koopa; morality dictated that Death Adder really couldn't go unpunished for the atrocities visited upon Turtle Village.
During the 80s and 90s, whole new worlds of mythology were created with technological elan and narrative wit by software developers in Tokyo and Kyoto and they grappled to our collective cultural consciousness with hoops of steel.
Luka and the Fire of Life (a loose sequel to Haroun and the Sea of Stories) brings together the language and conventions of this digital landscape with the mythologies of literary and bardic tradition. One of the reasons why Rushdie is so successful in this weaving of worlds is that these two apparently-unrelated modes share the essential storytelling conceit of the quest.
When Luka's father, the storyteller of Kahani, falls into a mysterious deep slumber from which he cannot be woken, it falls to his son to complete the mission that will save him. Just as in the best videogames, Luka must tackle ever more perilous territory and foes - the Inescapable Whirlpool, the land of Badly Behaved Gods - and progress through the levels towards his ultimate goal: the Fire of Life.
At the heart of this extraordinary quest are familiar themes: love, mortality, overcoming fear. But they share every page with dazzling wordplay and inventive characterisation which prevent the story from ever descending into mere morality tale. Unlike Grand Theft Auto, which should only be tackled by responsible adults in controlled conditions, Luka and the Fire of Life is clearly meant to be shared by parents and children, bringing The World of Magic to bedtime.