(1/2/01 11:21:40 am)
|Pullman's "His Dark Materials" & "Amber Spyglass"|
Happy New Year everyone! I hope your holidays were great and everyone is ready or almost ready for the new year....
I noticed an interest in Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy and have decided to start a discussion if anyone is interested. I imagine we will focus primarily on "Amber Spyglass," the third book, but all three go together so please don't feel limited to one only.
I have been hearing a lot of strong reactions to the book and imagine there may be some venting as well as exploration of the story and writing. My own feelings are mixed about the book, especially the ending. I will post those reactions later once everyone is aware that spoilers will appear and be discussed in this strand. Consider this fair warning!
Anyone wanting to join this discussion?
WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW--READ AT OWN RISK
(1/2/01 12:36:34 pm)
I think I'll have to hide from this discussion until I've read all three books. I'd hate to know too much too soon.
(1/7/01 3:02:30 pm)
I have just ordered the 3-in-1 trilogy of 'His Dark Materials'. And from the interest that has been shown thus far, can barely wait to jump in! Usually I tear through books quickly....but with the big move coming up *happy dance* ...It may be a month or so before I'm ready to discuss. But count me in. =) Currently I am reading De Lint's 'Little Country'; I am enthralled. I am almost finished (on my way to absorb the last dozen pages now) with it and already feel a twinge of sadness for the adventure drawing to a close and having to say good bye to my new found friends.
laughter and glitter,
(1/14/01 1:46:46 am)
I just finished reading all three of Pullman's books that make of His Dark Materials last week. They
were highly recommended by both Terri Windling and Wendy Froud. I found them intriguing, to say
the least. The story had so many layers, like an onion, it is hard to know where to begin...
(1/18/01 9:34:32 am)
I just finished the "Amber Spyglass" last night (after too many hours of late night reading!) I found it captivating like the first two (I never know for sure where he's going with this!)- though I'm a little more ambivalent about the ending.
I thought the theological take was interesting on the 'war in heaven' and who the 'bad' and 'good' guys were. I didn't feel Lyra's role as 'Eve' quite worked other than discovering 'adult love'... Maybe I missed something, but I didn't understand WHY that discovery changed everything, for everybody?
And the 'grace' she was given with the alethiometer - given by whom? It seemed to me to indicate a 'higher power' (the REAL creator, instead of the usurper) but this also was not followed to any type of conclusion I could see.
Dr. Malone's roll was to be the temptor.... Other than her allowing Lyra and Will to wander around unchaperoned (which they did the entire trilogy), HOW did she tempt them?
Am I missing something very basic here?
I have more questions/thoughts - but would love to get someone else's feedback on this?
(1/20/01 11:41:19 pm)
This might be a little off topic
and, perish the thought that I should be the perpetrator of a thread-jacking,
but I saw a rather interesting interview with Pullman from The New
York Times. I can't find the blighter now, but I was especially
intrigued by some comments Pullman made about the Narnia books,
specifically the way Lewis uses his fantasy as one big religious
allegory. Pullman, himself an atheist, said that, in contrast, he
was trying to use his fantasy to support a more materialist doctrine,
which raises all sorts of interesting questions about the role a
fantasist's spiritual/religious beliefs play in the shaping of fictional
worlds. Does anyone want to take those questions up?
(1/21/01 12:24:07 am)
I would love to read that article. Now I will have to find it. I remember reading another attack Pullman wrote about Lewis during the Lewis Centennial celebration a few years ago. Since I am always one to hold a critic up to the same standards he uses against others, I found many of Pullman's complaints about Lewis to be the same I could use in critiquing Amber Spyglass. And no, I am not really a Lewis apologist either since I came to Narnia too late in life to get the full magical impact. But in the end it felt like Pullman was attacking Lewis for being Christian and not because his writing wasn't as literary. Then again, the age level Lewis' books are aimed at are much younger than Pullman's intended age level. I don't know many 8 years olds who cannot read Narnia while I know a lot of adults who can't get through Pullman's books. In the end, I believe Amber Spyglass is just as overt in pushing its agenda as any Lewis fiction if not more because Pullman calls an angel an angel. Lewis reads more like the parables he tried to emulate with stories that can be taken on many levels while Pullman, particularly in Amber Spyglass, is all on the surface.
Although Pullman is more "literary" than Lewis and Amber Spyglass is beautifully written, I found so many inconsistencies that I failed to really enjoy the book.
