The artist Cezanne once said, "With an apple I will astonish Paris." A man who could elevate the simplistic to a resonance and binding where we'd call it art: the realm where viewing brings meaning.
A few members here have been given the opportunity to begin writing columns for the website to keep visitors informed and updated. I thought I'd start with backdating, something much more simple. An attraction to the fruit: why Pullman, why His Dark Materials? Is there any defensible reason a person could own eleven copies of this three-book series? I really hope so.
When Cezanne made his comment, he brought through the idea that something doesn't need to be complex to be important. True, Dust may be associated with that mysterious dark matter, we could recite the many-worlds theory by heart and superstring may become fashionable when we're not discussing Paradise Lost or symbolism, but while we're fascinated by untangling the complex, we can be awed by the simple.
If you're ever caught to give an on-the-spot summary of The Golden Compass and can't fathom how you will, in the next twenty seconds, put across accurately the journey of Lyra Belacqua and her dæmon, (that's an animal-shaped soul manifestation) Pantalaimon from the start in an Oxford wardrobe, preventing a murder, gaining a truth-reading device of mysterious origins before sidetracking to a London flat party and then sailing out with a group of gyptians to the North to rescue her best friend who she'd forgotten about in London for a while, and he was kidnapped by the Gobblers back in Oxford and then...(this is the part where Pullman traditionally cuts Lyra's stories off with "and so on").
There's a lot of content, it's true, but the summary is really where the entire story springs from. I'd offer this instead: The Golden Compass is a story about Lyra Belacqua and her animal-formed dæmon familiar and their journey North to rescue her kidnapped best friend.
It's reductionistic, but not insulting. Keep it simple.
Who won't be pleasantly surprised to later find a Texan aeronaut, witches and armored polar bears in exile can also inhabit a world where the simple pull of friendship is the central force to the story. Pullman doesn't send us into a world where magics work in some maddening and out-of-grasp method, let's not send others off there with our summaries.
His Dark Materials can be simply and fully, a story about growing up, about the big things in life which we can all experience: love, friendship, growth, change, and the great hurts that bind us: sacrifice, betrayal, oppression and lies.
I've heard it said that to live is to change, and to change often is to be perfect. Pullman's isn't just a story about growing up, but about change in general. He doesn't ask for a never-ending childhood as does C.S. Lewis, he doesn't say as does Madeline L'Engle that only children can touch unicorns, and he doesn't fight for a particular organized religion to reign as the commanding force. Even Lord Asriel's Republic fails.
"Awe me, engage me" has always been my guiding command with each story I pick up. I can close many novels and feel satisfied and thrilled at the story within the bookbinding, but just one story pushes back at me and says "things are all right where you are, but if they're not then you do something to change it as you yourself have changed and will continue to do so."
It may be worthy to note that in some beliefs, another simple red fruit changed humanity entirely, bringing both sin and knowledge, banishment and separation from eternal life. Whether for the better or not, another simple element created ripples and redefined the big picture of what mattered. We have yet to judge best how at its peak of publicity His Dark Materials can affect any great world concepts, but we can see for now where the big picture lands in our own lives, in our own here and now.