Tag Archives: Laurie Frost

Laurie Frost

This is a post I didn’t want to be writing.

Laurie Frost died on Christmas Eve morning. For those of you who have been here for the last fourteen years, you will know that Laurie wrote a rather good, not to mention thorough, book on absolutely everything to do with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials in The Definitive Guide.

Her book started a cross-Atlantic friendship which unfortunately never led to an actual meeting between us. But I decided some time ago that this was fine, and that one can have good relationships online. And I did get to ‘bully’ Laurie into flying to New York from her then home in Alabama to meet Philip Pullman. She was hesitant, even though she had written this great book, and even though she and Philip had corresponded, but I said if she could carve out the time and had the funds, she must go.

I’m glad she did, and I believe she was too.

For us it began when she sent her book to [my then teenage] Son for a review, and I also read and reviewed it and then wrote to her, and just happened to suggest that Son and I could travel to Oxford to find her photos of the places where Lyra and Will spend time. Laurie then incorporated them into the reprint of her book.

We then moved on to more normal topics for discussion, such as our [similarly aged] children, and life, and stuff. A very busy and active woman, Laurie was the kind of friend who’d embroider a witch for Christmas. And who in turn ‘appreciated’ a flower made from an airline sickbag, or barfbag as she called it.

Today would have been Laurie’s birthday. She’d been ill for quite a few years, so I’m grateful that she lived rather longer than I suspect she thought she would, when she first told me of her illness.

The world needs enthusiasts like Laurie; someone who would dive deep into something that interested her. And she was someone who stood up for her family, defending them whenever necessary. I’m thinking of them today.

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?


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

Eating my words

When I Google something, I occasionally come across links to myself. It’s not always immediately obvious, because it can be a quote someone else has used from Bookwitch, so won’t be a link to this blog. But it’s amazing how quickly you recognise your own words, even if it’s been a while.

I didn’t write The Elements of His Dark Materials, nor did I write the revised version called  Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials: The Definitive Guide. Laurie Frost did. That will be why I didn’t recognise the wordings in The Rough Guide to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. Laurie Frost did. She wrote many of them, before they turned up in the Rough Guide, either a little ‘revised’ by Paul Simpson, or not altered at all.

So my cheeks burn as I think back to the praise I gave  the Rough Guide here last winter. I take it back. It could be that the reason it was so good, in my eyes, was that Laurie had written an excellent book about HDM. It’s still good as the Rough Guide, if they were to acknowledge that much of it originated with Laurie. Some things that didn’t, have turned out to be factual inaccuracies. Like Laurie, I had always wondered how people writing several guides on varying subjects could be good at many things. Seems they can’t.

Whereas you can fail your exams at whatever academic level you are, if you copy someone else’s work, ‘luckily’ for Paul Simpson it doesn’t matter at all. Nobody is embarrassed or apologetic or losing out. So Laurie is blogging about it, which is a good method, because she can prove page by page, if necessary, how the two books overlap.

Considering the amount of work Laurie put into her guide, it would be nice if the Rough Guide compensated her with an acknowledgement, and with a share of the money. I wish Laurie success both with her new blog, and with bringing this out into the open in the blog. It needs to be mentioned somewhere.

Now we are two

years old. I’m almost beginning to feel like an old hand at this. And you know what? When I have to fill in stupid forms these days I very occasionally list myself as a writer. Just to annoy them a little, you understand. But it beats housewife. Or home maker.

Two years ago I thought I was jumping on the bandwagon a little late, but this January it looked like an awful lot of people had ‘Start a blog’ as their New Year’s resolution. And some of them did, and have made it to my bookmarked blogs list. It’s alarmingly long, this list, and I have had to prune and reorganise a little.

The nicest thing about all this, are the people I have met. Most of you I only see vague shadows of, and some leave comments, and some find themselves having to put the kettle on. But the idea of six degrees of separation feels likelier than ever. I feel I know people everywhere. A few years ago there was a programme on television about someone who tried to meet up with some random person in Mongolia. At the time I reckoned I could have got there faster, but blogging adds a dimension or two.

Now, when I need to find an answer to something, I’ve got a good idea of who to ask. You are a very useful lot, you know. But above all, you are nice.

