Quotes by Philip Pullman about:
- His Dark Materials in general
- Fantasy and stark realism in His Dark Materials
- His influences and inspirations
- Stories and reading
- The Republic of Heaven
- The Alethiometer
- Temptation in The Amber Spyglass
- C.S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia
Blake said Milton was a true poet and of the Devil's party without knowing it. I am of the Devil's party and know it.
About His Dark Materials in general
[His Dark Materials is] a story, not a treatise, not a sermon or a work of philosophy. I'm telling a story, I'm showing various characters whom I've invented saying things and doing things and acting out beliefs which they have, and not necessarily which I have. The tendency of the whole thing might be this or it might be that, but what I'm doing is telling a story, not preaching a sermon.
[O]ne of the things I was trying to do in the story... is to show my characters reveling in the beauty of the world; and seeing, as if with new eyes, how extraordinarily precious and wonderful the physical world is.
The story celebrates love, courage, an imaginative engagement with the world, tolerance, open-mindedness, courtesy. And it criticises cold-heartedness, fanaticism, cruelty, intolerance. Who could argue with that?
On fantasy and stark realism in His Dark Materials
I have said that His Dark Materials is not fantasy but stark realism, and my reason for this is to emphasise what I think is an important aspect of the story, namely the fact that it is realistic, in psychological terms. I deal with matters that might normally be encountered in works of realism, such as adolescence, sexuality, and so on; and they are the main subject matter of the story – the fantasy (which, of course, is there: no-one but a fool would think I meant there is no fantasy in the books at all) is there to support and embody them, not for its own sake.
Dæmons, for example, might otherwise be only a meaningless decoration, adding nothing to the story: but I use them to embody and picture some truths about human personality which I couldn't picture so easily without them. I'm trying to write a book about what it means to be human, to grow up, to suffer and learn. My quarrel with much (not all) fantasy is it has this marvelous toolbox and does nothing with it except construct shoot-em-up games. Why shouldn't a work of fantasy be as truthful and profound about becoming an adult human being as the work of George Eliot or Jane Austen?
[T]he story I was trying to write was about real people, not beings that don't exist like elves or hobbits. Lyra and Will and the other characters are meant to be human beings like us, and the story is about a universal human experience, namely growing up. The 'fantasy' parts of the story were there as a picture of aspects of human nature, not as something alien and strange. For example, readers have told me that the dæmons, which at first seem so utterly fantastic, soon become so familiar and essential a part of each character that they, the readers, feel as if they've got a dæmon themselves. And my point is that they have, that we all have. It's an aspect of our personality that we often overlook, but it's there. that's what I mean by realism: I was using the fantastical elements to say something that I thought was true about us and about our lives.
About his influences
His Dark Materials: The Amber Spyglass acknowledgements page —
I have stolen ideas from every book I have ever read. My principle in researching for a novel is "Read like a butterfly, write like a bee," and if this story contains any honey, it is entirely because of the quality of the nectar I have found in the work of better writers.
But there are three debts that need acknowledgement above all the rest. One is to the essay On the Marionette Theatre by Heinrich von Kleist… The second is to John Milton’s Paradise Lost. The third is to the works of William Blake.
[I draw my influences from] everything I see, every book and newspaper I read, everyone I know, everything I've ever thought about, every dream I've ever had, every momentary glimpse of a face through a window – everything
Every lunch hour, I'd go and sit in the churchyard opposite the shop and write a rondeau, just to keep my hand in. In the evening I'd write my novel. I discovered a method that's worked for me ever since: to write three pages every day, no more, no less. If you can't think of what to write, tough luck; write anyway. If you can think of lots more when you've finished the three pages, don't write it; it'll be that much easier to get going next day. And in one way my life hasn't changed since then. I still write three pages every day, and I suppose I will till the day I die.
For a long time I thought I was a poet, but that's a high title to claim. What I do say is that I can write verse, and that the writing of verse in strict form is the best possible training for writing good prose. Why? Because writing verse teaches you to recognise rhythms and cadences, which are just as important in prose, but much harder to get right. For that reason you can't write with music playing, and anyone who says he can is either writing badly, or not listening to the music, or lying. You need to hear what you're writing, and for that you need silence.
