So, I don’t mind admitting I’m pretty much the worst person there is when it comes to asking people to write guest posts for my blog. Seriously, I’m useless.
This is basically how it goes:
Jo-“Hey, wanna write a guest post for me and become an honorary wearer of old coats?”
Unsuspecting friend– “Oh yeah, sure. Sounds great, Jo! What do you want me to write about?”
Jo – “Ahh… I knew you were going to ask me that. Just write about whatever you want.”
UF– “Um… whatever I want?”
Jo-“Yeah, definitely. I bet it’ll be perfect.”
UF– “Anything I want?”
Jo– “Of course!”
UF– “So I could write a post about a list of YA …. pets I would choose to set up their own business?”
Jo– “Sounds brilliant.”
UF– “…their own business as ice cream sellers?”
Jo– “Yep. Great.”
UF-“And how they start their own…. rugby team… on a reality television programme?”
Jo– “You know my blog. It’s not serious or high brow at all!”
I’m not joking. Ask anyone. They’ll tell you I’m not being dramatic.
Luckily, I didn’t even need to try and sell this one. I didn’t even need to come up with a convoluted plan for it.
I thought of a gaggle (collective term of bloggers?) of my favourite bloggers and simply said “Philip Pullman: Discuss”.
This is what they came up with.
SOME THOUGHTS ON NORTHERN LIGHTS BY A PULLMAN NEWBIE
When Jo told me she was planning a Pullman week, my cloak of YA shame descended upon me and I was reminded of yet another classic YA trilogy I had get to conquer (hello Hunger Games). So I made a promise to myself to complete at least the first part of this series before I started typing up this post. Because otherwise there would be no post, obvs.
So here are a few of my musings on all things Magisterium, Mrs Coulter and er, monkeys and stuff…
1) THE NORTH.
Was this supposed to be promotional material for the Arctic Circle? I swear I have never felt a stronger urge to pull on my hiking boots, grab a sledge and a pack of huskies and hot foot it to the North Pole. Ok, I have never felt any urge to do this before, but now I’m hankering after a glacial palace, Lord Asriel style. Never has the icy, barren wilderness been so entertaining. Apart from when this happened…
CALL ME TUNDRA BOY BECAUSE I MOVE LIKE AN ARCTIC LIZARD
2) The writing.
Oh my word, the writing. Usually, when I’m trying to immerse myself in a new world, well, I just can’t manage it. The picky, annoying little old lady in me is always there, tutting away at an unconvincing plot twist, or commenting on how useful and convenient it is that a particular character can make themselves invisible thanks to some useful and convenient ancient curse. Or something. Anyway, in this book not only do we have talking armour-clad polar bears, but also a polar bear that likes to drag it up a little with some gold nail varnish and has made a doll in the image of the woman he fancies… that he sits on his knee. And I bought it. All of it. No questions asked. No nit-picking. Nada.
3)We need to talk about Lyra – why couldn’t I have been like this when I was twelve? I loved her. I am in awe of her. Although I suspect if I had met a Lyra when I was this age, she would have poured scorn on my attempts to be her friend and thrown snow in my eyes.
4) Daemons – another thing I was completely convinced by. My phone broke this week and I can imagine this must have felt much like been separated from a daemon. Never have I felt so lost and empty.
5) Ok, I left this one until last, because it feels a bit strange admitting to a bear crush. Seriously, Iorek Byrnison I LOVE YOUUUUUU. *fastens polar bear posters to wall*
So, yes, my first Pullman was everything I had hoped for and more. And then some. With added polar bear. I will draw the line at eating raw seal blubber though. No matter how much it supposedly tastes of cream flavoured with hazelnuts. No doubt we’ll be seeing it on Heston Blumental’s menu in the near future.
When Jo asked me to write a little something for her Philip Pullman week I said yes immediately because holy hell do I love this man’s books!
Then I was like, what the hell am I going to write about?! You see, I love His Dark Materials trilogy. It’s rich and ambitious and heartbreaking and complicated. I wanted to be Lyra, this fierce troublemaker who had a daemon called Pan and who went to the ends of the earth to save her friend Roger. (I also remember my 12-year-old self having quite the book crush on Will. *cough*) But I realised as I started writing this that its actually been roughly ten years since I’ve read these books, so I can’t really talk about them in all that much detail!
Why haven’t I re-read them if they’re so great? I hear you cry. Well, I want to. But then I recall sobbing for hours and being an emotional wreck for like, a week, after finishing The Amber Spyglass and I talk myself out of it again. (Just thinking about the ending still upsets me. Pullman you are a brilliant evil genius and that’s all I have to say on that)
So, as you’ve no doubt already gathered, this is probably going to be a rather pointless, utterly rambly post about my love for these books. (Feel free to skip to end where you can take a cool test to find your daemon!)
What?! *innocent* Don’t look at me like that, Jo. It’s totally scientific and it’s for grown ups.
