Maybe Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage really is for fans only? I am a fan, so have no way of knowing what it’s like ‘on the outside.’
I read the book slowly, and I enjoyed every minute of it (apart from the sheer size, weight and sharp corners). Having come across a couple of negative reviews/opinions before reading, I kept them in mind, but could not agree. OK, maybe regarding one small aspect, which is that the chapter with the fairy appeared to be irrelevant. I say appeared, because it could turn out to be as important in the later books as Rowling’s polyjuice potion. I’d like to think that an author knows what they need to happen.
The pace in the story is slow, too. It’s quite comforting, and I loved being back in Lyra’s Oxford, albeit ten years earlier, just as I enjoyed the two shorter books we’ve already been given; the one with Lyra, and the Lee Scoresby one. And if that’s ‘just’ for fans, then so be it. We are many fans.
Whether this tale about 12-year-old Malcolm and 15-year-old Alice adds anything to Lyra’s life – other than saving her actual life – I have no idea. I’d like to meet them again, but if I don’t, then I’m sure the two books still to come will give me something else I will like.
If I were to criticise anything, it’s that this old, and alternate, Oxford somehow has grown more modern in the last twenty years. But it must be hard to remember the feel of that Oxford, so many years after. We have all been influenced by coffee shops everywhere, and mobile phones, and it’s impossible to see the past the way we saw it before. Philip Pullman probably can’t unsee an Oxford full of coffee shops. And we’ve not previously had cause to discuss the availability of disposable nappies in Lyra’s Oxford, so who am I to say they seem more handy than likely?
The other thing is that our world now lacks the hope we had back then. This makes the threat from Philip’s secret organisations come across as scarier than ever.
I feel no closer to understanding Dust. Maybe I will after the second, or the third, book. Or not. Some things are better for being mysterious.
(For another, totally different, and much more professional, view of La Belle Sauvage, here’s Frank Cottrell Boyce in the Guardian.)