My readers are intelligent: I don't write for stupid people. Now mark this carefully, because otherwise I shall be misquoted and vilified again – we are all stupid, and we are all intelligent. The line dividing the stupid from the intelligent goes right down the middle of our heads. Others may find their readership on the stupid side: I don't. I pay my readers the compliment of assuming that they are intellectually adventurous.
About stories and reading
Stories are the most important thing in the world. Without stories, we wouldn't be human beings at all.
All stories teach, whether the storyteller intends them to or not. They teach the world we create. They teach the morality we live by. They teach it much more effectively than moral precepts and instructions.
[T]he act of true reading is in its very essence democratic. Consider the nature of what happens when we read a book - and I mean, of course, a work of literature, not an instruction manual or a textbook - in private, unsupervised, un-spied-on, alone. It isn't like a lecture: it's like a conversation. There's a back-and-forthness about it. The book proposes, the reader questions, the book responds, the reader considers. We bring our own preconceptions and expectations, our own intellectual qualities, and our limitations, too, our own previous experiences of reading, our own temperament, our own hopes and fears, our own personality to the encounter.
Lyra learns to her great cost that fantasy isn't enough. She has been lying all her life, telling stories to people, making up fantasies, and suddenly she comes to a point where that's not enough. All she can do is tell the truth. She tells the truth about her childhood, about the experiences she had in Oxford, and that is what saves her. True experience, not fantasy - reality, not lies - is what saves us in the end.
[W]hether or not we know this, whether or not we like it, that puts us in a moral relationship with the thing we came from, too, whether that's God or whether it's nature. The God stories go on to make this quite explicit: do this, believe that. The stories of science have moral consequences too, but they convey them more subtly, by implication; we might say more democratically. They depend on our contribution, on our making the effort to understand and concur.
The implication is that true stories are worth telling, and worth getting right, and we have to behave honestly towards them and to the process of doing science in the first place. It's only through honesty and courage that science can work at all. The Ptolemaic understanding of the solar system was undermined and corrected by the constant pressure of more and more honest reporting: "Yes, we know the planets are supposed to go round the earth in perfect circles, but really, if you look, you don't see that. You see this instead. Now why do you think that could be? What's actually going on up there?"
Make this the golden rule, the equivalent of the Hippocratic oath: Everything we ask a child to do should be worth doing.
Literacy has both a public and a private pay-off. The first empowers us in society; the second enriches us as individuals and encourages us to think for ourselves... unless, of course, the latter is deliberately "educated" out of us for the convenience of those who''d really rather we didn't.
What I fear and deplore in the 'faith school' camp is their desire to close argument down and put some things beyond question or debate. It's vital to get clear in young minds what is a faith position and what is not - so that, for instance, they won't be taken in by religious people claiming that science is a faith position no different in kind from Christianity. Science is not a matter of faith, and too many people are being allowed to get away with claiming that it is, and that my 'belief' in evolution is a thing of the same kind as their 'belief' in miracles. What we need in schools, really, is basic philosophy.
As for disgraceful betrayals of wisdom such as the pretense that there is something called "creation science" and we ought to give it equal time in schools with proper science --- I'm ashamed to belong to a human race that is so sunk in abject ignorance and willful stupidity.
The religious impulse – which includes the sense of awe and mystery we feel when we look at the universe, the urge to find a meaning and a purpose in our lives, our sense of moral kinship with other human beings – is part of being human, and I value it. I'd be a damn fool not to.
But organised religion is quite another thing. The trouble is that all too often in human history, churches and priesthoods have set themselves up to rule people's lives in the name of some invisible god (and they're all invisible, because they don't exist) – and done terrible damage. In the name of their god, they have burned, hanged, tortured, maimed, robbed, violated, and enslaved millions of their fellow-creatures, and done so with the happy conviction that they were doing the will of God, and they would go to Heaven for it.
That is the religion I hate, and I'm happy to be known as its enemy.
I know full well that the total amount of the things I know is a tiny little pinprick of light compared with the vast unlimited darkness that surrounds it – which is all the things I don't know. I don't know more than a tiny fragment of what it's possible to know about this world. As for what goes on outside it in the rest of the universe, it's a vast darkness full of things that I don't know. Now, somewhere in the things that I don't know, there may be a God.
