Category Archives: Philip Pullman

Serpentine

I might have said yesterday that I think Philip Pullman should spend his time writing the last instalment of the Book of Dust, and not fritter his time away on the short books set in the world of HDM.

Any book is obviously always welcome, and years ago I was quite excited by the other two short books, both the red one, and especially the blue one. And now here we are with a green one. Even shorter, particularly if you take into account the illustrations.

I liked it well enough. It provides a brief chapter on Lyra in her mid teens. Or so I believe. The age, I mean. She returns to Trollesund. She asks some questions, and gets a few answers. But that’s about it. The sneakiness of daemons is made more obvious; how both humans and their daemons have to contrive to do things without the other noticing.

It’s just I’m beginning to despair of book three. It’s not going to be next year, is it? I’m thinking 2022 at the very least. There had better not be a yellow shortie while we wait.

‘I’m discovering things about daemons all the time’

We could see the writing on the wall. Literally. Blackwell’s Thursday event with Philip Pullman took us to his study, where words appeared to be hovering above his head. It was a quote in Spanish, which he claimed to have mostly forgotten about. Something along the lines of you should find out about everything, and then keep the best.

Philip was speaking to Sian Cain, although at one point a bearded man also appeared, waving, as though this would make him go away. Zoom is nearly always interesting.

There was much talk about splitting from your daemon and how it feels. There was quite a bit of mention of the third Book of Dust, ‘which hasn’t happened yet’. Well, it should. Just saying, in case other fans haven’t already. Philip is not a short story person. So maybe stop writing these little extras? Write more on Dust?

He loves Mrs Coulter, who has no inhibitions. But it seems he loves Lee Scoresby the most. I like an author who can have favourites! And Lee was a wise choice. We love Lee.

Philip does not travel for research. It’s far too uncomfortable. The Bodleian does just fine. He points out he is old, and ill. (Which is when Daughter shouted ‘finish your book!’) He also claims to like the BBC version of His Dark Materials, which caused more shouting at our end. But he’d not wanted to write the script; there is too much time wasted on talking when you are involved with filming.

There were questions. The Lord of the Rings would ‘impress an Edwardian schoolboy’. And Narnia lacked Christian charity. He loves Michael Sheen as narrator of his books. (Well, who doesn’t?)

The good news is Philip wants to return to writing about Sally Lockhart. Although, that’s what he said in 2005 as well…

Now that we’ve seen his study, we know what it’s like, and we will urge Philip on to finish the writing. First Dust. Then maybe Sally.

Catching up on season one of His Dark Materials

That’s before season two. And no, that’s not me doing it.

As I might have mentioned, neither Daughter nor I were convinced by the first season of His Dark Materials on the BBC. As I suggested at the time, for me to continue watching after the first two episodes seemed fairly unlikely. And I didn’t, so when the time came two weeks ago to settle down with season two, the thought didn’t even cross my mind.

In fact, it was almost an afterthought that made me mention it to the Resident IT Consultant, seeing as he did sit through all of last autumn’s. He’s more open-minded, it seems. So he has by now watched the first three episodes, and is reasonably happy.

But Daughter, who decided to catch up on season one, on the minute off-chance that she’d watch the new one live, has been anything but happy. As a serial audio book listener, she knows the story inside out. And believe me, BBC, that does not make for satisfaction right now. There have been little – and not so little – screams over every wrong thing.

We both understand and accept that for film technical reasons you need to adapt, abridge, and so on. But writing a new story and changing the characters when you have a perfectly good story already?

No.

I get that this version looks good. But it could have looked good while sticking to the original story too.

I suspect that the nice people I know who actually like it, are those who have not nerded over HDM for the last two decades. Perhaps they read the books, liked them, and promptly forgot any details, and thus the BBC series comes as a new thing of beauty.

Perhaps.

Susanna Clarke was there

No, we would not sit at the back. For this event the teenage Son insisted we descend all the way to the bottom, and front, of the cake slice shaped auditorium at the Gothenburg Book Fair. Uncharacteristically I followed him and actually sat a long way from the door.

This was fifteen years ago. Perhaps not to the day, because the fair happens when it happens, and it just so happens that it begins today. The online 2020 Book Fair. Then, it was our first, and we’d come in search of Philip Pullman, but once he’d been dealt with, we had a list of others we wanted to see.

Susanna Clarke was one of them. The bookshop we used to frequent had a lovely, well-read girl working part time for them, and it was she who had suggested Son might like to read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. He did, and he found it good. (I could never quite manage it.)

We both liked her event, and this was so new to us, and Son enjoyed being able to go up and chat to the various English-speaking authors as ‘one of them’. At the time I don’t believe we realised quite how exhausting the public event lifestyle is for an author.

