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DavidC
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Registered: ‎04-09-2007
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David Colbert on Pullman and His Dark Materials

Excerpted from The Magical Worlds of Philip Pullman

After asking me to write [The Magical Worlds of Philip Pullman], my British publishers, who have published Philip Pullman, said they'd written to him as a courtesy to tell him about the project. His response was revealing. More than just agreeing to answer questions, he volunteered that he wouldn't try to influence my conclusions. That's not a common reaction. People who are about to be the subject of a book are usually wary, and want to influence what's written. Pullman would have even more reason to be concerned, because his views on religion have attracted many hostile critics. His ideas have often been described inaccurately, and twisted to make them easier to oppose. Yet Pullman remains open to discussion and debate.

The reason is more than a desire to talk about his work. Most of the time he'd rather let his books stand on their own with no commentary. He simply remains curious about the larger questions that first led him to write His Dark Materials. He's not done thinking about life and the afterlife, about God and sin and organized religion. Along with that curiosity is a belief that intellectual honesty requires an open mind. Many of Pullman's critics attack him for denouncing C. S. Lewis, the author of the Christian-influenced Chronicles of Narnia, without realizing Pullman's anger is largely a reaction to Lewis's intellectual style. Even Lewis's friends admitted he usually started his essays or books by assuming he knew all the answers, and then would make up weak questions for the opposite side of the argument. That's the reverse of what Pullman does. Pullman's first concern is the quality of the questions.

Before I understood this, there were some interesting exchanges. If you've read any of my other Magical Worlds books, you know that I like strange details as much as larger themes. In some cases they're interesting clues. The books of J. R. R. Tolkien, for example, are filled with names invented from the ancient languages Tolkien studied. They were one of Tolkien's ways of understanding and creating the imaginary history of Middle-earth. Because I didn't want to ask Pullman the same questions he's been asked in nearly every interview-things like, "What would your daemon be?"-the first questions I asked were about some of the small details I'd noticed. Thinking I was simply easing into the process, I asked him why the character Mary Malone mentions marzipan, an almond-paste candy, in a scene that's meant as a parallel to the serpent's offer of an apple to Eve in Genesis. I wondered if maybe Pullman had something specific in mind when he chose that unusual treat. Could it refer to a piece of scripture? It's the kind of detail other authors use to reveal an interesting facet of the story. And when you're looking at a desk full of notes, sometimes it's the small, odd one that stands out first.

Pullman wasn't happy with that question. With all the bigger issues the book raises, he wondered, why was I looking at this insignificant detail? Though he didn't say it, his message was clear. He didn't mind if my book argued fiercely against his views, but he did mind if I wasn't going to start with the right questions.

That wasn't the last oddball question I asked, but from then on I explained my thinking first. Fortunately, I wasn't interested in digging up all the small allusions he planted in this story. They're clues to what he was reading, and therefore to steps in his thinking, but they don't add up to an understanding of the major themes. He bends nearly every allusion to fit the shape of his own ideas.

His Dark Materials can be read as a storehouse of Pullman's own questions. What happens after death? Is God really like the Bible describes? Why do some people claim to have a unique insight into God? Why do good intentions sometimes lead to terrible consequences, and wicked plans sometimes lead to benefits for humankind? It's in Pullman's nature to examine these questions with a combination of intellectual honesty and rigor. He tries to ask the right questions; and, much more rare, he makes an effort to remain open to any answer, regardless of how it fits into his existing beliefs.

Pullman's questions have led him to conclusions that many people find difficult to face. He sees a world without God or heaven or an eternal afterlife. He often doesn't see clear boundaries between right and wrong. It's a messy and uncertain adult world. At the same time, it's full of moral choices and serious consequences.

It's also a world that's focused on spiritual meaning. Nicholas Hynter, who directed a theatrical adaptation of His Dark Materials for the National Theatre in London, explains his view of it: "The thing about these books is that they take our metaphyical needs very seriously. They are not impressed by certain aspects of organized religion, but what they are steeped in is the need to find stories and symbols which explain to us the numinous, that which is beyond our understanding. In other words, it seems to me that the impulse behind these books is very close to a religious impulse."p> I agree. Pullman says he's an atheist and that we must make the most of life in our material world, but in His Dark Materials the question of how to achieve spiritual fulfillment is always centerstage.

