Reflections both practical and philosophical on the craft and purview of tale telling, from the creator of the His Dark Materials trilogy.
Rather than dish out amusing quotes from fan letters or standard-issue author talk, Pullman (La Belle Sauvage, 2017, etc.) offers meaty but always lucidly argued ruminations on the nature of story. He explores folktales and why they endure and matter, parallels and differences between literary and visual arts, and, a central theme in HDM (which is not, he insists, fantasy but “a work of stark realism,” daemons and armored bears notwithstanding), the profound conflicts between the reductive, authoritarian Christian “Kingdom” and the freer, more ideologically spacious “Republic of Heaven.” Amid animated tributes to Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy, Milton, Blake, the “vast original energy” of Dickens, and others, Pullman draws from the language of subatomic physics to discourse on the “Fundamental Particles of Narrative,” each carrying a “metaphorical charge,” and how, for writers, each event in a new story creates a “phase space” within which all subsequent ones lurk. This is all saved from earnest or recondite lit-crit not only by the author’s evident intelligence and respect for his readers, but also a gift for dandy one-liners: “If you want to write something perfect, go for a haiku”; “No man is a hero to his novelist”; “What you think ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ is about when you’re six is not what you think it’s about when you’re forty”; “I strongly approve of original sin.” Published or presented between 1997 and 2014 and arranged in loose thematic order, these articles, talks, and introductory essays consistently demonstrate that Pullman—for all that his gaze is avowedly white and male—is as fine a thinker as he is a storyteller. It’s almost not fair.
A collection of pieces infused with abundant wisdom, provocative notions, and illuminating insights.