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Philip Pullman article

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  • D & L Mattole
    Here s another article on Philip Pullman. He talks about his next book and prequels to the series. It s worth reading. -Donovan To view the entire article,
    Message 1 of 47 , Feb 24, 2001
      Here's another article on Philip Pullman. He talks about his next book and
      prequels to the series. It's worth reading.

      To view the entire article, go to

      The Last Word

      OXFORD, EnglandYears ago, when British writer Philip Pullman was traveling
      with his family in Austria, they stayed in a hotel where the restaurant
      service was particularly slow. Every evening as they waited for dinner,
      Pullman would entertain his 6-year-old son by telling him a portion of "The
      Odyssey." "I spun it out, calculating all the time, watching the kitchen and
      seeing when the food would arrive, and ending on a cliffhanger every night,"
      recalls Pullman. "We got to this point in the last night where the most
      exciting bit of the story happens, when Odysseus comes back to the island."
      As the tension built and the hero prepared to string his great bow,
      Pullman's narrative was shattered by a startling and terrible crunch. His
      son, totally engrossed by the story, had bitten right through his water
      glass. "The waitress who was coming just at that moment saw this and was
      horrified, and she dropped the food," exults Pullman. "It was chaos! It was
      wonderful!" Anyone wanti!
      ng additional proof of Pullman's superior storytelling skills will find them
      in "His Dark Materials," his best-selling trilogy for young adults. The
      critically acclaimed books -- "The Golden Compass," "The Subtle Knife" and
      "The Amber Spyglass" -- have been published in 21 languages. In the United
      States, combined sales of the three volumes have totaled more than 1
      million. For most weeks since its publication last October, "The Amber
      Spyglass" has occupied the No. 5 slot on the New York Times Book Review
      ranking of children's bestsellers, just under the four Harry Potter
      adventures. Like the Potter books, the trilogy is attracting readers who
      are much older than the target audience. Yes, teens and preteens are reading
      it, but their parents are, too. But unlike J.K. Rowling's tales of a young
      wizard, Pullman's trilogy delves into the moral complexities of weighty
      philosophical and religious questions. The epic story, which was inspired by
      Milton's "Paradise Lost," subvert!
      s fundamental Western religious principles and is populated by compassionate
      witches, malevolent theologians and a feeble, disingenuous God. The first
      book, "The Golden Compass" (1996), introduces readers to 11-year-old Lyra
      Belacqua, a half-wild orphan who is being raised at an Oxford college.
      Lyra's Oxford is very different from Pullman's. In her world, every human
      has a "daemon," an animal familiar that serves as the embodiment of a
      person's soul. The golden compass of the title is a truth-telling
      "alethiometer," which proves to be invaluable as Lyra journeys to the frozen
      North to rescue her best friend and other kidnapped children from terrible
      experiments being carried out by the church. In "The Subtle Knife" (1997)
      she meets Will, a sober boy burdened by adult responsibilities, and together
      they travel to other worlds in search of Will's missing father. Along the
      way, Will acquires the immensely powerful knife of the title. Lyra is
      pursued by an assassin in "The Ambe!
      r Spyglass," which recasts the biblical Temptation and Fall as the beginning
      of true human freedom. The final volume also wraps up myriad plot
      developments with a great war in Heaven that results in the death of God.
      While many readers might find such content objectionable, attacks on "His
      Dark Materials" have been few. This is particularly surprising given that
      religious fundamentalists have criticized the relatively innocuous Harry
      Potter series as glorifying witchcraft. A recent article in Publishers
      Weekly speculated on why the trilogy hadn't stirred similar controversy, and
      the explanation is: No one's really sure. Pullman's U.S. editor, Joan
      Slattery, publishing director of Knopf Books for Young Readers, says she's
      "pleasantly surprised and relieved" that she's not hearing any complaints.
      "Kids are reading these for the wonderful adventures," she says. "The adults
      who are reading it are fairly sophisticated. I think it's a testament to the
      intelligence of his fans th!
      at nobody has objected to it." After "The Subtle Knife" was published,
      Pullman received a handful of letters from readers accusing him of endorsing
      Satanism. "My response to that was: 'You haven't read the whole story yet.
      You wait and see what happens in the third book. If you find that you
      inadvertently become a Satanist, you can write to the publisher and get your
      money back.' " Pullman acknowledges that a controversy would be likely to
      boost sales. "But I'm not in the business of offending people," he says. "I
      find the books upholding certain values that I think are important. Such as
      that this life is immensely valuable. And that this world is an
      extraordinarily beautiful place, and we should do what we can to increase
      the amount of wisdom in the world." He says he recently received a review in
