Philip Pullman (1946-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Work in Progress, Sidelights
Born 1946, in Norwich, England; Education: Oxford University, B.A., 1968; Weymouth College of Education, earned teaching degree. Politics: Liberal. Hobbies and other interests: Drawing, music.
Agent—A. P. Watt, 20 John St., London WC1N 2DR, England; Ellen Levine, 432 Park Ave. S., Suite 1205, New York, NY 10016.
Author, playwright, scriptwriter, and educator. Teacher at Ivanhoe, Bishop Kirk, and Marston middle schools,
Oxford, England, 1970-86; writer, 1986—. Lecturer at Westminster College, North Hinksey, Oxford, 1988-95.
Society of Authors (chairman, 2001-03).
Lancashire County Libraries/National and Provincial Children's Book Award and Best Books for Young Adults listing, School Library Journal, both 1987, Children's Book Award, International Reading Association, Preis der Leseratten, ZDF Television (Germany), and Best Books for Young Adults listing, American Library Association (ALA), all 1988, all for The Ruby in the Smoke; Best Books for Young Adults listing, ALA, 1988, and Edgar Allan Poe Award nomination, Mystery Writers of America, 1989, both for Shadow in the North; Carnegie Medal, British Library Association, 1996, Guardian Children's Fiction Award, The Guardian, 1996, both for Northern Lights, Top of the List in youth fiction, Booklist, 1996, for The Golden Compass (U. S. edition of Northern Lights); Smarties Award, Rowntree Mackintosh Co., 1996, for The Firework-Maker's Daughter; Whitbread Book of the Year Award and Whitbread Children's Book Award, both 2001, both for The Amber Spyglass; Securicor Omega Express Author of the Year and Whitaker/BA Author of the Year, both 2002.
"SALLY LOCKHART" SERIES; YOUNG ADULT HISTORICAL FICTION
The Ruby in the Smoke, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1985.
The Shadow in the Plate, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1987, published as Shadow in the North, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1988.
The Tiger in the Well, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1990.
The Tin Princess, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1994.
"HIS DARK MATERIALS" YOUNG ADULT FANTASY NOVELS
Northern Lights, Scholastic (England), 1995, published as The Golden Compass, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1996.
The Subtle Knife, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1997.
The Amber Spyglass, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2000.
Lyra's Oxford, illustrated by John Lawrence, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.
OTHER YOUNG ADULT FICTION
How to Be Cool (humorous fiction), Heinemann (London, England), 1987.
The Broken Bridge, Macmillan (London, England), 1990, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1992.
The White Mercedes (realistic fiction), Macmillan (London, England), 1992, Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.
(Editor) Detective Stories: Chosen by Philip Pullman, illustrated by Nick Hardcastle, Kingfisher (New York, NY), 1998.
FOR CHILDREN; FICTION
Count Karlstein, or the Ride of the Demon Huntsman (picture book), Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1982, edition with pictures by Patrice Aggs, Doubleday (London, England), 1991, novel illustrated by Diane Bryan, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1998.
Spring-Heeled Jack: A Story of Bravery and Evil (graphic novel), illustrated by David Mostyn, Doubleday (London, England), 1989, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1991.
The Wonderful Story of Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp (retelling), illustrated by David Wyatt, Picture Hippo, 1995.
The Firework-Maker's Daughter (fantasy), Corgi, 1996, illustrated by S. Saelig Gallagher, Arthur A. Levine Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Clockwork, or All Wound Up, illustrated by Peter Bailey, Doubleday (London, England), 1996, illustrated by Leonid Gore, Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Books (New York, NY), 1998.
I Was a Rat!, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2000.
Puss in Boots: The Adventures of That Most Enterprising Feline, illustrated by Ian Beck, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2000.
"THE NEW CUT GANG" SERIES
Thunderbolt's Waxworks, illustrated by Mark Thomas, Viking (New York, NY), 1994.
The Gas-Fitter's Ball, illustrated by Mark Thomas, Viking (New York, NY), 1995.
Ancient Civilizations (nonfiction), illustrated by G. Long, Wheaton (Exeter, England), 1978.
Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Sumatran Devil (produced at Polka Children's Theatre, Wimbledon, England, 1984), published as Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Limehouse Horror, Thomas Nelson (London, England), 1993.
The Three Musketeers (adapted from Alexandre Dumas's novel), produced at Polka Children's Theatre, Wimbledon, England, 1985.
Frankenstein (adapted from Mary Shelley's novel; produced at Polka Children's Theatre, Wimbledon, England, 1987), Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1990.
Puss in Boots, produced at Polka Children's Theater, Wimbledon, England, 1997.
Galatea (fantasy), Gollancz (London, England), 1978, Dutton (New York, NY), 1979.
