These letters contain spoilery bad times. Just go read these books and then come back, yeah?
I have been wanting to re-read these books ever since I read them. I know it’s a cliché when people say ‘OMG I JUST WANTED TO PICK THESE BOOKS UP AGAIN AS SOON AS I’D FINISHED THEM’ but, I really did. But for whatever reason, I hadn’t until recently and it was only the fact that I was going to attend a talk by him that made me finally pick them up again. Yes, I’m the kind of girl who revises when I go to author talks. What of it?
I don’t know about you but I always get really nervous when I re-read a series that I absolutely adore. The last time I read these books I was eleven. Eleven. That was twelve years ago. A lot can change in twelve years. What would happen if I read them and realised that, actually, I kind of hate them? What happens if the twenty three year old me saw something the eleven year old me didn’t? What happens if I’ve become cynical? What happens if I have grown into the kind of grown-up who rolls her eyes at adventures with polar bears? What happens then? What happens?!
You could say I was nervous.
Luckily, nothing like that happened. If anything, I loved His Dark Materials more on the re-read. It turns out that twenty three year old me did see something that eleven year old me didn’t. Instead of seeing them as a wonderful fantasy series with some of the most brilliant characters and ideas, I saw them for they actually are: A masterpiece.
People always look at me a bit strangely when I say that if I could live in any book in the world, it would be this one. I want to climb over buildings with Lyra and Roger. I want to think about the world. I want to travel between them. I want to be challenged. I want to have the best friends a girl could have to look after to me. I want to make snowmen with Iorek.
Um, OK, the latter doesn’t actually happen in this series. But I’m guessing it’s only a matter of time before Mr Pullman writes that book. Right, PP?
Seriously though, I always find it difficult to write reviews for my favourite books. You may have guessed this already if you’ve ever read any of my reviews for my favourite books. Basically I wimp out and write poems about them, or write silly letters to the characters to distract you all from the equation: Jo + Her Favourite Books = Ridiculous Mess.
So sorry, if you expected a proper review of these books in honour of Philip Pullman Week. You should know me better by now.
Dear Mr Pullman,
I don’t know what it is about you that turns me into a ridiculous person. You see, I’m NOT a ridiculous person. OK, I might be a ridiculous person. But let’s pretend I’m not. So this whole week on my blog is because I bought tickets to go and see you at Manchester Children’s Book Festival. You remember, it rained. A LOT. Sounds fine, doesn’t it? In theory. But I know better.
You see, I’ve seen you before. Wait, that sounds creepy. I’ve been in the same room as you before. Wait that sounds even worse.
Let’s start again shall we?
Basically, you’re an honorary fellow at my old university and whenever you did a talk I dragged my friends to come with me. The first time, I had a lecture to go to so I couldn’t lug all my books up the hill and make you sign them and jabber at you for a bit. The second time, Upon My Word (I think that’s what it was called), I did lug my books up the hill, sat through your brilliant talk and I was all geared up to meet you and tell you how much your books mean to me. But then I lost my nerve and hid behind a pillar. I wish I was joking.
So, let’s say I wasn’t a ridiculous person who can’t be in your presence and squeak and blush and basically flail, which is exactly what happened in Manchester. Yep. I was that girl.
Let’s say instead of basically flailing and hiding behind Welsh architecture… this is what I said to you:
I guess some books tick boxes. Some tick a few and some tick them all. Everyone knows what sells and some people want to stick with what they know. They want their book to be a fantasy book, so they have a fantastical world, they have names with lots of consonants and random apostrophes in the middle of them and you get a handful of elves thrown in too, if you’re
And then there are other books that step out of those boxes and work outside them, creating their own.
And other books, three books to be exact, that say “I do not care for any kind of box and I’m going to break the rules of ‘children’s’ fiction and I’m going to break the rules of ‘adult’ fiction, and I’m going to say farewell to the rules of ‘fantasy’. And you know what? I am just going to be a book series that tell a story and it’s going to be a fantastic one and you’ll remember it forever, no matter what age you are.’
(I don’t know why your books sound a bit posh, by the way.)
I’d just like to thank you for ignoring those boxes.
You’re the reason I read. And you’re the reason why I write, so that one day I might be able to create stories like yours.
ps. That ending? Are you… I mean… can you… arrrgh. What happened to ‘and they all lived happily ever after?’ Eh?
pps. No… I’m joking. That ending, as much as it broke my heart… actually, it kind of took a sledgehammer to it… and then poured salt into the remains and then kinda just threw it at the nearest wall… it’s the best ending this series could have. Really, it’s the only ending this series could’ve had.
ppps. But seriously… ‘and they all lived happily ever after and nothing bad happened ever again’ would’ve been fine too.