But if we come down – like coming close up with a camera – getting closer and closer to this little pinprick of light, so that it begins to expand and gets bigger and bigger until we find ourselves inside it... I can see no evidence in that circle of things I do know, in history, or in science or anywhere else, no evidence of the existence of God.
So I'm caught between the words 'atheistic' and 'agnostic'. I've got no evidence whatever for believing in a God. But I know that all the things I do know are very small compared with the things that I don't know. So maybe there is a God out there. All I know is that if there is, he hasn't shown himself on earth.
But going further than that, I would say that those people who claim that they do know that there is a God have found this claim of theirs the most wonderful excuse for behaving extremely badly. So belief in a God does not seem to me to result automatically in behaving very well.
[W]ould you say that your books have an anti-Christian purpose? Mary Malone in The Amber Spyglass, an ex-nun who has lost her faith, says that Christianity is a very powerful and convincing mistake.
Well, Mary is a character in a book. Mary's not me. It's a story, not a treatise, not a sermon or a work of philosophy. I'm telling a story, I'm showing various characters whom I've invented saying things and doing things and acting out beliefs which they have, and not necessarily which I have. The tendency of the whole thing might be this or it might be that, but what I'm doing is telling a story, not preaching a sermon.
But when you look at organised religion of whatever sort – whether it's Christianity in all its variants, or whether it's Islam or some forms of extreme Hinduism – wherever you see organised religion and priesthoods and power, you see cruelty and tyranny and repression. It's almost a universal law.
It's not just Christianity I'm getting at. The reason that the forms of religion in the books seem to be Christian is because that's the world I'm familiar with. That's the world I grew up in and I knew. If I had been brought up as an orthodox Jew, I would no doubt find things to criticise in that religion. But I don't know that world as well as I know Christianity.
I'm for open-mindedness and tolerance. I'm against any form of fanaticism, fundamentalism or zealotry, and this certainty of 'We have the truth.' The truth is far too large and complex. Nobody has the truth.
I think my position would be that throughout human history, the greatest moral advances have been made by religious leaders such as Jesus and the Buddha. And the greatest moral wickedness has been perpetrated by their followers. How many millions of people have been killed in the name of this religion or that one? Burnt, hanged, tortured. It's just extraordinary.
The general theme, the general gist of the whole book is that the famous story of the Temptation in the Garden of Eden and the Fall of Man so-called, when Eve gave way to the temptation to eat the fruit of knowledge and tempted Adam to eat it as well, that this traditionally [has] been presented as being a very bad thing and Eve was very wicked and we all got covered in sorrow and sin and misery from then on as a result of this .. well, I just reversed that. I thought wasn't it a good thing that Eve did, isn't curiosity a valuable quality? Shouldn't she be praised for risking this? It wasn't, after all, that she was after money or gold or anything, she was after knowledge. What could possibly be wrong with that?
The rise of fundamentalist religion I think, is the most dangerous aspect of late twentieth-century life, whether it is intolerance among Christians or Muslims or Orthodox Jews. I think fundamentalist religion is one of the greatest dangers we have ever faced…What makes a religion fundamentalist is the insistence that because of some book of scriptures or some revelation given to the founder of the religion, that they alone possess the "truth." And when anyone believes that, they're wrong.
About the Republic of Heaven
We don't need lists of rights and wrongs, tables of do's and don'ts: we need books, time, and silence. 'Thou shalt not' is soon forgotten, but 'Once upon a time' lasts forever.
I believe in the absolute preciousness of the here and now. Here is where we are and now is where we live.
[The republic of heaven] stands for a sense of community. It stands for joy. It stands for a sense that the universe and we together, have a common meaning and a common destiny, and a purpose. It stands for connectedness between these things. All these things are so important, so fundamental to what keeps me alive that I don't want to be without them. I don't want to do without heaven, but I can no longer believe in a kingdom of heaven, so there must be a republic of heaven of which we are free and equal citizens - and it's our duty to promote and preserve this.
What are the key values in the Republic, rather than the Kingdom, of Heaven?
Firstly, a sense that this world where we live is our home. Our home is not somewhere else. There is no elsewhere. This is a physical universe and we are physical beings made of material stuff. This is where we live.
Secondly, a sense of belonging, a sense of being part of a real and important story, a sense of being connected to other people, to people who are not here any more, to those who have gone before us. And a sense of being connected to the universe itself.