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Kreacherteacher
Posts: 1,234
Registered: ‎07-24-2007
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Re: David Colbert on Pullman and His Dark Materials

I think the C.S. Lewis idea is shared among quite a few writers. Tolkien apparently had some issues with his writing as well. I had heard that it caused a rift in their friendship. Though I do not remember where I had read this info.

The issue I have with Lewis is that the heroes are there just in the nick of time too often. Stuff happens and we don't always get saved by tragedy. That is also the issue I have with superhero movies and books.

This is why I love Frodo, Harry, and Lyra. These are simple, small, unwitting characters who have flaws. Frodo has problems with destroying the ring. Harry needs help from his friends, and Lyra relies on others as well to help her with her task. These books do not shy away from tragedy.
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Nadine
Posts: 2,456
Registered: ‎10-30-2006
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Re: David Colbert on Pullman and His Dark Materials

In reading Mr. Colbert's introduction above, I was really struck by this statement:

------------------------
"The thing about these books is that they take our metaphysical needs very seriously. They are not impressed by certain aspects of organized religion, but what they are steeped in is the need to find stories and symbols which explain to us the numinous, that which is beyond our understanding. In other words, it seems to me that the impulse behind these books is very close to a religious impulse." I agree. Pullman says he's an atheist and that we must make the most of life in our material world, but in His Dark Materials the question of how to achieve spiritual fulfillment is always centerstage.
-------------------------------

I mentioned this theme above under the heading Science or Religion. This book, at least as far as The Golden Compass is concerned, does address metaphysical and ethical issues but actual organized religion is not too relevant.

To me The Golden Compass is more of an adventure story that is laying the foundation for the series by introducing most of the major characters, the world they live in, and the metaphysical elements that will be developed more throughly later on. And I do feel, so far, that the emphasis is on broad ideas rather than any particular religious point of view. I don't think atheism is anti-spiritual. There are many (and very large) religions in the world that are not based on the belief in a supernatural, personal God. Along with our desire for art and philosophy, we humans have spiritual needs and it is these elements, those needs beyond pure survival ones, that make us human. I think this book seriously addresses those needs.
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PageOne
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Re: David Colbert on Pullman and His Dark Materials

Expected to hate this series as representing yet another fantasy escape from our real world. Purchased and read the first book in order to be prepared to understand the movie. Have passed that book on to a great granddaughter, and have the next two on hand to read later.

Admire The Golden Compass because it combines the imaginative WHAT IF with the real world in such a way as to clearly delineate between good persons who are full of hugs, both physical and psychological, and want only to assist others as much as possible, and those souls who have a distorted vision of self-advancement goals that allows them to use others, no matter how harmful the using is to those others.

I appreciate the strong message that an adherence to religious dogma does not a good person make. How refreshing is this truth!
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DavidC
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Re: David Colbert on Pullman and His Dark Materials



Kreacherteacher wrote:
I think the C.S. Lewis idea is shared among quite a few writers. Tolkien apparently had some issues with his writing as well. I had heard that it caused a rift in their friendship. Though I do not remember where I had read this info.

The issue I have with Lewis is that the heroes are there just in the nick of time too often. Stuff happens and we don't always get saved by tragedy. That is also the issue I have with superhero movies and books.

This is why I love Frodo, Harry, and Lyra. These are simple, small, unwitting characters who have flaws. Frodo has problems with destroying the ring. Harry needs help from his friends, and Lyra relies on others as well to help her with her task. These books do not shy away from tragedy.




You're right, Tolkien never could warm up to the Narnia books. He didn't like the way Lewis threw in elements from all sorts of traditions without any unifying scheme. And, like you (and me), he didn't like the way Lewis swooped in to change the plot suddenly.