      the mail from a vicar who found the books' "moral base" to be secure. "What
      he meant," Pullman explains, "is that the qualities and the actions which
      the story seems to be sa!
      ying are good -- such as courage, love, kindness, compassion and so on --
      are ones that we can all agree on. . . . It's saying things that we
      generally agree on, so what is there to disagree with?"<h1>It's No
      Narnia</h1> Pullman, 54, lives with his wife and three dogs in a tranquil
      Oxford suburb. The study is cluttered with hundreds of books, but Pullman
      doesn't write there. He works in a rickety-looking garden shed in the back
      yard, where, when he's writing, he produces exactly three hand-scrawled
      pages a day. After lunch, he always watches his favorite television show,
      the Australian soap opera "Neighbours." He enjoys tracking what he describes
      as the "ancient story patterns," the love triangles straight out of classic
      literature. Pullman's father was a pilot with the Royal Air Force, and so
      Philip was a well-traveled child. For a time, the family lived in what was
      then Rhodesia. After his father was killed in a flying accident, his mother
      married another RAF flier and t!
      hey moved to South Africa and then Australia. As an adult, Pullman settled
      in Oxford, where he taught the British equivalent of junior high school for
      13 years. For several more years, he instructed teachers-in-training on
      children's literature. Eventually he quit to write full time, turning out
      young-adult and children's volumes that have included another trilogy ("The
      Ruby in the Smoke," "The Shadow in the North" and "The Tiger in the Well"),
      "The White Mercedes" and "I Was a Rat!" Just a short walk away from the
      Pullmans' house is the grave of another Oxford master of fantasy: J.R.R.
      Tolkien. Comparisons, notes Pullman with a heavy sigh, are inevitable.
      There's the Oxford connection, and the invented worlds, and both Tolkien's
      "Lord of the Rings" and "His Dark Materials" consist of one (very) long
      story in three volumes. But Pullman insists the similarities stop there.
      "What I'm doing is utterly different," he says. "Tolkien would have deplored
      it." So, too, would have !
      another famous Oxford fantasy writer, C.S. Lewis, a devout Christian whose
      children's series "The Chronicles of Narnia" exemplified his religious
      convictions. "I'm trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief," says
      Pullman. "Mr. Lewis would think I was doing the Devil's work." Pullman read
      the Narnia books as an adult and found them deeply disturbing. "Lewis was
      celebrating, upholding certain activities and attitudes which I am
      explicitly against, such as bullying, racism, misogyny. Girls are no good,
      says C.S. Lewis. Girls are only good as long as they act like boys. If
      they're tough, they're okay, but intrinsically they're inferior. People with
      dark skins who probably come from somewhere sinister like the East, and
      almost inevitably smell of garlic, are always a sign of evil or danger." In
      the final Narnia book, "The Last Battle," the older girl is excluded from
      salvation because she has become too interested in lipstick, nylons and
      invitations. "In other words, sh!
      e's growing up. She's entering adulthood," says Pullman. "Now this for
      Lewis, was something . . . so dreadful and so redolent of sin that he had to
      send her to Hell. I find that appalling." The coming of age of Lyra and
      Will, which serves as the culmination of the trilogy, represents an
      alternative view of the business of growing up. "This is the moment when
      they become truly what they could be," says Pullman. "Mr. Lewis would have
      hated it." Both Lewis and Tolkien stressed "the otherness" and superiority
      of their fantasy worlds. Pullman is passionately opposed to that, too. He
      gazes out the window and watches the unending downpour that is turning his
      yard into a mucky pool. "I want to open people's eyes if I can, and their
      hearts and their minds to the extraordinary fact that we're alive in
      <em>this</em> world, which, although it is full of rain and mud, is
      nevertheless extraordinary and wonderful. And the more you explore it and
      discover about it -- scientifically, imagi!
      natively, artistically -- the more wonderful and extraordinary it becomes."
      The author would also like to help readers discover the possibilities within
      themselves. "Harry Potter was born to be a wizard, and I don't really like
      that idea. I wanted to get away from the notion that somebody is born with a
      particular destiny," he says. "Lyra is a very ordinary child, and so is
      Will, and there are hundreds of thousands of millions of kids like Will and
      Lyra all around the place. The great things they do are doable by all of us.
      . . . Lyra's and Will's responses are the responses of every young person
      who is faced with something difficult and is courageous enough to deal with
      it. "<h1>The Realism of Fantasy</h1> Many adult readers of general literary
      fiction don't care for the fantasy genre and its endless quests for sacred
      objects and places with strange spellings. Therefore, it is perfectly
      reasonable to speculate that if "His Dark Materials" had been published for
      adults, it!
      would have been relegated to the fantasy aisle -- and reached a far smaller