My Dearest Lyra,
You are the girl I wished I was when I was twelve. You are the girl I desperately wish I was now.
I could probably go on and on about how fearless you are, how clever you are, how pure your heart is, how determined you are and how absolutely, positively the best heroine that has ever been written.
But I won’t. I’ll just say this: No one even comes close.
ps. He keeps his word you know. Every Midsummer’s Day, he’s there.
Hey Pan? Oh you have to be kidding. You can’t… wait… don’t fly off. You can’t still be annoyed with me. You were a moth when I first met you. A MOTH. I really, really hate moths.
OK, I know that isn’t an excuse for screaming and throwing a slipper at you. It wasn’t actually at you anyway, because I throw like a girl… it was more like in your general direction.
OK, fine. Be like that. But I won’t give up. I’m going to keep writing letters to you until you are my friend again.
Just you wait.
Lots of love and cuddles and absolutely NO slippers in your general direction,
I’m just going to come out with it. You were my first book crush. Well, ok, maybe second because I read Little Women before Northern Lights and HELLO… have you met Laurie? Um… probably not. Although, maybe… actually, can the subtle knife cut through into fictional worlds? Wow. I’ve never actually thought of that. Can you imagine how much fun we would have? I think you and Todd would be the bestest of friends.
Sorry, I forgot what I was saying. Oh yes, well, the first time I read this book I was eleven and you were twelve and you were old and wise and basically everything a girl could ask for. But then I met you again when I was twenty three and you… well, you were still twelve and things got weird.
I wrote a list and I’d like to share it with you. Is that OK?
Top Ten Reasons I Wish You Weren’t Twelve.
1) So I could admit to people that I fancy you.
2) You are so unbelievably wonderful and strong and brilliant and you have to deal with so much. And I mean it. SO much horrible stuff happens to you but you never whinge or moan or stamp your foot. Sure you might be a little bit moody but considering everything, we’ll let you off. I’ve read a lot of Young Adult/children’s books and, on the whole, the boys are such moaning minnies and all they care about is if their hair isn’t floppy enough or their smiles aren’t as crooked as it used to be. Imagine what they’d do if people were trying to kill them?
3) You like to travel. And I’m not just talking about going to Europe on a gap year. You like to travel in between worlds. This is important to me because I love travelling. I don’t really like flying though. It freaks me out a bit (don’t tell Lee!) but that wouldn’t be a problem with you and that knife, would it? Oh, the places we’d go. Slash. Hey Australia! Slash. Oh I’m in Hawaii. Slash. I’M ON THE MOON.
4) You treat girls approximately a billion times better than most boys I know, fictional and real. I mean.. you and Lyra. I just… I just… *sobs*
5) I could take you home to my mum and she’d love you. Actually, she’s already met you and she thinks you’re a star. She would definitely approve.
Wait.. this story is set in the late nineties, right? And if you were twelve then… now you’ll be at least twenty five.
Ignore everything I’ve just said.
WILL PARRY, I AM IN LOVE WITH YOU.
Seriously, so much love.
ps. I don’t know how to soak up blood with bloodmoss but I am particularly brilliant at applying Savlon.
pps. Actually, I’m not very good with blood at all. Maybe you should just keep away from me if your fingers start to bleed again.
ppps. Unless you’re good at girls who faint easily? Who am I kidding? Of course you are! You’re Will Parry.
##### OMG ######## and I couldn’t stop crying ##### seriously and when ##### and you and ##### Lyra. #### Seriously… it wasn’t####### so angry at ####### and then #### SHATTERED. ##### Death. ###### ear plugs for #### Harpy. I mean really? Put a sock in it, woman. ###### Then I was crying again. ##### I really want to hate him but I just can’t stop fancying him. #### Lyra and Will. ###### The window’s open for you. DON’T WASTE IT.######
### Tony and ‘#### DRIED FISH.
Seriously, it’s like a waterfall.
[Added by Jo: Um, this was a long, heartfelt letter to the glorious character that is Roger. Unfortunately, it became a bit… um… tear sodden and this is all I could read when I typed it up.]
Dear Geeks of the World,
So you can make Twitter, Facebook and tumblr, but you haven’t made an alethiometer?
Pull your socks up, you’re supposed to inherit the world.
Daemons 4 U Scheme: Armoured Bear Edition
Sick and tired of your boring and every day job? Ever think there is something more to life?