I'm not usually one to defend Lewis, but I do think some of the responsibility lies with his editors and publishers. Few writers can see all those problems when they're done with a manuscript. They'd have to put it away for a few months.
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DavidC
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Re: David Colbert on Pullman and His Dark Materials

Nadine-

That's a good observation about The Golden Compass. It's a point that's bound to come up again. The Golden Compass is worth reading on its own; but a lot of the ideas in the series become more clear after reading The Amber Spyglass.
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Nadine
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Re: David Colbert on Pullman and His Dark Materials



DavidC wrote:
Nadine-

That's a good observation about The Golden Compass. It's a point that's bound to come up again. The Golden Compass is worth reading on its own; but a lot of the ideas in the series become more clear after reading The Amber Spyglass.




Yes, David, I am beginning to realize that it will be difficult to talk about ideas presented in HDM and limiting the discussion to The Golden Compass. The Golden Compass seems to be more the set-up book and the bigger story will become apparent in the last two. I'm quite tempted to move ahead before the month is out.
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Kreacherteacher
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Registered: ‎07-24-2007
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Re: David Colbert on Pullman and His Dark Materials

I agree. It is easy to sit here after having the privilege of reading many books, from many different times, and criticize. Furthermore, I did enjoy reading the Narnia books. It was only in hindsight myself that I had these thoughts.

Thank you for responding by the way. This is a wonderful site that Barnes and Noble put together. I love that people can connect like this to discuss books. Saves on fuel anyway. :-)



DavidC wrote: I'm not usually one to defend Lewis, but I do think some of the responsibility lies with his editors and publishers. Few writers can see all those problems when they're done with a manuscript. They'd have to put it away for a few months.


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Vampyre
Posts: 776
Registered: ‎07-06-2007
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Re: David Colbert on Pullman and His Dark Materials

I saw the movie trailers for the Golden Compass and decided to read the books. I liked the Golden Compass but I truly disliked where the books went from there. Everyone is entitled to their opinions and I do not believe in censorship in any form.

If I had to pick one group of books to believe in over the other, my choice would be a Bible. This is all I'll say about that. I don't want to get into a theological debate.

Instead I will discuss what I did like about the trilogy. The main thing like in all epic tales is the hero of the story starts out as a small seemingly insignificant ordinary person. As the events unfold, Lyra is able to beat the odds time and time again with her wits and bravery. She does what she feels is the right thing to do and is loyal to her friends and allies. When she gives her word she strives to keep it.

These are traits that are lacking in today's society. Most people today want to take the easy, lazy man's path and it's usually the wrong one that leads to trouble. It's a lot like the speech Obi-Won gives Luke about the path to the dark side. :smileyhappy: If making the right decisions in life was easy, then more people would do it. The right way is most often the hardest. Lyra and her friends show us that time and time again through out the series. To me that's one of the best lessons anyone can learn.
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ConnieAnnKirk
Posts: 5,472
Registered: ‎06-14-2007
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Re: David Colbert on Pullman and His Dark Materials

Thank you for not posting spoilers, Vampyre and everyone. Just a reminder to everyone--The way this club is set up is that we're talking about THE GOLDEN COMPASS mostly in September, and each book after that in October and November. What readers can do who want to discuss the series as a whole is start a thread and mark it SPOILERS so that the future books are not ruined for those who have not yet read ahead. Those readers can then easily avoid reading those threads that have future plot points in them.

Thanks!

~ConnieK
~ConnieAnnKirk




[CAK's books , website.]
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Vampyre
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Re: David Colbert on Pullman and His Dark Materials

You're welcome ma'am,

I am a person that hates to see unmarked spoilers. I do my best not to let anything out of the bag.
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BarbaraN
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Pullman's Philosophical Sources

A Voyage to Arcturus

Along with Blake and Milton, David mentions in his book that David Lindsay's book, A Voyage to Arcturus, also influenced Pullman's thinking, especially on the gnostic themes. I was thinking of picking up a copy of this book for background reading. Has anyone else read it or can comment on it?

http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbnInquiry.asp?z=y&bnit=H&bnrefer=TOP&EAN=9780486441986...