All those things were promised and summed up in the phrase, 'The Kingdom of Heaven'. But if the Kingdom is dead, we still need those things. We can't live without those things because it's too bleak, it's too bare and we don't need to. We can find a way of creating them for ourselves if we think in terms of a Republic of Heaven.
This is not a Kingdom but a Republic, in which we are all free and equal citizens, with – and this is the important thing – responsibilities. With the responsibility to make this place into a Republic of Heaven for everyone. Not to live in it in a state of perpetual self-indulgence, but to work hard to make this place as good as we possibly can.
The kingdom of heaven promised us certain things: it promised us happiness and a sense of purpose and a sense of having a place in the universe, of having a role and a destiny that were noble and splendid; and so we were connected to things. We were not alienated. But now that, for me anyway, the King is dead, I find that I still need these things that heaven promised, and I'm not willing to live without them. I don't think I will continue to live after I'm dead, so if I am to achieve these things I must try to bring them about – and encourage other people to bring them about – on earth, in a republic in which we are all free and equal – and responsible – citizens.
Now, what does this involve? It involves all the best qualities of things. We mustn't shut anything out. If the Church has told us, for example, that forgiving our enemies is good, and if that seems to be a good thing to do, we must do it. If, on the other hand, those who struggled against the Church have shown us that free enquiry and unfettered scientific exploration is good – and I believe that they have – then we must hold this up as a good as well.
Whatever we can find that we feel to be good – and not just feel but can see with the accumulated wisdom that we have as we grow up, and read about history and learn from our own experiences and so on – wherever they come from, and whoever taught them in the first place, let's use them and do whatever we can do to make the world a little bit better.
I find it impossible to believe (in God). However, the corollary of that is that if there is no kingdom of heaven, we must have a republic of heaven. We can't have another king. We mustn't have another king. Worshiping the wrong thing is going to lead to trouble, so we have to have a republic, by which I mean that we ourselves in this world here in the physical universe where we know we live have got to make it as much like the traditional idea of heaven as we can.
By which I mean it's a place where we're connected to other people by love and joy and delight in the universe and the physical world. And we have to use all the qualities we have -- our imagination, our intelligence, our scientific understanding, our appreciation of art, our love for each other and so on -- we have to work to use those things, to make the world a better place, which it sorely needs making.
[Dæmon’s are] an aspect of our personality, which in Lyra's world, has become visible. Now, in my myth that I was writing, the daemon is conceived of as being the gift of the rebel angels. Now, in the course of the myth, the rebel angels are on the side of right and decency and goodness and consciousness, and all these things.
[T]he rebel angels... gave to the beings in each world who were evolving, a gift that would help them understand themselves and become wise. In some worlds, they gave them a daemon. In other worlds they gave them... the gift of riding on wheels. [I]n each case you see, what it does, this gift is to help one achieve wisdom. Wisdom, which is the sort of natural status of life and consciousness, towards which we move almost gravitationally.
Scholastic interview —
I think [my dæmon]'s probably a magpie or a jackdaw, one of these birds that pick up bright shining things and doesn't distinguish in terms of shininess between the diamond ring and the KitKat wrapper - just as I don't distinguish in terms of 'storyness' between Shakespeare and Neighbours.
[Y]ou don't have a choice in what your dæmon will become. There are many who would like to have a lion as a dæmon, and end up with a poodle! But if I did have a choice, I'd choose a raven. In North American mythology a raven is a trickster. And a storyteller is really just someone who tricks you into believing in their story. So I'd be happy if my dæmon were a raven.
One of the things people are struck most by is the fact that children's dæmons can change shapes, whereas adult dæmons have settled into one shape and keep it the rest of their lives. I found that a very good way of demonstrating the difference between children and grown-ups, between innocence and experience -- the sort of infinite potentiality children have, the great malleability of their characters. They change very quickly, their moods change. Grown-ups don't have that. We've lost that, but on the other hand, we've gained something as well. We've gained a sort of settle strength, a singleness of purpose which will carry us through to the destination which we're aiming for. I suppose you could say if children have innocence and then we lose that innocence, what we can hope to gain by living and suffering and working and loving and losing is wisdom. And the great difference is that innocence can't be wise, but wisdom can't be innocent.