I don’t know the exact age I was when I read Northern Lights. I do know I was pretty young. I have memories of standing in my local Waterstones (or Ottakers as it was then), excitedly holding a very large, very heavy, first edition hardback of the final book in my hands. A quick look on Goodreads confirmed it was published in 2000 (O_o) – when I was 12. So it’s safe to say I was probably around 10 or 11 when I first picked up book one – read the first chapter and was so confused by it that I put it down again. I didn’t understand what a daemon was, it was complicated and unlike anything I’d ever read before and my younger self just didn’t have the patience to be swept up in the story and wait for things to make sense lol. It took about a year and several attempts until one day I simply picked it up and devoured it within days. After that, whenever I was ill I made my mum get the cassette tales (cassette tapes!!!) from the library so I could listen to them over and over again.
Some people claim these books aren’t suitable for children. I disagree. My eleven-year-old self intuitively knew I wasn’t quite ready for these books when I first picked them up, but I sensed they were something special, which is why I kept coming back to them. And when I did read finally them, I loved them. I loved them. There’s child snatchers and witches and adventures and polar bears in armour and talking daemons that can change shape and become any animal! OK, so some of it went over my head and I probably didn’t understand a lot of the theology and religion – but that didn’t ruin my enjoyment. And I liked that Philip Pullman didn’t talk down to his audience, or simplify his story just because it was in the children’s section of the bookstore. I liked that he wrote a story that thrilled and terrified me (I was seriously freaked out after it was revealed what the snatchers were doing to the stolen children). It made me hunger for more fantasy and for sophisticated, quality writing. After that I went on to read Sabriel by Garth Nix, another fantasy series I highly recommend and love just as much, and my love of fantasy is as strong as ever. His Dark Materials are those rare books that are pure fantastic storytelling for both children and adults. To this day Northern Lights continues to be my favourite of the three. Which is yours?
If you’re not a big fantasy fan, then you should definitely check out Pullman’s Sally Lockhart series, which I love just as much, if not a little bit more, depending on what day you ask me, than His Dark Materials. An intelligent, independent, headstrong young woman who solves crimes set in the Victorian era? Yes please. (Also book two – another book that left me sobbing and useless for days).
The Golden Compass Daemon Test
Who hasn’t read these books and wished they had a daemon!? I always imagined mime would be a big cat, probably a tiger, since I’ve always loved cats and it would be very cool to have a daemon that could both protect you and keep you warm during your inevitable adventures in the freezing North.
I took an online test the other day and guess what! Apparently my daemon would most likely be a Siberian Tiger or a Snow Leopard to reflect my independent soul! :D
My results were eerily spot on, so for fun why not check it out. What form would your daemon take?
[HILARIOUS ASIDE FROM JO: LOL. I just did that test and apparently I have a ‘multi-faceted soul’ and my daemon would either be a swan (I dislike birds… and swans are a bit….gnashy), an elephant (!!! Not very good when I’m trying to be all sleuth like), a koala (not very good when I don’t want to be cuddling things), a panda (Well, I do love Chinese food…) or a WOLF. I’m taking the wolf so I could finally justify knowing all the words to this song.* Also, wolves are my favourite. ]
*Like I need a justification.
Places I have sat uncomfortably while ‘just finishing this bit’ of His Dark Materials
In the store-room of a record-shop in Sheffield, hidden behind a stack of cassettes.
I was supposed to upstairs be filling shelves. We’d just got a delivery of two new ‘crossover’ books, the Harry Potter books that were all over the news and these ones by a guy I’d never heard of. Shame on me. I snuck a look the start of ‘Northern Lights’ and had bought the whole set by the end of my shift. Still haven’t read the Potter books, but I’ve read this series three times. If I had a daemon I’d want him to be a bear and I’d call him Iorek, even though I know that’s cheating.
Squeezed next to a loud, rotund family on a long-distance train with no ventilation.
I’d passed up the quick train via London for a slow journey with no changes, to give myself more time to read. My hopes of a quiet window seat were dashed shortly after departure. Thankfully, the Gallivespians were better company than my real life neighbours, but the smell of sweat & cheese & onion crisps may always remind me of how much I hate Mrs Coulter.
In the bathroom of my old flat, leant against the door so no one else could get in.
Who has money for new locks when there are books to be bought?. I’d been reading The Amber Spyglass in the bath and couldn’t put the book down long enough to get dressed, so I stayed in there til I’d finished it. I wept so loudly at the end my flatmate* thought it was a ‘cry for help’.
*I lent him the books. He understands now.
Philip Pullman has the amazing ability to make me get lost in his stories. Considering how often I read, this is actually a notable feat. As I look back at the scores of books I have read, there are things I wish authors would have done in their books—add better characterization, change up the pacing, build a more cohesive world, inject some fun. I remember these niggling points when I think about books. However, there are just some books where I absolutely cannot remember there being any of these problems. I am not in denial, those books may very well have their faults, but that is not the point. The point is that the story was so good as to make any problems unnoticeable, at least to me. My heart swells when I see His Dark Materials on my bookshelf. I think of the two days I spent reading the series my sophomore year of college. Surprisingly, it was two of my guy friends who turned me on to the trilogy. They recommended it for fans of Harry Potter and while I do not think they were wrong, I think HDM is much more fantastical than the Harry Potter series. Although they both have aspects of their world-building that attempt to ground the series in a world not so unlike our own, I’ve always felt like my imagination was working harder dreaming up Lyra’s world, with its armored bears, flying contraptions, witches, and daemons than it was in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. But maybe that’s just me. (Seriously, is it just me?)