Much of David's book and these outside influences are a bit difficult to discuss right now since they pertain more to the series as a whole and especially the next two books in HDM series. But I might as well get my ducks in a row for the next two months.
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Eldarion
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Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: David Colbert on Pullman and His Dark Materials

Being an ordained minister I found this book helpful because it makes people ask themselves the question 'what is with the church.' That is to say, where is thr church going, what is it doing, what are people doing because of it. I think one of the points Pullman is trying to make is that the church has, in some ways, lost its way. Christ told his followers to love our neighbors as ourselves, which, in different language, is what His Dark Materials is all about. A major point in the books is to re-establish the need for Christians (all people for that matter) to get back to caring/loving, which is what the church is supposed to be doing in the first place.
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BarbaraN
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Re: David Colbert on Pullman and His Dark Materials


Eldarion wrote:
Being an ordained minister I found this book helpful because it makes people ask themselves the question 'what is with the church.' That is to say, where is thr church going, what is it doing, what are people doing because of it. I think one of the points Pullman is trying to make is that the church has, in some ways, lost its way. Christ told his followers to love our neighbors as ourselves, which, in different language, is what His Dark Materials is all about. A major point in the books is to re-establish the need for Christians (all people for that matter) to get back to caring/loving, which is what the church is supposed to be doing in the first place.




I think you bring up an excellent point here that I had not considered. Christianity, and indeed most religions, have good teachings at their basic core. But churches are run by people who might use the devotion people have to religion and construe the teachings to suit their own ambitions for power. That is what has happened in HDM and happens all the time in the real world. As "spin" and layers are added (many of which are truly believed by the faithful who feel that those in authority must know), the original message gets distorted.

It is quite possible that in HDM "The Authority" is actually a symbolic representation of a distorted religious point of view. Interesting point of view to consider.
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BarbaraN
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Re: Pullman's Philosophical Sources: A Voyage to Arcturus

I found this review of A Voyage to Arcturus:

"Few English novels have been as eccentric or, ultimately, as influential as David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus. First published in 1920, it produced enormous enthusiasm in CS Lewis, who recommended it to Tolkien. In his introduction, Alan Moore compares it to Bunyan and Machen, while Walpole, Corvo, Hodgson, ER Eddison, Barrington Bayley, and even Mervyn Peake also come to mind. But, as Moore insists, Lindsay's engrossing book, a mixture of metaphysics and surreal dream-quest, stands as one of the great originals.

Colin Wilson's two informative afterwords reveal Lindsay as a disappointed eccentric dying of blood poisoning from neglected teeth. The book's photographs present a conventional, pipe-puffing late-Edwardian gent, at ease in a domesticated English landscape. Lindsay's passion for music is revealed in his hand-written letter decorating the fly-leaves of Savoy's exquisite edition, lovingly designed with gold-leaf and Jean Delville paintings on the jacket by John Coulthart.

In common with many others, Lindsay returned from the trenches of the first world war with a profound unease, questioning every assumption of his pre-war upbringing. This was the first and best novel he wrote. A Voyage to Arcturus opens with a drawing-room séance attended by two apparent veterans, Nightspore and Maskull. They witness the manifestation of two ethereal visitors, one of whom is horribly killed by the other, who calls himself Krag. Krag then tells the men to meet him in a deserted Scottish observatory, where they find vials of what are called "Back Rays", by which light returns to its source. In a crystalline ship piloted by Krag, the rays allow the three to travel to Arcturus, the double star, and its single planet Tormance. Blacking out, Maskull wakes to find his companions gone. He now inhabits a vivid world where blazing blue and white suns rise and set, peopled by bizarre characters described with Blakean authority. Some of these Maskull is driven to kill, from anger or in self-defence.

In his novel, Lindsay is clearly questioning the nature of evil, the persuasions that make "good" men like Maskull kill. Maskull's hunt for Krag and Nightspore takes him across ethereal, ghastly dreamscapes where cruel men, loving women and intellectual monsters ponder the duality of God, the meaning of self-sacrifice, and the purpose of existence. His body creates and discards new sensory organs. An atmosphere of alienness is pervasive. A Buddhist paradise is followed by a world of degraded predators. Maskull, meeting what is perhaps God or perhaps the devil, senses a moral purpose to his journey, but that purpose remains mysterious. His inner debates are enhanced by the rapid pace, visual power and logic of the narrative.

