Category Archives: Philip Pullman

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

A definitive guide to HDM

I occasionally fantasise about having written this fantastic reference book – The Definitive Guide to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials – but then I catch myself and I know it’s not something I could even remotely have managed. But I don’t mind knowing the woman who did write it.

The guide first came into my hands over twelve years ago, and it was hard to believe that someone was out there who had not only read and loved the three books by Philip Pullman, and who was crazy enough to write a detailed analysis of every single thing in that trilogy. As Philip himself says, whatever you want to know about the world he made up, it’s all in the guide. He ‘can’t recommend it too highly.’

And now Laurie Frost’s reference book is back in a new fresh version, just in time for the second Book of Dust – The Secret Commonwealth – which is published today, and for the soon to come television adaptation of the original story. If you don’t already have a copy, you will want one, if only so you can show off and obsess and look up anyone or anything you may have forgotten.

Over to Laurie:

Laurie Frost

What on earth possessed you to sit down and write the book?

I figured, if I didn’t write this guide, someone else would. I expected someone was already writing one, so I found Philip’s home address and sent him a few pages. At this point, work was beginning on the National Theatre production and The Golden Compass movie, and he was getting a lot of questions a book like mine could answer.

If it was now, would you start a book like it?

I was 20 years younger and had a better memory and more energy. I’m far better at doing nothing now. I have no desire to deal with publishers ever again. So, no.

Had you ever written a book before it?

Yes. I re-cast my dissertation as Reminiscent Scrutinies: Memory in Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time, a small and eccentric meditation. The little academic publisher and its warehouse burned down years ago.

In fact, did you know it would turn into a book rather than a pamphlet?

It would either be a book or nothing. It passed pamphlet length after a few days!

Has anything been changed since the first – how many? – editions?

Different covers. The 2019 edition has newly drawn maps. I added a sentence or two.

Are you tempted to add The Books of Dust to the guide?
.
Somewhat. But I’d do separate ones for the interludes and Book of Dust. Unless a publisher paid me upfront and handled the page numbers, I wouldn’t do it with the same level of detail.

What are your thoughts on La Belle Sauvage?

La Belle seems prophetic to me on the dangers of climate change and a wake up call regarding the historic and contemporary instances of family separation and undermining of the family as a fundamental unit of stability and humanity.

Have you any specific hopes or expectations for what will happen in The Secret Commonwealth?

I’ve long thought that the found materials at the end of Lyra’s Oxford would mean a visit to the Mid-East. This has been confirmed in this week’s New Yorker interview. The title makes me expect more time in alternative realities, compared to La Belle, almost exclusively set in Lyra’s.

Will you race through the book, or go slow, savouring the experience? Or have you had access to an advance copy?

Slowly.

Did any of the many stage versions of HDM get close enough for you to go and see one?

Not remotely. I haven’t been overseas since 1979.

What did you think of the Golden Compass film?

I thought the movie was awful. It was way too short. It was unsatisfying to readers and incomprehensible to newcomers.

And what do you think the new television adaptation will be like?

I will watch the mini-series, and I think a longer format will work better than the film. But these are novels of the mind. Consider Moby Dick. Credible action movies have been made of the plot, but none approaches the encyclopedic essence of Melville’s masterpiece. The daemons seem like they would be a cool way to reveal a character’s thoughts, but they really emphasize how much the novels are about body, soul, and mind, making them hard to translate to film. We will see. They will probably work better for people not meeting daemons for the first time.

Do you have a daemon?

Well, as a human, I must. But I haven’t glimpsed him. I argue with myself a lot. So I guess that voice is my daemon’s.

How has your life changed through writing the guide?

The best thing that has come from writing the book is the kindness of Philip’s support.

Also, I will have something my kids and theirs can see as evidence that their mom had a curious mind. Or was a bit obsessive. Or both.

Can we expect to see you in Oxford one day? There is a bench waiting for you to sit on.

Some day. Maybe.

Laurie Frost, The Definitive Guide to Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials

A sunny evening in Charlotte Square

Luckily the couple attempting to cross an Edinburgh street by stepping out in front of a bus were fine. Otherwise we’d have been a Poet Laureate short. Although, Simon Armitage wasn’t the only one in town, as we’d come across Carol Ann Duffy in a a pavement café earlier that afternoon. You can’t have too many poet laureates.

Ma Isabel Sánchez Vegara

Arriving at the book festival, Photographer and I breezed in and started by snapping Ma Isabel Sánchez Vegara signing books in the bookshop in Charlotte Square. She had a queue of very small fans. She was soon joined by Harriet Muncaster, whose hair will have outdone just about every other hair in the square. Harriet’s fans were slightly bigger.

Harriet Muncaster

I picked up my ticket for the day, and then we hung around, hoping for the promised photocall with Carnegie medalist Elizabeth Acevedo. We might have missed her, or she us. Her events partner Dean Atta had a go though, as well as doing much clowning around in front of Chris Close and his camera. Felt like pointing out that it’s better to have authors break a leg after their event…

Elizabeth Acevedo and Dean Atta

After an inspiring talk in the Spark theatre in George Street, we joined everyone else in the – much improved – George Street bookshop. They even have roving staff who relieve you of your money as you queue for the signing. Very efficient. My Photographer might just have told Dean Atta about her hair, while I told poet Elizabeth Acevedo how I don’t really do poetry!

Had hoped to catch Konnie Huq still signing, but were too late. Instead we headed to the Kelpies Prize award ceremony, where we encountered Lari Don and Linda Strachan, as well as Gill Arbuthnott and Sarah Broadley in the audience. It was very crowded. And hot. I sat on what seemed to be a soft, plush birch trunk with a rounded bottom. But I could easily have been mistaken.

Kelpies Prize

Left early so as not to miss Ian Rankin’s photocall. His fans were already queueing for his event, well before the event before had finished. We had to wait while the ever calm and cool Ian slipped into something more comfortable. While he did so Photographer discovered Phill Jupitus a few metres away, and was [un]suitably excited. I’m afraid I had no idea who he was.

Ian Rankin and Phill Jupitus

Then it turned out Phill was also attending Ian’s photocall (I’m guessing he was going to chat to Ian at his event). The Photographer sort of gasped as she went off. I understand that she told Phill that he’s very funny. So he shook her hand.

I’m now looking forward to a considerable saving on the cost of hand soap.

And Simon Armitage is still un-run over by a bus.

(Photos by Helen Giles)