Fantasy

May 31, 2020

What I found with fantasy was a way of saying something about being human. And, of course, that’s the dæmon. But I hadn’t been a reader of fantasy. Like everybody else in the sixties, I read “The Lord of the Rings” and was temporarily impressed, but I didn’t read any other fantasy.

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

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

actually a magic spell

April 20, 2020

Poetry is not a fancy way of giving you information; it’s an incantation. It is actually a magic spell. It changes things; it changes you.

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

There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children’s book.

The reason for that is that in adult literary fiction, stories are there on sufferance. Other things are felt to be more important: technique, style, literary knowingness. Adult writers who deal in straightforward stories find themselves sidelined into a genre such as crime or science fiction, where no one expects literary craftsmanship.

But stories are vital. Stories never fail us because, as Isaac Bashevis Singer says, “events never grow stale.” There’s more wisdom in a story than in volumes of philosophy. And by a story I mean not only Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk but also the great novels of the nineteenth century, Jane Eyre, Middlemarch, Bleak House and many others: novels where the story is at the centre of the writer’s attention, where the plot actually matters. The present-day would-be George Eliot’s take up their stories as if with a pair of tongs. They’re embarrassed by them. If they could write novels without stories in them, they would. Sometimes they do.

But what characterizes the best of children’s authors is that they’re not embarrassed to tell stories. They know how important stories are, and they know, too, that if you start telling a story you’ve got to carry on till you get to the end. And you can’t provide two ends, either, and invite the reader to choose between them. Or as in a highly praised recent adult novel I’m about to stop reading, three different beginnings. In a book for children you can’t put the plot on hold while you cut artistic capers for the amusement of your sophisticated readers, because, thank God, your readers are not sophisticated. They’ve got more important things in mind than your dazzling skill with wordplay. They want to know what happens next.

Philip Pullman
Carnegie Medal Acceptance Speech, 1966

a deadly thing

March 24, 2020

If a witch needs something, another witch will give it to her. If there is war to be fought, we don’t consider cost one of the factors in deciding whether or not it is right to fight. Nor do we have any notion of honour. An insult to a bear is a deadly thing. To us…inconceivable. How could you insult a witch? What would it matter if you did?

Philip Pullman
The Golden Compass

attention to religion

March 8, 2020

I’ve been greatly criticized for the attention to religion that I give in the books, but I’ve been criticized, on the whole, by people who haven’t read the books. My attitude to religion is that religion is a most interesting and extraordinary human phenomenon. I’m fascinated by it, interested in it, and at some points critical of it. And the points when I become critical are the points when politics come into it, and religion acquires political power — political with a small “p,” for example, within the confines of a single family, or Political with a large “P,” on a national or international scale.

When religion gets the power to tell people how to dress, who to fall in love with, how to behave, what they must not read, what they must not wear, all those things, then religion goes bad….Religion is private thing, and a fine thing and a good thing, as long as it remains private. As soon as it becomes public and political, it’s dangerous.

Philip Pullman
Interview for NPR 14th February 2017

like a bruise…

February 15, 2016

time

She wondered whether there would ever be an hour in her life when she didn’t think of him – didn’t speak to him in her head, didn’t relive every moment they’d been together, didn’t long for his voice and his hands and his love. She had never dreamed of what it would feel like to love someone so much; of all the things that had astonished her in her adventures, that was what astonished her the most. She thought the tenderness it left in her heart was like a bruise that would never go away, but she would cherish it forever.

Philip Pullman
The Amber Spyglass,