I was made aware of how tired Susanna Clarke was in this Guardian interview the other week, when they spoke to her in connection with her next novel, Piranesi, which is out now. It’s been a long time, but I don’t blame her. Chronic fatigue is not much fun.

So what was the start of a book world whirlwind future for us, was perhaps the beginning of an essential period of rest for Susanna. I’m glad she’s found her way back. I hope the Gothenburg Book Fair does all right, and that we will all meet again at some other live event or book festival, but that we will also take it easy and not overdo things. None of us is getting any younger.

(I almost said older, which proves how tired and confused I am.)

And I like Susanna’s thought that ‘one day, there will be the wardrobe’.

The Bookwitch and Pullman screen adaptations

This time twelve years ago I was full of the latest Philip Pullman adaptation on BBC television. It was The Shadow in the North, and I loved it. I loved it so much that I persuaded the Guardian to let me blog about it for them. There was a lot to like, and I went on and on.

The Shadow in the North - Guardian blog

And now? I still like the various televised Pullman books. But the recent His Dark Materials I have almost managed to push from my mind. Not actively, but I’ve been surprised at how little I’ve thought about it. I never went back after the first two episodes, preferring to do other things when the Resident IT Consultant sat in front of the television for another six Sundays.

I’d happily watch the Sally Lockhart films again, not to mention I Was a Rat. ‘All’ we need now is The Tiger in the Well. Except I guess Billie Piper is too old. The Tin Princess might work, though, as Sally is older in the last book. And dare I say it? There was meant to be another book or two, or so Philip said a long time ago.

Lost verse

‘I can’t find the Oxford Book of English Verse,’ the Resident IT Consultant said one evening.

‘Well, I don’t know. It must be there, somewhere,’ I replied.

We searched. ‘Could it be we don’t actually have a copy?’ he asked.

While we do seem to own a fair few copies of these large, worthy, Oxfordy type tomes, I concluded this was a possible explanation.

Because it wasn’t upstairs with the other poetry. And not downstairs with the large books.

‘What did you want it for?’ I thought to ask.

‘I wanted to read Paradise Lost,’ the Resident IT Consultant said. ‘I suppose it’s lost, heh heh.’

‘Which part?’

‘The first two.’

‘Well, I have those. It was set reading at university. I don’t remember culling my copy, so it’s probably still here. Upstairs with the rest of the poetry.’

Turned out I was right. It was. And Bookwitch had saved the evening. She, who doesn’t do verse much.

I guessed the whole thing was set off by letting the Resident IT Consultant read The Secret Commonwealth when I was away for a few days. And he got to watch the first episode of His Dark Materials on television, also without me. Goes without saying that Paradise Lost is his next port of call.

Whereas when I got to the Smyrna bit in Philip Pullman’s second Book of Dust, I couldn’t help thinking of Giles Milton’s Paradise Lost…

His Dark Materials on television

His Dark Materials BBC

No one could be more surprised than I am. But – so far – I don’t like His Dark Materials. Not one little bit. If I hadn’t read the books, I’d have no idea of what’s going on. If I hadn’t read the books I’d not be tempted to continue watching.

Having missed the first episode live last week I took to social media on Monday morning. I was upset to see that some people didn’t care for it. At all. But having time on my hands I read every status and every comment and came to the conclusion that more people liked it than not, and they’re people whose opinions I trust.

The Resident IT Consultant had liked it, and Son tweeted his approval. But then came the delayed viewing of Lyra’s Jordan, and separately from each other Daughter and I both found it wanting. She, charitably, said she’d give it one more chance. I have just done that, the second viewing, and, well, goody, they have already moved on to The Subtle Knife with some content.

Seeing as the first episode began with a scene from The Secret Commonwealth, I have to say we are getting a wide and varied diet here. We have a square alethiometer. And already Lyra has been told who her father is. Could have kept the suspense a bit longer, I feel.

Apart from Lyra, who’s very well played by Dafne Keen, they seem to have got most of the casting wrong. And there’s a definite lack of daemons everywhere. For instance, we’d never have been shown Billy Costa’s daemon last week if it didn’t have an important role to play later. Poor Ratter…

Meanwhile Lord Boreal is already climbing through windows.

Will I make time for episodes three and four? I am not sure. Can’t watch them live, but possibly curiosity will bring me to the television to catch up before the second half of His Dark Materials, by which I suppose we really mean The Northern Lights, not the whole HDM, is on.

But oh, the disappointment.

The Book of Dust – The Secret Commonwealth

I hope I will be forgiven for having had one major thought in my head when reading the second Book of Dust by Philip Pullman. Yes, I obviously wanted to see where the story was going, and what the adult Lyra was like, having found her fascinating in Lyra’s Oxford. Also what we’d see of Malcolm, and maybe Alice, from La Belle Sauvage.