      readership. While the trilogy relies on such standard fantasy elements as
      talking animals and dramatic prophecies, it departs from the genre's
      conventions. "What I'm interested in is what people are like as human
      beings, and how we grow up and how we love each other and how it's difficult
      to live with each other," says Pullman. "Traditionally, that sort of stuff
      has belonged in the domain of realistic fiction. But why not put that in a
      fantasy context? I wanted to make this fantasy as realistic in psychological
      terms as I possibly could." The trilogy's animal familiars are a fanciful
      device that serves as a shortcut to characterization (or, possibly, species
      stereotyping). Children's daemons change according to their mood -- when
      Lyra is angry, hers often transforms into a polecat -- but once a person
      matures into adulthood, his daemon settles into a single form. Servants'
      daemons are always dog!
      s. The villainous Mrs. Coulter's daemon is a golden monkey, while the
      fearsome Lord Asriel's is a powerful snow leopard. Readers frequently ask
      Pullman what sort of daemon he might have. "I think she would be one of
      those birds who steal bright things, like a jackdaw," he says. "Storytellers
      work by picking up little bright bits of experience or gossip or something
      they've read that sort of sparkles. So you pick it up and take it to your
      nest." Pullman's influences range far and wide. Washington Post book critic
      Michael Dirda, who has called the trilogy "the best, deepest and most
      disturbing children's fantasy of our time," assembled a remarkable list that
      includes "Paradise Lost," the poetry of William Blake, the Jewish cabala,
      Wagner's "Ring of the Nibelungs," "Peter Pan," "Star Wars," superhero comics
      and Ursula K. Le Guin's "Earthsea" books. Pullman devised the names for some
      of the trilogy's most beloved characters by borrowing from a variety of
      sources. The autho!
      r came up with "Iorek Byrnison" for the armored bear by thumbing through a
      book of old Norse poems. "Iorek means something like bear," he explains,
      "and the second part of his name comes from 'byrne,' which means something
      like armor. Then I added a typical Nordic suffix." Texan aeronaut Lee
      Scoresby was derived from actor Lee Van Cleef and arctic explorer William
      Scoresby. As for the elegant and beautiful witch Serafina Pekkala, Pullman
      took that name right out of a Helsinki telephone book. "It's a really common
      name in Finland," he says. Pullman was very involved in the award-winning
      audio versions of the trilogy -- he read the narration -- but his
      participation in any upcoming film version will be considerably less. The
      movie rights have been sold to a company that's talking to various studios,
      he says, and that's all he knows. "Whether they will make a film at all,
      whether it will be one film or three, whether it will be animated or not, I
      really don't want to be involve!
      d. If somebody buys the rights, that's what they buy -- the rights. If they
      want to turn Iorek Byrnison into an armored giraffe and Lyra into a boy . .
      . they can do that. I could say, 'You shouldn't do this,' but they don't
      care what some damn fool writer in England says. I don't want an argument. I
      want to be writing another book." Another book? Could there be a sequel to
      the trilogy? The answer is a not particularly firm "no." For now, he says,
      he's contemplating prequels, but he hasn't ruled out more on Lyra and Will.
      Up next, he says, will be "The Book of Dust," focusing on what he calls "the
      mythical dimension" of the trilogy. He's also considering the early life of
      one of his favorite characters, Lee Scoresby, and how he came to be friends
      with the armored bear. Then there's the story of Serafina Pekkala and the
      human she once loved . . . "There are all kinds of stories, thousands of
      stories, that could be set in this world," he says. The expert storyteller's
      tic pause. "And I may write them."
    • WendellWag@aol.com
      In a message dated 3/10/01 12:56:32 PM Eastern Standard Time, Stolzi@aol.com writes:
      Message 47 of 47 , Mar 10, 2001
        In a message dated 3/10/01 12:56:32 PM Eastern Standard Time, Stolzi@...

        << Must today's children be protected from Lewis'
        evils? Or should the first chapter be revised to say simply that "Eustace's
        parents were rather disagreeable people" - as DR DOOLITTLE has (in my view
        rightly) been rewritten in certain parts, as PL Travers rewrote a bothersome
        chapter of MARY POPPINS? >>

        It's possible to take a middle position. It's possible to think a writer is
        good and to agree with him on many things and yet to disagree with him on
        others, while not finding it necessary to tell children that they should
        ignore certain points in the book. I give all my nieces and nephews a copy
        of the Chronicles of Narnia. I agree with much of Lewis said, but I think
        that (like anyone else) he was incorrect on a few issues. I don't find it
        necessary to include an "errata" list of wrong ideas in Lewis's books (or
        anyone else's books I give as presents). I think that my nieces and nephews
        are already learning the lesson that they should read a lot of books and
        think for themselves about the issues involved.

        Wendell Wagner
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