Some of the new bloggers I mentioned are Laurie Frost, whose blog I’ll write more about in the next few days. Stephen Booth is finding time to blog, as well as everything else he does. Lucy Coats added her own blog to her daily regime, after finding blogging with the Awfully Big Blog Adventure so good she had to have more. The witch family has the blogger with a difference, with Daughter doing her Astronomy GCSE online, so that the teachers can keep track of her work. Sara Paretsky I have linked to before, and she continues with her mix of politics and    V I Warshawski. Reg Keeland who translated Stieg Larsson has also been seduced into blogging, and as languages are my interest too, I call in every so often.

Bookwitch’s little sister Culture is still a toddler, but doing well. Today I suggest you click here for some Heavy Metal. Yes, I never thought I’d say that, being thoroughly old and boring, but I saw this wonderful film about Canadian band Anvil the other day, and while you wait for its general release you can do worse than read what Culture wrote.

My dual personalities are beginning to take their toll now, so I’m off to dream about cake. Should be able to manage two candles.

And did I mention how lovely you all are?

Books about books

What is J K Rowling up to with this court case? As I understand it, she appreciated the work done by Steve Vander Ark, as long as it was online, and he didn’t stand to make lots of money out of it. Now she takes him to court. Maybe the quality of the book isn’t good enough, but then lots of books are pretty bad.

I have to make the obvious comparison here with Philip Pullman. True, he’s not as big as J K. And Laurie Frost did approach him about her idea for a book about his books, before she put too much work in. Philip seemed to think it was  a good idea, and he has written the foreword to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials; The Definitive Guide. He claims to use Laurie’s book when he needs to remember things he made up earlier.

I think J K said the same about the Lexicon, earlier. That she used it.

When The Golden Compass film came, it brought with it lots of books. Many were film company related, but not all. Not all were good, either, but let the buyer suffer disappointment, then.

Is J K only doing this because her film company can’t stand their rights to Harry Potter being borrowed? Surely, by now, Harry Potter belongs to us all, in some way? I’m writing about him this very moment, so either I’m breaking some law, or I’m not. Actually, since I’m not making money out of this, I suppose it’s OK.

But neither J K or her film company should lose money over fans buying someone else’s book. Unless they were thinking of doing the same?

Laurie’s book will soon be available everywhere, which is good.


I know I’ve written about Laurie Frost’s book on His Dark Materials before. But there’s a new edition out, and anyway, you can’t have too much of a good thing, can you? The new title is Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, The Definitive Guide. It’s been timed to coincide with The Golden Compass film. The guide is also, temporarily, a Waterstone’s exclusive, but I hope you can get hold of it anyway.

The Rough Guide and the George Beahm book are both good companions to HDM. Laurie’s book has got that little bit extra, though, and I don’t just mean the additional 200 pages. I was going to say that for the big Pullman fan, this is the book for them. But I think I’ll amend that to saying that you need both Laurie’s book and maybe one or both of the other books to really indulge.

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

This new edition has been updated, has more photos and improved maps of Oxford. The page references have given way to chapter references. And what it has in abundance is Laurie’s love of HDM shining through. That’s worth a lot.

And I never expected this to happen to me, but not only does Laurie mention Son (of footnote fame) in her acknowledgments, but Son’s mother gets in there too. Thank you!

More than a footnote now

That’s Son. In March I bored you all with how last year we found that he’d made it to footnote status in Laurie Frost’s Elements of His Dark Materials. A while ago Laurie emailed to say she’d stumbled across Son’s name while browsing through another book on HDM, where Son actually got a mention, name and all.

Hurried investigations brought several copies of George Beahm’s Discovering the Golden Compass, A Guide to Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials, across the Atlantic to both the witch and to Son at university.

This guide is mainly intended as a companion to the film The Golden Compass, and George has written other such guides as well. It’s a very nice book, and a perfect introduction for the beginner. It doesn’t delve too deeply into anything, but covers most of the aspects you’d be interested in. Lots of photos and quotes, nice drawings and even an essay by Philip Pullman.

George is very enthusiastic about the subject, and although there are some errors in the book, he’s asked me to point out they will all be put right. The paintings by Tim Kirk are attractive, and there are posters of these. We have one, but I’m not sure how you get them.

Thank you George for mentioning my Pullman nerd.

Discovering the Golden Compass

More Pullman mania in the Guardian

I have a blog in the Guardian today on books about Philip Pullman’s books. I’m going to write more here, and longer, but to start with there’s today’s book blog. It’s rather like buses; either I have nothing to write about, or too much. Patience at the bus stop, please.