Pullman is also the author of scripts for television. Author of introduction, John and Mary Gribbin, The Science of "His Dark Materials," Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), in press.
How to Be Cool was televised by Granada-TV in the United Kingdom, 1988.
The Golden Compass and The Amber Spyglass were made into sound recordings. The first three books in the "His Dark Materials" series have been optioned by New Line Cinema for production as motion pictures. Two plays based on "His Dark Materials," adapted by Nicholas Wright, were produced at the National Theatre, London, 2003-04.
Work in Progress
A novel, The Book of Dust, in the "His Dark Materials" series.
The English bestow two prestigious literary prizes every year: the Whitbread Award and the Booker Prize. In 2001, Philip Pullman won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award for The Amber Spyglass, an unprecedented accolade for someone who is seen primarily as a writer for younger readers. Never before had the Whitbread Book of the Year been awarded to a young adult novel, or any children's book for that matter—in fact, the Whitbread has a category for children's literature, and The Amber Spyglass won that award too. Most critics agree that the award comes as recognition for Pullman's unique and imaginative "His Dark Materials" trilogy, comprising The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. Drawing its energy from myth, science fiction, classical literature, the Bible, and speculative philosophy, Pullman's trilogy succeeds for children as a ripping good-versus-evil adventure, and for teens and adults as a thoughtful venture into alternative realities.
Considered a writer of great range, depth, and imagination, Pullman is recognized as one of the most talented creators of children's literature to have entered the field in the last quarter century. The author of fiction, nonfiction, and picture books as well as a playwright and reteller, he is best known for writing fantasy and historical fiction for young adults, and historical fiction and fantasy for primary and middle graders. Pullman is lauded as a gifted storyteller who adds a distinctive, original touch to such literary forms as the mystery, the thriller, the horror story, and the problem novel. As a writer of historical fiction, he usually sets his books in Victorian England, a period that he is credited for recreating with accuracy. His works are often praised for their meticulous research, and he uses prior eras or fantasy worlds to treat themes with strong parallels to contemporary society such as feminism, prejudice, and adjustment to new technology. Pullman is known as the creator of four books about Sally Lockhart, a brave and independent young woman who solves mysteries in nineteenth-century London. Filled with underworld atmosphere, larger-than-life characters, and cliff-hanging suspense as well as thoughtful, provocative themes, these works have inspired Pullman's comparison to classic novelists such as Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins.
The author is far more famous, however, as the creator of the "His Dark Materials" series, the bestselling epic tales set in an Arctic-like region that revolve around the concept of daemons, animal familiars that contain the souls of their human counterparts, and the quest of Lyra Belacqua, a feisty, shrewd teenager, to find the origin of Dust, a mysterious substance integral to the composition of the universe. Called "science fantasies" by their author in an interview in Publishers Weekly, these novels are regarded as extraordinary works that combine exciting adventures with thought-provoking philosophical content. Although many of Pullman's books are considered sophisticated and demanding, most reviewers note their accessibility while acknowledging the author's ability to explore moral and ethical issues in riveting stories. Chris Routh of School Librarian commented that Pullman "has already confirmed his status as one of today's top storytellers," while Anne E. Deifendeifer, writing in Children's Books and Their Creators, noted, "At their best, Pullman's novels, daring and inventive, are page turners that immediately hook readers into the story and often introduce them to the Victorian age." In his entry in Twentieth-Century Young Adult Writers, Keith Barker claimed, "Pullman plays with the rules of fiction as few young-adult writers attempt to do." The critic concluded that the author's "unpredictability of plot and character coupled with the sheer readability of his novels earn them the right to be widely read."
Born in Norwich, England, to Alfred Pullman, an airman for the Royal Air Force, and his wife Audrey, a homemaker and amateur dramatist who also worked for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Pullman spent much of his early life traveling. At the age of six, he went to live in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, where his father was sent on assignment. "Africa," Pullman wrote in his essay in Something about the Author Autobiography Series (SAAS), "was full of strange things," including some wonderful smells such as roasting mealies (corn on the cob). He remembered, "I loved that smell so much that when years and years later I happened to smell it unexpectedly in a street market in London, where someone was roasting mealies to sell, I found tears springing to my eyes." When his father's tour of duty ended, Pullman returned to England, where he spent happy times with his grandfather and grandmother in Drayton, a small village in Norfolk. His grandfather, a clergyman in the Church of England, was rector of the church there. His grandfather, Pullman noted in SAAS, was "the centre of the world. There was no one stronger than he was, or wiser, or kinder…. When I was young he was the sun at the centre of my life." In addition to his other attributes, Pullman's grandfather was an accomplished storyteller; his grandson remembered, "He took the simplest little event and made a story out of it."