On a totally petty note, may I audibly groan with all of the stuff at the end about Lyra and Will meeting at the same place once a year so they can pine away for each other? Talk about melodrama! "Live your life, don't think of me, but please write in big letters on your calendar--sit in garden, think of me on this date!" Aaaargh! I am all for romance but I definitely wanted some crackers to go with that cheese whiz.
Sure, Heidi, tell us how you really feel. : )
But on a saner note, I think one of the reasons why most fantasy writers love to write in the genre is because they are able to explore their spirituality, religion, etc. in terms that are less *offensive* and easier to accept while deeply exploring their ideas and philosophies. I know I do so and many other writers I have talked to and/or read have said the same thing.
(1/22/01 3:24:18 pm)
Hee! Thanks for venting, Heidi! I haven't read any of Pullman's novels, but I found the tone he took in the interview a little irritating, a little patronising- and the explicit nature of his agenda was more than a little frightening, indeed quite zealous! I will search out the interview (which was reprinted in the Sydney Morning Herald) and post the salient quotes.
(1/22/01 6:42:49 pm)
Thanks, Karen. I was wondering how vicious I sounded when I wrote my previous post. I was very tired and felt more incoherent than I actually appeared. My feelings about Pullman are still mixed--his prose is gorgeous and he tells a great story--but his agenda became too heavy for me in the final book. I have been recommending the first two books for several years now and also hate to lose the trilogy due to the third book. Call me bitter, but the prior books cannot really stand alone. At least my fears were confirmed as to why the book took so long to get into print.
I think I still have his piece about Lewis in my files somewhere. It was making the rounds when I was in grad school among my friends, many who were greatly offended and thought Pullman was way off base and snobbish to boot. Many claimed that they had no idea Lewis was a Christian apologist when they were reading the books as children. Of course the symbolism and story became obvious to them as adults, but as children they simply adored the books for the worlds they got to visit by stepping through a literary wardrobe. Once agin, I missed that opportunity by visiting Narnia later in life except for the animated movie which scared me when I was too young for it. Pullman does not give his readers the same privilege to read his story as just a story with Amber Spyglass. The doctrine in it is heavy handed.
And I still adore the first two Dark Materials books and Pullman's other series starting with Ruby in the Smoke was a fun read.
But talking about fantasy writers exploring or promoting their faith and spirituality, I kept thinking of several of the more obvious examples last night. We have George MacDonald, C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle, J. R. Tolkien, Orson Scott Card, L. Ron Hubbard, Stephen R. Donaldson and even Carl Sagan's Contact may be considered in the mix. Of course, there are many others I can't even remember at the moment. Anne Perry recently wrote a fantasy novel in hopes of exploring her concepts of faith and spirituality--Tathea--instead of staying in her usual mystery genre of Victorian morality and political explorations. (Yes, I am also a big mystery reader.)
In other words, this entire discussion is very interesting to me.
(1/27/01 3:52:47 pm)
(1/28/01 6:32:36 am)
|Re: Pullman piece|
Karen, thanks for the link to that very interesting article. Heidi, no you don't sound vicious at all, don't worry! Your admiration for Pullman's writing is clear, even though the third book disappointed you. I had mixed feelings as well. I read The Amber Spyglass with the same breathless excitement as the previous two books, but not with the same unmitigated pleasure. I also felt that the allegory sometimes got in the way of the story in this volume, and that had not been true of the previous volumes -- which were as near to perfect as fantasy can be, in my humble opinion. I wanted that perfection to be sustained right through to the end. It feels like he needed more time, maybe *lots* more time...to let this sit in a drawer and then come back to it fresh, in order to bury the allegory a little deeper, smooth out the inconsistencies, etc. But the marketplace, and readers, and perhaps Pullman himself, all wanted the book to be *done*, alas. I almost wish he'd go back and work on it some more, and publish a revised volume....
I'm neither a Christian nor an atheist, so I don't personally agree with the underlying message of either Lewis or Tolkien, but that doesn't stop me from enjoying the Narnia series or the first two Dark Material books. In some ways it almost adds to the enjoyment, for one gets to explore and understand a little more about a different philosophy and mindset. I agree that fantasy is a form that allows one to work with spiritual/religious issues particularly well -- as long as one doesn't get too heavy-handed with the allegory. A fine example of this is the Taoist philosophy underlying Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea books. I think she does a better job than either Lewis or Pullman in these terms. Though for sheer sweep and imagistic derring-do, Pullman's writing is amazing and I greatly admire it. (Speaking of heavy-handed allegory, I just re-read Tolkien's "Leaf by Niggle" recently. Yikes!)