I have two editions of the trilogy, and they are both different than the ones Jo mentioned in her post on Monday.
The boxed set is in pristine condition and it appeared in my house from a place unknown. I think this mysterious “place unknown” is otherwise known as it-was-my-sister’s-but-too-bad-because-I-am-stealing-it-and-there’s-nothing-she-can-do-about-it-now. Muahaha. I am a little bit scared to crack this set open because they are mass market paperbacks and the spines will probably crease the moment I turn the page. The other set I own is the most beautiful edition, in my opinion of course. Alas, I cannot find the first book and I have lent the books out so many times that they are basically ragged. Don’t worry, Jo, you aren’t the only one who is disappointed in the state of her books. I really want a new copy of this edition. To cherish forever and always and never muck up.
When you line up this second set, the spines spell ‘His Dark Materials’ and the entire set is just beautifully designed with no cheesy pictures. I am not exaggerating when I say that I absolutely wish the team behind this particular box set was in charge of putting together box sets of all my favorite series. (since I cannot find the first book, the two I have spell something like IS RK TERIALS. Now I am imagining some pod person 200 years in the future trying to figure out what this secret message means.)
I’ve also listened to Once Upon A Time in the North and Pullman’s world building was just as successful in that case. He elaborates on Lee Scorsby’s story from HDM and several other character make an appearance, including the armored bear. The cast of narrators, which includes Pullman himself, make the story come magically alive and the quick two and some odd hours just fly by. The thing about Pullman is that I am taking my good time finishing his entire back catalog of books and while I also want to reread HDM, I am putting it off. He is one of a rare group—the authors who are so lovely that I save them for a treat. Even when these authors are bad, they’re good. And they are rarely bad to begin with. Tamora Pierce, Melina Marchetta, Laini Taylor, Nora Roberts, Cath Crowley, Courtney Summers, and a few other authors just kill me. I consistently like their work so it saddens me when I finish anything they’ve written because it is something I will never be able to experience for the first time ever again. I still have a few more books to read by those authors and I still have a few more books to read by Philip Pullman, but I know with an almost absolute certainty that I will love them when I do, and that is why I am hoarding them away like Gollum’s precious until I can talk myself into crossing off another book I can never read for the first time again.
It saddens me when people concentrate only on the religious aspect of the His Dark Materials series. I’m not sure whether it is better to come into the series having no idea that that is a repetitive criticism by some readers or to go into it blind. I went into it with no knowledge and did not find it to be overwhelming in any way. In fact, and I know this is really embarrassing to admit, I didn’t even think about that aspect/interpretation much at all when I was reading. I think I was just having a blast. I hope no one is forgoing reading the series because they think it is religious fiction. (Well, really, atheist fiction) Likewise, I hope potential readers aren’t turned off by the movie that was created of The Golden Compass a few years back. While I actually quite enjoy the movie, the book is, as almost always, so much better. Lyra is not at all how I pictured her and I was disappointed at the casting of Daniel Craig as Lyra’s father. For those not in the know, Lyra is played by the actress who went on to play Frankie in generation 3 of Skins. I would love to see a Book vs. Movie post done on the two, though I fear it might have to be me who does it. (let me know if anyone is interested!)
I also wish Philip Pullman got the play he deserves. I think he may be far more popular in the UK than he is in the United States. I’d never heard of him until my friends recommended his most famous series to me. Most readers I’ve interacted with still haven’t heard of him, and if they have it is only because of the movie, which they vaguely remember releasing to theaters. This is a sad state of affairs and I mean to do my part to increase his readership by telling other people of his work and hopefully doing a reread soon so I can properly review the books. I’m so happy Jo asked me over to talk a little bit about Philip Pullman. Thanks, Jo!
Do you feel the same way as I do about Pullman’s work? What other authors are you saving up for fear of finishing all their work and having nothing left?
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all four brilliant ladies for sharing their thoughts and for coming up with the ideas because I was so horribly unhelpful.
I don’t know about you guys, but I think every single version of His Dark Materials are absolutely gorgeous! There hasn’t been one cover that I’ve been a bit disappointed with. Well, except the film version one… but HELLO DANIEL CRAIG. Who, actually, I kinda love as Lord Asriel. Sorry Flann! I completely agree about the religious aspect of things, I noticed it a bit more when I re-read it but I wonder whether it’s only because people have been yelling “PHILIP PULLMAN IS AN ATHEIST” at every opportunity. I’m the first person to get angry when an author puts his/her views into their book and I, personally, don’t think that Mr Pullman did this at all!
Have you recently just read them and been blown away by them, like Anna? Have you got them all lined up and are going through them like a crazy thing? And where’s the weirdest place you’ve read these books? I don’t know how Rhian did that… you know, reading these books in public. Both times I have read these series I have been a quivering wreck. Brave, brave girl.
More importantly, if you haven’t read these books, have we convinced you yet?! What more do you need us to do?
It’s your turn now!
Philip Pullman: Discuss.