Tormented with guilt at the deaths he has already caused, Maskull seems unable to stop killing as he ventures over dazzling deserts and jagged mountains; climbing obsidian cliffs, crossing seemingly sentient bodies of water, negotiating mysterious caverns. Occasionally he glimpses Krag and Nightspore ahead, and learns of a being variously called Surtur, Crystalman or Shaping, who might be God. God, who becomes the object of his quest, forever threatens to appear and sometimes, perhaps, does.

In a memorable scene, Maskull discovers the madman Earthrid "playing" a lake by will alone, manipulating the forces of nature to create passionate, beautiful sights and sounds so magnificently powerful they kill their audience. Earthrid challenges Maskull to better his achievements. Maskull, awed by his own gifts, does just that. The entire lake convulses and explodes. Earthrid is obscenely destroyed.

As though the novel were some Nietzschean Pilgrim's Progress, Maskull seems enjoined to do what he must to save his own soul. Yet if Lindsay celebrates the triumph of the will, he is too troubled to propose the crudeness of fascism. Indeed, the astonishing and dramatic ambiguity of the novel's resolution, in which Krag answers questions only to ask fresh ones, makes Lindsay's literary struggle the antithesis of the visionary brutalism embraced by Adolf Hitler, another traumatised creature of the trenches. Whatever the conventionally Christian CS Lewis learned from A Voyage to Arcturus for his Perelandra novels, he refused Lindsay's commitment to the Absolute and lacked his God-questioning genius, the very qualities which give this strange book its compelling, almost mesmerising influence."

MICHAEL MOORCOCK, The Guardian
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BarbaraN
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Re: Pullman's Philosophical Sources: A Voyage to Arcturus

[ Edited ]
If you want to read the book, it is available online:

http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext98/vrctr10.txt


http://emotional-literacy-education.com/classic-books-online-b/vrctr10.htm

Message Edited by BarbaraN on 09-21-2007 03:58 PM
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BarbaraN
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Re: Pullman's Philosophical Sources: A Voyage to Arcturus

If you just want a quick overview here is a plot synopsis from Wikpedia:

The novel has very little, if anything at all, of science fiction. An interstellar voyage is depicted solely to provide a mostly superficial and perfunctory framework to the narration. The book was written at a time when it was no longer possible to conceive strange lands in the antipodes (as in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, or in Thomas More's Utopia), and so these have to be set at Tormance, an imaginary planet orbiting Arcturus, which, in the novel (but not in reality), is a double star consisting of stars Branchspell and Alppain. (The choice may have been inspired by the nonfictional A Voyage to the Arctic in the Whaler Aurora published in 1911 by an identically-named David Moore Lindsay.) The lands are used to represent philosophical systems, or states of mind, through which the main character, Maskull, passes on his search for the meaning of life.

Maskull is depicted as a man longing for adventures, who accepts an invitation from Krag, an acquaintance of his friend Nightspore, to travel to Tormance. The three set off from an abandoned observatory in Scotland but Maskull finds himself alone in Tormance. In every land he passes through he usually meets only one or two persons; these meetings often (though not always) end in the death of those he meets. He learns of his impending death, meets Krag again, and dies shortly after learning that he is Nightspore himself. The book concludes with a final revelation from Krag (who claims to be known on Earth as «pain») to Nightspore about the origin of the Universe.

All characters and lands are types used to convey the author's critique of several philosophical systems. (That is why the inhabitants of Tormance are so few; they suffice to make the point they are intended for.) The author turns out to support a variation of the doctrine of the Demiurge, somewhat similar to that defended by some Gnostics.

-------------------------

You can read the whole article at:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Voyage_to_Arcturus
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Eldarion
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Re: David Colbert on Pullman and His Dark Materials

Related to that, I think it sad what people will do for religion. Mrs. Coulter, for example, is willing to kill children for her religion. This is what makes religion so dangerous, as opposed to faith. That is a line that is clearly drawn in this book, and I think you hit it right on the head in saying that the Authority represents the distorted religous point of view, because that is exactly what is going on: the people in the book have religion not faith.
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Eldarion
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Re: David Colbert on Pullman and His Dark Materials

Above message is in response to BarbaraN (sorry)
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marla16
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Re: David Colbert on Pullman and His Dark Materials

I've read all three books sometime ago. I liked them the first time now I'm going to re-read them again. Reading them again I might have missed something.
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