About the Alethiometer
[The] notion of embodying moral and philosophical ideas in pictures is what lay behind the alethiometer, a device for the divination of truth that works a little like a clock or a compass. Lyra discovers she has the power to read it intuitively. The moment she falls in love with Will and takes the first steps towards growing up, she loses this power which is part of the grace that children have. Children move and run beautifully, they dance perfectly, they sing freely, they paint the most marvellous pictures.
Then towards adolescence they become self-conscious. I wanted Lyra's gift of being able to read the alethiometer to leave her at that stage. But she can regain it, and that's the point. It is recoverable, but only through study and education and all these dull things. At the end of the period of diligent toil that she must now undergo, she will be able to read the alethiometer better than she ever did, and the knowledge she has of it will no longer be unconscious. She will be able to make conscious connections - she will see why an anchor means hope, where previously she just 'knew' that it did. When the intuitive way of reading the alethiometer leaves her she feels a terrible loss; but in growing up there is another prize, which is conscious reason.
The mulefa: I remember a day with my younger son, who was then 15, when we were on holiday in Slovenia, and we were speculating about the business of why no animals had wheels. What would be necessary, biologically, physiologically, for that to be possible? We were walking around Lake Bled, which is a very pretty lake all surrounded by trees, and in two or three hours we had invented the mulefa. At least, we'd got the creatures and the trees and the seed-pods and the wheels. But on their own they would have meant little and added nothing to the story; so then the connection had to be made with Dust and the basic theme of the story, which of course is the difference between innocence and experience.
About the Gyptians
At first the gypsies were an improvised solution to a narrative difficulty. I needed someone into whose hands Lyra could fall, but where she would be safe. She's running away from danger and doesn't know where to go or what to do. When she comes across the gypsies she is terrified, but it turns out that they are friendly. As a reader, I have always liked this sort of reversal of expectations and feelings - there is something very attractive about the idea of a character falling into what you think is danger, but which turns out to be the real safety; or in contrast, things you think safe turning out to be dangerous.
The gypsy theme connects with what we were just talking about, setting up patterns. I knew I wanted to involve water in the story. The idea of waterways and boats linked up in my mind to the picture I had been building of Lyra's childhood in Oxford - in particular, the area by the canal called Jericho, where she falls into the hands of the Gyptians, seasonal horse-trading people with a canal boat culture. They smuggle her out of danger into the heart of their watery kingdom in East Anglia. In Lyra's parallel world the area of the Fens hasn't been drained - as it has in our world - it's still a complicated maze of rivers. Somehow, I had a feeling that the Gyptians would have a lot of Dutch in them - perhaps because there has always been a lot of commerce between the Fens and the Low Countries. And so their language contains Dutch words and speech rhythms.
About temptation in The Amber Spyglass
Temptation: I've been asked this question a lot, or a variation of it. The event is signaled as clearly as i could without making it ridiculously overt. Mary in her marzipan story is giving them the information they need to progress to the next stage of their development. It isn't represented as transgressive because in the Mulefa world growing up was never seen as a loss, but again: their story of the snake and the wheel shows that. Mary is told to play the serpent, and in that world, that means bring wisdom. And next day she actually gives them some fruit, and it's fruit that Lyra lifts to Will's mouth, knowing exactly what it will mean. The signals are all there.
As for what they actually DO - it's none of my damn business! My imagination withdrew at that point. If you want to follow them under the tree and watch what happens, you must bear the responsibility for what you see. Personally, I think privacy is a fine and gracious thing. I describe a kiss: and there are some turning-points in life for which a kiss is quite enough.
On C.S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia
[T]here is no doubt in my mind that (Narnia) is one of the most ugly and poisonous things I've ever read.
I think Lewis was a remarkable man. But when it came to the Narnia books, I think he was actually dangerous because those books celebrate death. As an end-of-term treat the children are killed: that to me is disgusting.
It's not the presence of Christian doctrine I object to so much as the absence of Christian virtue. The highest virtue, we have on the authority of the New Testament itself, is love, and yet you find not a trace of that in the books. [The Narnia books contain] a peevish blend of racist, misogynistic and reactionary prejudice; but of love, of Christian charity, [there is] not a trace.