After his father was killed on a mission in Africa, Pullman and his younger brother went to live in Norfolk while their mother went to London to look for work. Shortly thereafter, Pullman's mother received a letter saying that her husband was to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross, an award that was presented to the family by Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace. Later, Pullman discovered that his father, who had incurred gambling debts and was involved in extramarital affairs, was suspected of committing suicide by crashing his plane. Pullman wrote, "Sometimes I think he's really alive somewhere, in hiding, with a different name. I'd love to meet him."
When Pullman was nine, his mother married an airman friend of her late husband's. When his stepfather was sent to Australia on assignment, the family went with him. Pullman made a spectacular discovery in Australia—comic books. He wrote in SAAS, "When one day my stepfather brought me a Superman comic, it changed my life. I'd been a reader for a long time, but a reader of books; I'd never known comics. When I got this one, I devoured it and demanded more. I adored them." Most of all, the author remembered, "I adored Batman. Those poorly printed stories on their cheap yellowing news-print intoxicated me, enthralled me, made me dizzy with passion." In evaluating what he loved about the Batman comics, Pullman noted, "What I wanted was to brood over the world of Batman and dream actively. It was the first stirring of the storytelling impulse. I couldn't have put it like this, but what I wanted was to take characters, a setting, words, and pictures and weave a pattern out of them; not be Batman, but write about him." He added, "I knew instinctively at once, that the telling of stories was delicious, and it all belonged to me."
In Australia, Pullman began telling ghost stories to his school friends and to his brother in their bedroom at night. The author recalled, "I don't know whether he enjoyed it, or whether he even listened, but it wasn't for his benefit; it was for mine. I remember vividly the sense of diving into the dark as I began the story, with no idea at all what was going to happen or whether the story would 'come out' as I called it, by which I meant make sense or come to a neat end. I remember the exhilaration of the risk: Would I find something to say? Would I dry up? And I remember the thrill, the bliss, when, a minute ahead of getting there, I saw a twist I could give to the end, a clever way of bringing back that character who'd come into it earlier and vanished inconclusively, a neat phrase to tie it all up with. Many other things happened in Australia, but my discovery of storytelling was by far the most important."
After moving back to the United Kingdom, Pullman settled in Llanbedr, a village on the north coast of Wales where he would spend the next decade. "[Of] all the things I remember from those years," he wrote in SAAS, "the most exciting came when I discovered art." When Pullman was fifteen, he became interested in the history of painting. A book called A History of Art was "more precious to me than any Bible," Pullman wrote. He also began drawing. Pullman learned the Welsh landscape by sketching it, and, he noted, "came to care for it with a lover's devotion." In his young adult novel The Broken Bridge, a work that the author called "a love letter to a landscape" in SAAS, he describes a young woman who makes the same discoveries. As a teenager, Pullman also became enthralled by poetry. One of his English teachers, Enid Jones, was instrumental in developing his interest; he wrote in SAAS, "I owe her a great debt." Jones introduced Pullman to Milton, Wordsworth, and the English metaphysical poets and, he remembered, "took me to places I never dreamed of…. "In addition to learning reams of poetry by heart, Pullman began writing poems in literary forms such as the sonnet, the rondeau, and the ballad; in the process, he recalled, "I developed a great respect for craftsmanship."
After winning a scholarship to Oxford to study English, Pullman became the first person in his family to attend university. However, he wrote in SAAS, "it wasn't long before I found out that I didn't enjoy English as much as I thought I would, anyway. I was doing it because I wanted to learn how to write, but that wasn't what they were interested in teaching." While at Oxford, Pullman realized that he was destined to be a storyteller, not a poet. After graduation, he began to write a novel. Shortly thereafter, he moved to London and worked at a men's clothing store and in a library while writing three pages a day—a regime to which he still adheres—in his spare time. In 1970, Pullman married Judith Speller, a teacher; the couple has two sons. His wife influenced Pullman's next career move; he wrote in SAAS, "I liked what she told me about [teaching]." After attending Weymouth College of Education, Pullman got his degree and began teaching middle school in Oxford.
For twelve years, Pullman taught Greek mythology to his students by telling them stories of the gods and heroes, including oral versions of The Iliad and The Odyssey. Writing in SAAS, the author confirmed that the "real beneficiary of all that storytelling wasn't so much the audience as the storyteller. I'd chosen—for what I thought, and think still, were good educational reasons—to do something that, by a lucky chance, was the best possible training for me as a writer. To tell great stories over and over again, testing and refining the language and observing the reaction of the listeners and gradually improving the timing and the rhythm and the pace, was to undergo an apprenticeship that probably wasn't very different, essentially, from the one that Homer himself underwent three thousand years ago."
