The world of J.R.R. Tolkien is a world without sexuality in it. I can’t help comparing it with Wagner’s “Ring,” a much greater work in every conceivable way, which is actually throbbing with sexual understanding and sexual passion and so on.

There’s none of that in “The Lord of the Rings.” It’s as if they had their children by a courier or something: please send a boy child by Federal Express to Mrs. Blah blah blah. And once you’re aware that that’s missing, you can then see the other gaps in it. He doesn’t do any sort of speculative thinking about what’s good and what’s evil. The only interesting character in that way is Gollum, but it’s not interesting enough. It’s nowhere near as interesting as the books of realistic fiction that I was reading. You read “Middlemarch,” that’s a real story about real human beings. It’s about the kind of things that you know when you’re young and you discover when you’re growing up and you’ll learn when you’re old. But, orcs and hobbits, they don’t tell you anything at all. It’s very, very thin stuff. No nourishment in it.

So to find myself writing a fantasy was a bit of a surprise. But I thought of it as realism. I wanted to make the characters as real as I could make them. Mrs. Coulter, for example, is not just a one-dimensional figure of wickedness—she’s not the witch queen, of whatever it is, like Narnia. She finds herself, over the course of the story, being invaded by something she has never suspected she was capable of, and that’s her love for her daughter. She never dreamed she could feel that, and it’s taken over her life. That’s the great change in Mrs. Coulter that I was so looking forward to seeing Nicole Kidman embody in the sequels, if there were any sequels to the “Golden Compass” movie, but that never happened.

Philip Pullman
Interview in The New Yorker, 29th September 2019