Heidi, the Will-and-Lyra thing at the end did seem a bit forced, I agree; but then, lots of things seemed a tad forced by the end of this volume and this aspect didn't stand out particularly for me. But then, I'm a sucker for the whole "Buffy and Angel" tortured-love thing too, I confess. As long as it stays in fiction and drama, and doesn't scuttle into my life. (Been there, done that - ah, what a relief it is to be past ones 20s.)
(1/28/01 4:27:19 pm)
Hmmmm, I guess I really should
add Pullman to my over-flowing reading list, in that case!
Re: The Narnia books- I read them as a child (at about 9 or 10) and the religious allegory was *very* obvious to me, but I did have a Catholic upbringing. I don't think the Narnia books are the literary equivalent of a conversion pamphlet. Really, it depends upon the background of the child reading it- a child with no experience of Christianity at all can simply enjoy the fantasy! As can we adults! Our reading isn't blind, but, as Terri writes, an awareness of the arguments and beliefs operating the narrative can sometimes add to the enjoyment.
I am also neither Christian nor atheist and I share many of Pullman's concerns about organised religion, but I am a little wary of any children's book which has an explicit agenda in subjective areas like spiritual belief. Of course, as is the case with Lewis' books, children will not adopt what they read lock, stock and barrel, but I did cringe a little when I read the comment of an admiring critic that "One can only hope that where Pullman leads they [children] will follow"- and, no doubt, unreservedly take on the entire corpus of Pullman's and the critic's beliefs. To seriously believe that you can remake children in your own image through a book or film or any other cultural artifact is the height of vanity, I think. Surely this is casting Pullman as a prophet cum pied piper- it's a little worrying that neither Pullman nor the critic nor the writer of the article seem to see the irony of that!
Once again, to qualify myself, I haven't read Pullman- so I may be way off course here- but casting the agents of organised religion as "misguided villains" is about as subtle as a sledgehammer. In my experience, the most successful literature is that which allows for multiple interpretations, which sprouts an even greater wealth of meaning each time a new reader (with different life experiences and expectations) opens the text. To structure a novel like a deductive argument is to deny the agency of the reader.
(1/30/01 4:47:35 pm)
I almost hate to jump right in
and be argumentative in my first post in what looks to be a dream
forum for me, but I feel it should be pointed out that Pullman,
as far as I can recall, has never claimed to be an athiest. He has,
on numerous occasions, reiterated that His Dark Materials
is a critique of organized religion and the faults within the hierarchies
the result from organized religion (forgive me if I'm not quoting
directly; I don't have the articles in front of me and I'm paraphrasing)
- but not an attack on the basic notion of religion. If I remember
correctly, he grew up in a religous household that - obviously -
affected his work. I do wish I had the article I read most recently
here - I only remember that it was in Publishers Weekly.
That said, I have to admit I loved The Amber Spyglass. At
first I did feel that the climactic moment between Lyra and Will
was something of a letdown, but the more I thought about it, the
more I liked the fact that they were two ordinary children, growing
up the way almost-adolescents do, and that somehow the Dust/Shadows/Fate
had fallen out so that their choice to do so affected the fate of
worlds. It wasn't what they did that mattered, in the end - though
they never could have gotten to that point without doing everything
they'd done - but who they were.
I'm not sure what I just wrote entirely makes sense - I'm still sorting it out for myself. But the more I think about it the more impressed I am with what Pullman created.
Someone (I forgot who; my apologies) asked what exactly Mary Malone did to tempt Lyra and Will. It wasn't explicit, really; she told them the story of the love she almost passed up, of how she'd thought that love was like China - interesting, but she had no need to go there. She told them about the man she met on her trip, and how she reacted, and how it changed her completely. And she HAD to tell Will and Lyra this story or they would never have looked beyond the relationship they already had to see the one that was lurking right next to them, waiting to be seen.
As for the ending, well, yes, it is a bit melodramatic. But on the other hand, what if they were left to be happy and together for the rest of their lives? Might that not seem like just too much of a happy ending? I'm not certain - but one of the things I remember most sharply about the third book is the little catch in my chest when it's made clear that a person from one world cannot live in another without falling ill. Until that moment, it always seemed that of course Lyra and Will would end together.
I've got to stop writing - Buffy night is about to begin.
It's a pleasure to be reading this forum, by the way - I'll certainly be back, all too frequently, for more!