In 1978, Pullman published his first novel, Galatea, a book for adults that outlines how flautist Martin Browning, searching for his missing wife, embarks on a series of surreal adventures. Now considered a cult classic among aficionados of science fiction and fantasy literature, the novel is described by its author in SAAS as "a book I can't categorize." He added, "I'm still proud of it." After completing Galatea, Pullman began writing and producing plays for his students; he wrote in SAAS, "I enjoyed doing school plays so much that I've written for children ever since." Pullman's first book for young people is Ancient Civilizations, a nonfiction title about the cultures of several Mediterranean, Eastern, Middle Eastern, and South American countries that R. Baines of Junior Bookshelf called "a lively and informative work."
Pullman's next book, Count Karlstein, is an adaptation of a story that the author had originally written as a play. The book was also published as a graphic novel. Taking his inspiration from Victorian pulp fiction and from such tales of derring-do as Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda, Pullman created a gothic farce set in a Swiss castle that describes how a fourteen-year-old servant girl and her English tutor foil a plot by the evil Count Karlstein to sacrifice his two young nieces to Zamiel, the Demon Huntsman, in exchange for riches. Writing in New Statesman, Charles Fox noted, "To compare this book with T. H. White's Mistress Masham's Repose is to risk hyperbole, yet it shares a similar concern with making the improbable seem remarkably precise." Pullman has also adapted The Three Musketeers, Frankenstein, and a story featuring Sherlock Holmes into plays, and has turned the latter two into books of his own. In his review of Frankenstein in School Librarian, Derek Paget claimed, "Pullman's is a good adaptation, keeping a firm grip on the perennial fascination of the story…. " Noting the adapter's in clusion of a section on genetic engineering as well as his suggestions for lesson plans in English and drama, Paget concluded that Frankenstein is "certainly a book for the library, and would be worth a production by youth or school drama groups."
In 1986, Pullman published The Ruby in the Smoke, a historical novel for young adults that became the first of his series of books about Sally Lockhart. A thriller set in Victorian London that was inspired by the English melodramas of the period, Ruby concerns the whereabouts of a priceless stone that mysteriously disappeared during the Indian mutiny. Sixteen-year-old Sally, a recently orphaned girl who is savvy about such subjects as business management, military strategy, and firearms, becomes involved in the opium trade when she receives a cryptic note written in a strange hand soon after hearing word of her father's drowning off Singapore. Like its successors, The Ruby in the Smoke includes abundant—often violent—action, murky atmosphere, and an examination of Victorian values from a modern perspective. Writing in British Book News Children's Books, Peter Hollindale claimed, "This is a splendid book…. Itisafirst-rate adventure story." David Churchill commented in the School Librarian: "There are not many books that offer such promise of satisfaction to so many children, of both sexes, of secondary age." Brooke L. Dillon in Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) noted the "beautifully crafted writing" and "the fact that Pullman respects his teenaged audience enough to treat them to a complex, interwoven plot." Writing in SAAS, Pullman claimed, "With The Ruby in the Smoke I think I first found my voice as a children's author."
The next volume in the series, The Shadow in the Plate, was published in the United Kingdom in 1987, and as Shadow in the North in the United States the next year. In this novel, Sally, now a financial consultant, and Frederick Garland, a photographer turned detective who was introduced in the previous story, solve a mystery with connections to the aristocracy, the Spiritualism movement, and a conspiracy that involves the production of an ultimate weapon. Pullman introduces readers to such issues as the moral implications of the Industrial Revolution while profiling Sally's growing love for Frederick. At the end of the novel, Frederick is killed, and Sally announces that she is pregnant with his child. Writing in School Librarian, Dennis Hamley called The Shadow in the Plate a "super read and a story to mull over afterwards for a significance which belies its outward form," while Michael Cart in School Library Journal noted that Pullman "once again demonstrates his mastery of atmosphere and style." Peter Hollindale claimed in British Book News Children's Books that the work "could mystify and disturb young children who may have liked the earlier one" and noted that it "is part of a children's trilogy, not Bleak House." However, Junior Bookshelf contributor Marcus Crouch concluded that Shadow "is the kind of tale in which the reader willingly suspends critical judgement in favour of a wholehearted 'good read.'"