But uppermost in my mind was to wonder how Philip would portray Nur Huda el-Wahabi, whose name so many of us hoped to see win the auction to have their name in this book. It was such a beautiful working together, with very little fighting to win. I know Philip warned that there was no guarantee for what kind of person he’d give the winner’s name to, but I felt he’d do Nur proud. He did. It took most of the nearly 700 pages before we got to her, but she was as perfect as you’d have wanted.

Thank you, Philip. And I also enjoyed the two other ‘real’ people, Bud and Alison.

Philip Pullman, The Secret Commonwealth

And you know, the rest of the book’s not bad either.

Were it not for its sheer physical size, I’d have said reading it was the perfect relaxation. Well, it was, really.

I’d been expecting more of the seemingly cosy Oxford we’ve been in before, but whether Philip had always intended it like this, or he has been ‘inspired’ by our own current society, I don’t know. But there is much threat in Oxford, both subtle and quite open and violent. And Lyra and Pantalaimon are not getting on. This is very disturbing, and you just want to knock their heads together and make them see sense. Pan is the more mature of them, actually.

So the powers that be – and we can’t be entirely certain who they really are – are chipping away at everything and everyone. This makes the move from Oxford into Europe more welcome, because you can see this must happen. The Oakley Street organisation is still a bit reassuring, but for how long? And Malcolm as a secret agent is a little surprising, perhaps. I know he started twenty years ago, but… Maybe I’m prejudiced.

Well, I’m not going to list what happens, nor how it ends. It’s a very enjoyable read, and I hope Philip is much further along with the third book than he has let on. This ending was almost a cliffhanger of a cliffhanger.

Attaboy!

She even has a temporary flamingo. That’s Daughter, with the flamingo. And it’s only temporary because it’s not hers and it’s going to stay in the temporary place when she moves on. Otherwise I’d like to think it’s very much a permanent flamingo. If only for its sake.

I’m mentioning the flamingo because there were several of them in her last place as well. One wonders if she attracts them.

It’s pink. Pink-ish, anyway.

Dean Atta

Whereas the flamingo that brought this on is black, as in the book title The Black Flamingo. By Dean Atta. You might recall Daughter and I went to hear him talk at the Edinburgh book festival in August, and she ‘just had to’ have the book.

I mentioned taking Philip Pullman’s Book of Dust instead of drugs, last week. Well, Daughter did too. Her own copy, I might add. When life is stressful, it really does help.

But then she went and finished the book. And in temporary places, even those with flamingoes, there are not so many books to choose from when you want to read. But I urged her to pick one of her other two (!) works of fiction, for her continued drug-taking.

Once she’d started she couldn’t stop, and it ended with her sheepishly calling me to say that she had, erm, read the whole flamingo.

So that leaves one book. Plus the Kindle, which apparently has now been fed, so it can dispense fiction, hopefully on demand. Because what’s the point of me having forced her to buy ebooks if the Kindle is hungry?

Burning witches

I have been taking Dust medicinally. By which I – naturally – mean that I am reading The Secret Commonwealth in order to feel better. Most reading for pleasure is good for you, and there aren’t many better things than having hundreds of pages by Philip Pullman standing by to entertain. Especially after the long wait we endured for the Books of Dust.

But then I thought of my Bookwitch timetable and what I had planned for today. So a couple of days ago I told myself that I could very quickly read that book, while Dust waited for me to return. I immediately felt a lot worse. Not because of the other book, which I am certain will be good. No, it was the idea that I’d pause my ‘drug taking’ of one book to hurriedly read another.

It didn’t feel like a great idea. I decided I wasn’t going to interrupt my time with Philip Pullman at all. After all, medicine is medicine. And The Secret Common-wealth definitely counts as medicine.

All this made me think back to the email that arrived in the midst of the Edinburgh book festival, linking to the Notes From the Slushpile blog post by Nick Cross about burnout. The topic line was ‘Are you burning out?’ and I thought, ‘yes, I am. Actually.’

It was very timely. I wasn’t in a position to do much just then, but I made plans. I’ve not done terribly well with those plans, and until my medicinal issues this week, it seemed as though it’d be another fail. Well intentioned and all that, but not going anywhere.

Anyway, not sure what will happen now either, but Philip and I will plod on. I will get to the other book soon. Probably. And to the other ones I happen to have lying around, that I really do want to read. But I shall do my utmost not to hurry.

This could mean fewer posts here, but then so be it.

Besides, I have a kitchen to build in Berlin.

Philip Pullman, The Secret Commonwealth