(1/30/01 11:06:38 pm)
Welcome and please argue away! The article I link to above says
that Pullman was raised in a religious household but became an atheist
as a teenager. IT also states that he does not believe in an after
life and that this is one of the major philosophical premises underlying
(1/31/01 7:26:07 am)
Thanks - and thanks for the link, also; I should have read it last
night. But it's interesting, because I remember the Publishers
Weekly article so well - I only wish I could find it to quote
from! What I remember most specifically, though, is Pullman saying
that he wasn't attacking the very notion of religion, only organized
religion, and the hypocrisy that results from too much power (again,
I'm paraphrasing, though I wish I didn't have to).
As far as not believing in an afterlife, that much is pretty clear
in his books, but I never thought of it as a major or controversial
theme, I guess. But then I wasn't raised to be any particular religion,
so from my perspective (one perhaps similar to the author's, though
I'm reluctant to make such assumptions) the perspective throughout
His Dark Materials is rather refreshing.
Has anyone read Pullman's other most recent books? I absolutely
love I Was a Rat! - what a wonderful satire. It's funny
without being malicious, and the humor is so perfectly British...
(3/1/01 1:18:02 am)
|Still active? And comments|
Is this forum still active? I hope so!
Amber Spyglass was my favorite of the three, because of all the strange and interesting ideas within it.
I don't see Amber Spyglass as irreligious or blasphemous
(3/16/01 9:20:44 pm)
|More on Pullman (no, not Bill, but Phil)|
Here is another link to an interview with Pullman in which he vents a bit about Lewis:
I too have my reservations about the Amber Spyglass; I was hooked by the Golden Compass and more deeply drawn in by the story of the Subtle Knife, though even then I felt he was leaning towards a didactic treatment of Christianity (a device he finds worthy of faulting, as another poster noted, in Lewis, who was much less heavy handed about the whole business in my point of view than Pullman is in the Spyglass).
I doubt if many children younger than 11 or so would have much patience with the prose style, and if they are reading books like this they are probably quite capable of making intellectual judgements about what an author is trying to do. My thirteen year old daughter is reading the Golden Compass (on my recommendation), and is enjoying it very much. I do not plan to influence her feelings about the books, other than what I have done already in suggesting the Golden Compass to her. When she has read them all and seems interested in discussing them I want to see what she thinks about this series. I'm guessing she will be more interested in the romantic aspect of the third book, though the religious aspects will undoubtedly be discussed (we are a family of born-again Christians).
All in all, I really thought this was going to be an excellent series, but the third book really let me down and IMO diluted the effect of the first two novels.
(4/3/01 10:17:50 am)
|Zipes on Pullman|
Jack Zipes delivered a paper at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts last month, addressing Pullman's attitude toward children in his books. It's part of a much larger critical piece that Zipes is working on, and which sounds terrific. One of the things I came away with was the notion that Pullman isn't addressing religion as a separate topic so much as portraying it as a part of a conspiratorial adult universe that imperils children, lies to them, and ultimately can find justification for readily dispatching them when necessary. He is covering the Sally Lockhart books and other works of Pullman as well as HDM. But he does point out, for instance, that in The Golden Compass, you have a child stalked by her own mother. (It's abundantly clear that Zipes likes Pullman's work a lot, by the way.)
As he was speaking, I was reminded of the works of Roald Dahl, which in their own way also portray the world as at best indifferent to children--and this attitude seems to resonate with the young readers themselves, who perhaps have already arrived at the same conclusion, or at least suspect it to be true.
(4/4/01 3:14:12 am)
| > Pullman's "His Dark Materials" & "Amber Sp|
Well here is (are?) my two cents worth.
I think Pullman's Dark Materials novels are audacious, quirky, original, brilliant, provocative, startling, surprising, and gorgeously written. I could die happy if I had written them.
That said, they also occasionally stumble (I do NOT believe for a moment in the way Lyra's Mom and Dad go),and occasionally break my heart.
I do however find it amusing that Pullman does the exact thing he excoriates Lewis for, which is writing an allegory dealing with religion. Of course they come from diametrically opposed points on the religion scale. Pullman's is a broader brush and for much older readers. His world is more cohesive than Lewis' and he expects more of his readers. And he believes in the Republic--not the kingdom--of Heaven which absolutely blows me away!
From conversing with Pullman at a dinner party where we were put next to one another, I found that he was a brilliant, quirky, well read, charming, incisive (and insightful) man. Sort of like--I expect--<gasp!> Lewis. Though perhaps a bit more aware of himself and the real world than Lewis ever was.
Whether you like or hate the Dark Materials books, I think it would be a mistake to miss out on what is probably the most amazing fantasy reading experience of the beginning of the 21st century!
<Gee--she doesn't overstate her case much, does she??
(4/4/01 5:27:21 am)
Why, Jane, you do gush (while, of course, covering the books concisely).