In the third volume of the "Sally Lockhart" series, The Tiger in the Well, Sally is a successful tycoon as well as a single mother with a two-year-old daughter, Harriet. When Sally receives a court summons informing her that she is being sued for divorce by a man she does not know, the heroine is faced with the prospect of losing her daughter and her property. After her court date, Sally—who has lost custody of Harriet as well as her home and her job—disappears into the Jewish ghetto of London's East End in order to find out who is behind the ruse. Pullman outlines Sally's developing social conscience through her experiences, which expose her to an anti-Semitic campaign, while drawing parallels between her treatment and that of the ghetto residents. Writing in Voice of Youth Advocates, Joanne Johnson noted that, as in his previous books in the series, Pullman "has recreated 19th century London in good detail. His portrayal of the chauvinism rampant in British law during that time is a lesson to all." Marcus Crouch commented in Junior Bookshelf: "Not for the first time in the sequence, but with greater relevance, the name of Dickens comes to mind." The critic concluded that, like its predecessors, The Tiger in the Well "is compulsively readable. Unlike them the strong action runs parallel with sound social observations." Writing in Books for Keeps, Geoff Fox commented that the book "tastes delicious like the Penny Dreadfuls beloved of one of the novel's characters. … At another level, the book is a social document with the detail of Mayhew and the compassion of Dickens."
The final volume of the "Sally Lockhart" series, The Tin Princess, takes place in Central Europe rather than in Victorian London. A swashbuckling adventure set in the tiny kingdom of Razkavia, which lies between Germany and Austria, the novel introduces two new protagonists, Cockney Adelaide, a former prostitute featured in The Ruby in the Smoke who is now queen of Razkavia, and her friend and translator, Becky Winter. During the course of the story, Adelaide and Becky become caught up in political intrigue and romance, and Sally Lockhart makes a cameo appearance. Writing in Booklist, Ilene Cooper noted that the author's passion for details "gets in the way" and that "too many names and places and plot twists" confuse the readers; however, the critic concluded, fans of Pullman's writing "should find much to enjoy here." Roger Sutton in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books commented in a similar vein, noting that the plot "is far too complicated for its own good" but concluded that while Pullman "appreciates the excesses of Victorian melodrama he is never seduced by them."
With the popular and critical reaction to "His Dark Materials," a series named for a phrase from John Milton's Paradise Lost, Pullman became an international phenomenon. Originally envisioned as a trilogy, the "His Dark Materials" series has expanded to more volumes and has been optioned for film. It is one of those rare publishing successes that finds as many readers among adults as it does among children and is particularly popular with college students—and their professors, who sometimes use it in classes on how to write children's literature. "The books can obviously be read at more than one level," observed John Rowe Townsend in Horn Book. "To younger readers they offer narratives of nonstop excitement with attractive young central characters. Adolescents and adults, putting more experience into their reading, should be able to draw more out. There are features of His Dark Materials that will give older readers a great deal to think about." The chief elements that Pullman asks his older readers to ponder are no less than the nature of God, Satan, and the power that organized religion exerts on the independent mind. Townsend concluded: "This [work] has weight and richness, much that is absorbing and perceptive, and ample food for serious thought. It has flaws; but a large, ambitious work with flaws can be more rewarding than a cabined and confined perfection and 'saying something truthful and realistic about human nature' is surely what all fiction, including fantasy, should be trying to do."
In the first volume, which was published in the United Kingdom in 1995 as Northern Lights and in the United States in 1996 as The Golden Compass, Pullman describes an alternate world—parallel to our own but featuring technology from a hundred years ago as well as inventions from the future and the recent past—in which humans and daemons in animal form are tied with emotional bonds that if broken cause considerable damage, even death. Lyra, a young orphan girl with the skills of a natural leader, lives with her daemon Pantalaimon at Oxford. After children around the country begin disappearing and her uncle Lord Asriel is imprisoned during an expedition to the Arctic, Lyra embarks on a journey North with an alethiometer, a soothsaying instrument that looks like a golden compass. There she discovers that the youngsters are being held in a scientific experimental station where they are subjected to operations to separate them from their daemons. As the story progresses, Pullman discloses that Lyra, the key figure in an ancient prophecy, is destined to save her world and to move into another universe. Writing in the Times Educational Supplement about Northern Lights, Jan Mark noted: "Never did anything so boldly flout the usual protective mimicry of the teen read. This novel really does discuss the uniqueness of humanity—the fact of the soul." Julia Eccleshare commented in Books for Keeps: "The weaving together of story and morality is what makes Northern Lights such an exceptional book. Never for a moment does the story lose ground in the message it carries." Writing in Horn Book about the U.S. edition, Ann A. Flowers called The Golden Compass an "extraordinary, compelling fantasy…. Touch ing, exciting, and mysterious by turns, this is a splendid work." Although Jane Langton claimed in the New York Times Book Review that the novel does not achieve the stature of The Lord of the Rings, A Wizard of Earthsea, or The Mouse and His Child, the critic concluded that "it is still very grand indeed. There is scene after scene of power and beauty."
