Exiled author Salman Rushdie: Secret Mario fan

By now, we’re all aware that the majority of people enjoy a bit of video gaming from time to time, and yet it’s still surprising to find that certain people consider themselves “gamers”. Today’s example: Salman Rushdie, esteemed academic, author of The Satanic Verses, and recipient of multiple death threats culminating in a fatwa from the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989.

Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie in 2012

Mr. Rushdie, now 65, is not the sort of person you might expect to play video games – but what else was he supposed to do during his ten-year exile? One day, his young son Zafar introduced him to Super Mario World, and the author was reportedly hooked.

The story has come to light through Rushdie’s latest book, the memoir Joseph Anton, written in the third person. Amid the novel’s pages, Rushdie explains how – through those dark days – he discovered the magic gaming console (a SNES) was the new magic lamp, a way to rise above the threats, assassination attempts and constant attention from the world’s media.

Literary site The Millions reports that while Rushdie fell quickly into this “digital world of magical mushrooms and fire flowers”, relishing the opportunity to be the hunter rather than the hunted, his wife – Marianne – did not approve, telling him to “Give it up” and “Read a good book”.

A few days later, Joseph Anton recalls:

Alone at Hermitage Lane he reached the end of his Super Mario game, defeating the big bad Bowser himself and rescuing the insufferably pink Princess Toadstool,” the book reads. “He was glad Marianne was not there to witness his triumph.

We don’t know if Rushdie went on to play further games in the Mario franchise, but what we do know is that – particularly in the two books he wrote for children – hints of Nintendo influence still resonate.

In Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Rushdie creates a water genie named Iff – and this moustachioed character must use his plumber’s wrench to control the flow of the Stream of Stories.

Super Mario World

This is where it all started…

In another book, Luka and the Fire of Life (described by The Millions as “Arabian Nights-meets-Nintendo”), the effect is even clearer. Super Luka is given 999 lives, and told he must pass through “several levels of increasing difficulty to reach the magic fire”. Each time he is touched by an enemy, one life is lost – but he can save his progress at the end of each “level” by punching a golden ball (which rings like a bell).

These days, Rushdie lives in New York, writes, and plays Angry Birds on his iPhone. He is quoted as saying that “I often think the best way to liberate Iran is to drop Nintendo consoles from the air.”

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