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Monday, December 10, 2007 3:30 pm
Philip Pullman Answers Somewhat Softly
Posted by: Keir Graff

Given a recent Major Motion Picture Event, Philip Pullman’s popular His Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass, 1996; The Subtle Knife, 1997; The Amber Spyglass, 2000) has enjoyed a resurgence of attention. Well, perhaps “enjoyed” doesn’t tell the full story. But rather than link to the many examples of fear for thought, I’ll just link to this interesting interview in Intelligent Life (“An Interview with Philip Pullman,” by Robert Butler). Pullman addresses his critics…

Pullman says that people who are tempted to take offence should first see the film or read the books. “They’ll find a story that attacks such things as cruelty, oppression, intolerance, unkindness, narrow-mindedness, and celebrates love, kindness, open-mindedness, tolerance, curiosity, human intelligence. It’s very hard to disagree with those. But people will.”

How will he respond to those attacks? “A soft answer turneth away wrath, as it says in my favourite book.” (Proverbs 15:1.) So he won’t argue back? “It’s a foolish thing for the teller of a story to answer critics. If you’re putting forward an argument, you can argue back and demonstrate why your argument is better than theirs. But if someone doesn’t like a story you’ve written, what are you going to say? ‘Well, you should’?”

…and trash-talks some children’s classics:

His story is a rival to the narratives put forward by two earlier Oxford writers, J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” and C.S. Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia”. Pullman loathes the way the children in Narnia are killed in a car-crash. “I dislike his Narnia books because of the solution he offers to the great questions of human life: is there a God, what is the purpose, all that stuff, which he really does engage with pretty deeply, unlike Tolkien who doesn’t touch it at all. ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is essentially trivial. Narnia is essentially serious, though I don’t like the answer Lewis comes up with. If I was doing it at all, I was arguing with Narnia. Tolkien is not worth arguing with.”

Pullman’s work, of course, addresses some of the great unanswered questions of existence. However, after reading the interview, I have a new unanswered question: what, exactly, is “whiffy cheese”?





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