While writing Northern Lights/The Golden Compass, Pullman knew that he was creating a significant work. He told Julie C. Boehning of Library Journal, "I felt as if everything I'd read, written, and done in my whole life had been in preparation for this book." In 1996, Northern Lights was awarded the Carnegie Medal, Great Britain's highest literary award specifically for children's literature.
In the next novel in the series, The Subtle Knife, Lyra meets Will Parry, a boy from Oxford who escapes into an alternative city after killing a man. Like Lyra, Will is destined to help save the universe from destruction; in addition, he possesses a counterpart to her golden compass, a knife that can cut through anything—even the borders between worlds. While Lyra and Will search for Dust and for Will's explorer father, it becomes evident that Lord Asriel, Lyra's guardian from the first book, is preparing to re-stage the revolt of the angels against God and that Lyra has been chosen to be the new Eve. Horn Book critic Ann A. Flowers commented that Pullman "offered an exceptional romantic fantasy in The Golden Compass, but The Subtle Knife adds a mythic dimension that inevitably demands even greater things from the finale." Sally Estes in Booklist noted, "Often the middle book in a trilogy is the weakest; such is not the case here." Estes called The Subtle Knife a "resoundingly successful sequel." Writing in Voice of Youth Advocates about both The Subtle Knife and its predecessor, Jennifer Fakolt commented that these volumes "are, simply, magnificent. Pullman has the power of a master fantasist. He imbues an age-old classical struggle with a new mythic vision, the depth and realization of which are staggering." Fakolt concluded that the "two titles stand in equal company with the works of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis."
In an interview with Julia Eccleshare in Books for Keeps, Pullman discussed the background of "His Dark Materials": "What I really wanted to do was Paradise Lost in 1,200 pages. From the beginning I knew the shape of the story. It's the story of The Fall which is the story of how what some would call sin, but I would call consciousness, comes to us. The more I thought about it the clearer it became. It fell naturally into three parts. Though it's long, I've never been in danger of getting lost because the central strand is so simple." Pullman's central thrust is to reveal the Biblical God as an elderly, powerless figurehead, manipulated by a head angel named Metatron, who is power-hungry and autocratic in the extreme. Lord Asriel and his wife Mrs. Coulter—both ambiguous figures capable of both good and evil—oppose Metatron and the powers of Heaven. It is Lyra and Will, and their various fantastic helpers, who finally bring about, in Volume Three, The Amber Spyglass, literally the death of God.
Published to much anticipation in 2000, The Amber Spyglass is perhaps the most successful of the first three "His Dark Materials" novels. It won the Whitbread Award over the shortlisted adult novels, biographies, and nonfiction published in Great Britain in 2000 and prompted an author tour of the United States as well. The novel culminates with Will and Lyra descending into the realm of death and returning to life again, reversing the loss of Dust from the universe, and—by expressing their love for one another—putting an end to the iron autocracy led by Metatron and the demented deity. "The witches and wizards in the Harry Potter books will seem like cartoon characters compared with those in Pullman's religious pantheon," declared Ilene Cooper in Booklist. "The first two books in the series exposed the Church as corrupt, bigoted, and evil. Now Pullman takes on Heaven itself…. His Dark Materi als has taken readers on a wild, magnificent ride that, in its totality, represents an astounding achievement." Eva Mitnick in School Library Journal found the message in The Amber Spyglass "clear and exhilarating," adding that the book offers "a subtle and complex treatment of the eternal battle between good and evil."
In interviews, Pullman has maintained that he used the vehicle of fantasy in "His Dark Materials" to make starkly realistic points about human nature. He told School Library Journal: "When I found myself writing this book, what I wanted to do was to use the apparatus of fantasy in order to do what writers of realism are more typically interested in doing, namely, to explore this business about being a human being—what it feels like and what it's like, what it means for us to grow up, to pass away from our childhood, to suffer, to learn, to grow, to develop, to die, and so on. And that's what I mean by saying that it's not really a work of fantasy. It's as realistic as I could make it."
Pullman has also had success with his stand-alone titles for readers of various ages. For example, How to Be Cool, a humorous satire published in 1987 in which a group of teens expose a government agency that decides which fashions will be hip, was called "a perfect gift for iconoclastic teenagers" by Peter Hollindale of British Book News Children's Supplement; How to Be Cool was made into a television program by Granada-TV in 1988. The Broken Bridge, a young adult novel published in 1990, is considered a major departure for its author. The story features Ginny Howard, a sixteen-year-old Haitian/English girl living with her single father in a small Welsh town. Anxious to begin her career as a painter, Ginny learns that she is illegitimate, that she has a half-brother, and that her mother, whom she assumed was dead, is actually alive. Ginny meets this parent—who tells her that she is a painter, not a mother—and learns about her father's abused childhood, while evaluating her own heritage, character, and direction. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Michael Dorris said, "It's a credit to the storytelling skill of Philip Pullman that this contemporary novel succeeds as well as it does. As the plot tumbles forward, … the writing remains fresh, the settings original and the central characters compelling." Nancy Vasilakis in Horn Book praised Pullman for "skillfully manipulating the conventions of the mystery and the problem novel," while a critic in Publishers Weekly saw "the emotional truths that Pullman reveals" as being "so heartfelt and raw that they hardly read like fiction."
Pullman returned to nineteenth-century London for the setting of his "New Cut Gang" series, comic mysteries for middle graders that feature a gang of urchins in the 1890s. In a review of the first book in the series, Thunderbolt's Waxworks, D. A Young in Junior Bookshelf commented that Pullman "creates a convincing picture of his chosen time and place with the lightest of touches," while Jan Mark, reviewing the same title in Carousel, noted that the narrative introduces "an extraordinary vocabulary of scientific terms and 19th century slang. You get very educated without noticing it." Pullman has also written works that reflect his fascination with folktale and myth. In The Firework-Maker's Daughter, a book that won the Smarties Award in 1996, the author describes how Lila, the daughter of a fireworks maker who is in the final stages of apprenticeship, goes on a quest with Hamlet, a talking white elephant that belongs to the king of her country, and Chulak, the elephant's keeper. Their journey takes them to the lair of the Fire-fiend, a figure who holds the key to firework making. In the process, Lila discovers herself. A critic in Reading Time said, "This is the stuff of myths…. Itisan exciting story, not only for its own sake but for the other layer of meaning which lurks beneath the surface." Writing in Magpies, Rayma Turton commented, "Lila is all a feminist could ask for" and concluded that The Firework-Maker's Daughter is "the work of a master storyteller."
Clockwork, or All Wound Up, a short novel with echoes of Faust and the ballet Coppelia, is noted for weaving an examination of the process of storytelling with a spine-tingling tale. The book describes how Fritz, a talented tale-spinner, and Karl, a clockmaker's apprentice who has failed to complete his latest assignment, a clockwork child, are joined with the subject of one of Fritz's stories, Dr. Kalmerius, a clockmaker thought to have connections with the Devil. Writing in School Librarian, Chris Routh called Clockwork "a fantastic and spine-chilling tale," adding that it "begs to be read in one sitting (who could bear to put it down?)." The critic concluded by asking, "Who said the art of storytelling is dead?" George Hunt of Books for Keeps suggested the book to be a "fascinating meditation on the intricate machinations of narrative," and simultaneously "a funny, frightening, and moving story." Writing in Carousel, Adèle Geras concluded, "This story could not be more modern, yet it has the weight and poetry of the best folktales. Not to be missed on any account."
In I Was a Rat!, a scruffy little boy tries to convince people that he actually is a rat. By some trick of magic he was turned into a boy in order to accompany a woman to a ball—and then, at the stroke of midnight, he was playing when he should have been transformed back into a rat. Now he seeks help wherever he can find it—from the tabloid press, from his adoptive parents, and from the new princess herself, who he remembers as his old friend Mary Jane. The story turns the Cinderella fairy tale on its head in a humorous way but also manages to make points about modern society and the way people respond to unconventional requests. A Horn Book reviewer described I Was a Rat! as a "playful spoofing of sensational news stories, mob mentality, and the royal family." In a starred review of the work, School Library Journal correspondent Connie Tyrrell Burns noted that, while Pullman is having fun here, he still "leaves readers with some thought-provoking ideas."
Pullman once told SATA, "I am first and foremost a storyteller. In whatever form I write—whether it's the novel, or the screenplay, or the stage play, or even if I tell stories (as I sometimes do)—I am always the servant of the story that has chosen me to tell it and I have to discover the best way of doing that. I believe there's a pure line that goes through every story and the more closely the telling approaches that pure line, the better the story will be…. The story must tell me." When asked by Kit Alderdice in Publishers Weekly what he finds most satisfying about his career, Pullman responded, "The fundamental thing that I do find important and gratifying is that I simply have the time—never as much time as I would like—but I simply have the time to sit here and enjoy the company of my stories and my characters. That's an enormous pleasure, and a great privilege." He added in SAAS, "Sometimes I can hardly believe my luck."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Children's Literature Review, Volume 20, Gale, 1990, pp. 185-88.
Gallo, Donald, editor, Speaking for Ourselves, Too, National Council of Teachers of English, 1993.
Silvey, Anita, editor, Children's Books and Their Creators, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995, p. 544.
Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 17, Gale (Detroit, MI), pp. 297-312.
Squires, Claire, Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" Trilogy: A Reader's Guide, Continuum (New York, NY), 2003.
Twentieth-Century Young Adult Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1994, pp. 543-544.
Book, September, 2000, Jennifer D'Anastasio and Kathleen Odean, "Built to Last," p. 88; November-December, 2002, Anna Weinberg, "Are You There, God? It's Me, Philip Pullman," p. 11.
Booklist, February 15, 1994, Ilene Cooper, review of The Tin Princess, p. 1075; July, 1997, Sally Estes, review of The Subtle Knife, p. 1818; October 1, 2000, Ilene Cooper, "Darkness Visible—Philip Pullman's Amber Spyglass," p. 354.
Bookseller, June 29, 2001, Caroline Sylge, "Performing Books," p. 8.
Books for Keeps, May, 1992, Geoff Fox, "Philip Pullman," p. 25; September, 1996, Julia Eccleshare, "Northern Lights and Christmas Miracles," p. 15; March, 1997, George Hunt, review of Clockwork or All Wound Up, p. 25.
British Book News Children's Books, March, 1986, Peter Hollindale, review of The Ruby in the Smoke, pp. 33-34; December, 1986, Peter Hollindale, review of The Shadow in the Plate, pp. 30-31; March, 1988, Peter Hollindale, review of How to Be Cool, p. 30.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February, 1994, Roger Sutton, review of The Tin Princess, pp. 199-200.
Carousel, spring, 1997, Adèle Geras, review of Clockwork or All Wound Up, p. 19; spring, 1997, Jan Mark, review of Thunderbolt's Waxwork, p. 19.
Commonweal, November 17, 2000, Daria Donnelly, "Big Questions for Small Readers," p. 23.
Horn Book, March-April, 1992, Nancy Vasilakis, review of The Broken Bridge, p. 211; July-August, 1996, Ann A. Flowers, review of The Golden Compass, pp. 464-465; September-October, 1997, Ann A. Flowers, review of The Subtle Knife, pp. 578-579; January, 2000, review of I Was a Rat!, p. 82; July-August, 2002, John Rowe Townsend, "Paradise Reshaped," p. 415.
Junior Bookshelf, April, 1982, R. Baines, review of Ancient Civilizations, p. 75; December, 1986, Marcus Crouch, review of The Shadow in the Plate, pp. 229-230; June, 1991, Marcus Crouch, review of The Tiger in the Well, p. 127; December, 1994, D. A. Young, review of Thunderbolt's Waxwork, pp. 231-232; November, 2000, Gregory Maguire, review of The Amber Spyglass, p. 735.
Library Journal, February 15, 1996, Julie C. Boehning, "Philip Pullman's Paradise," p. 175.
Magpies, May, 1997, Rayma Turton, review of The Firework-Maker's Daughter, p. 35.
National Review, March 25, 2002, Andrew Stuttaford, "Sunday School for Atheists," p. 56.
New Statesman, December 3, 1982, Charles Fox, "Once and Future Image," pp. 21-22; October 30, 2000, Amanda Craig, "Burning Dazzle," p. 53.
Newsweek, October 30, 2000, "Pullman's Progress," p. 80.
New York Times Book Review, May 17, 1992, Michael Dorris, "Galloping Adolescence," p. 24; May 19, 1996, Jane Langton, "What Is Dust?," p. 34.
Publishers Weekly, January 1, 1992, review of The Broken Bridge, p. 56; May 30, 1994, Kit Alderdice, "In the Studio with Philip Pullman," pp. 24-25; September 25, 2000, review of The Amber Spyglass, p. 119; September 25, 2000, Kit Alderdice, "PW Talks with Philip Pullman," p. 119; December 18, 2000, Shannon Maughan, "Whose Dark Materials?," p. 25.
Reading Time, May, 1997, review of The Firework-Maker's Daughter, p. 30.
School Librarian, June, 1986, David Churchill, review of The Ruby in the Smoke, p. 174; December, 1986, Dennis Hamley, review of The Shadow in the Plate, p. 368; November, 1990, Derek Paget, review of Frankenstein, p. 157; May, 1997, Chris Routh, review of Clockwork, or All Wound Up, p. 90.
School Library Journal, May, 1988, Michael Cart, review of Shadow in the North, p. 112; March, 2000, Connie Tyrrell Burns, review of I Was a Rat!, p. 241; October, 2000, Eva Mitnick, review of The Amber Spyglass, p. 170.
Times Educational Supplement, July 21, 1995, Jan Mark, review of Northern Lights, p. 23.
Voice of Youth Advocates, October, 1987, Brooke L. Dillon, review of The Ruby in the Smoke, p. 206; December, 1990, Joanne Johnson, review of The Tiger in the Well, p. 288; June, 1998, Jennifer Fakolt, review of The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife, p. 133.
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