Are you outgoing, determined to succeed and immune to the freezing cold? Are you hard-working, friendly, innovative and with over two years’ experience of weapon making? Are you able to work alone using your own initiative but also work within a team…to battle against an army of bears? Could YOU be the one to provide companionship, conversation and the occasional cuddle to someone who is desperate for a friend….while living off only dried reindeer flesh…. That you’ve had to catch yourself…. Only using the weapon you have made….in the freezing cold?
Contact Iorek Byrnison..
Must be prepared to fight to the death in the situation arises.
Note to self: Enquire whether 3 years of high school woodwork counts as ‘weapon making’. Apply for job.
Note to self: Meet Texan aeronaut… insists he answers ONLY to Lee. Marry him.
Note to self: Buy rabbit. Call it Hester. Weep uncontrollably in its fur.
Plumb ahead, you loser!
Note to self: Plumb ahead…. For Hester. *sobs*
If you had been my A-Level science teacher, I probably wouldn’t have failed spectacularly.
Well… um… I probably would have but it would have been SO much funner with you at the helm.
I know you’re not too keen about pretending to be a daemon… and I know, I get it. That would be incredibly humiliating.
So… um, how do you feel about just standing near me on public transport so the crazies don’t talk to me. I swear I attract them.
You don’t have to answer right now, just promise me you’ll think about it, yeah?
ps. Baruch. <3
Dear Ms Coulter,
CONGRATULATIONS YOU ARE NOW THE CREEPIEST MOTHER IN YOUNG ADULT FICTION.
Please find a voucher for Marks and Spencer’s enclosed in this letter.
Because all mums love M&S bath salts, even the creepy ones.
Maybe even especially the creepy ones.
I’m kidding. But not about the M&S bath salts.
Wait, what were we even talking about? Oh yes, how you’re a creepy/bad/psychopathic mother. Seriously, you are one of the most interesting character in any book… ever. One of my major gripes with YA fiction is that adults are always overlooked. They’re either dead, alcoholics or generally absent for no apparent reason. Since I re-read HDM, I’ve decided that this probably is just me over reacting. I just compare all of the YA adults to you and Lord A.
I understand that’s unfair because you and him are impeccable and mental. Mentally impeccable. And impeccably mental. But sometimes life just isn’t fair, is it?
You of all people know this.
I mean, I feel like I don’t even know you. Are you a goody? Are you a baddie? ARE YOU JUST MISUNDERSTOOD?
Actually, do you mind if I…um, take those bath salts back off you? My head hurts trying to fathom you.
With suspicious love,
Dear Ms Coulter’s Creepy Ass Monkey,
You on the other hand, are definitely creepy and psychopathic.
And you are definitely the worst monkey in Young Adult fiction.
That probably isn’t too surprising seeing as there aren’t many monkeys in YA fiction. But if there were… you…. You’d still win.
I will never turn my back on you,
Hey Pan, did you tell my daemon to turn into a bird? Because that’s really not fair. You know I hate birds. They just freak me out, OK? They’re so flappy. Honestly… I don’t know why you’re still mad at me. My aim is so shoddy. THAT SLIPPER DIDN’T HIT YOU. Actually, you know what Pan? I’m mad at YOU. You’re very petulant, did you know that? And stubborn.
I’m kidding. I’m not mad at you at all. Please talk to me!
Dear Lord Asriel,
Mate, I can’t even write to you without giggling like a girl. There is a weird phenomenon that has happened and I’m going to call it The Daniel Craig/Lord Asriel Effect*. Um, I might need to work on that. It’s not very snappy is it?
Thing is, I first read these books, I pictured you as Christopher Plummer circa-Sound of Music. I know, right? Even when I was eleven I had good taste… or I just love Rogers and Hammerstein films and I used to watch Sound of Music approximately one billion times at Christmas. But really… have you seen him? He’s so strong and silent and wise and handsome and he’s exactly like you, I swear. Do they have Google in your world? I bet you could get Lyra to ask the alethiometer ‘Christopher Plummer- Hot or Not?’ and it would show a porpoise or something that would symbolise ‘YES. YES. A THOUSAND TIMES YES’.
Let’s face it, the alethiometer is the Google of the fantasy world.
So it’s a compliment.
But then I watched the film and now you are Daniel Craig. It’s weird because normally I blatantly ignore characters in films but when I re-read this all I could think of when you were on the page.
Whatever, either way. I win. And YOU win because you either look like Christopher Plummer or Daniel Craig or some kind of crazy, delicious hybrid.
As Young Adult Adults go… you’re one of my favourites. Because you (and Ms Coulter. I hear you two… know each other, right?) are actually a real character with a personality instead of one that just gets brought in when the heroine needs to be frowned on for misbehaving. You’re definitely still frightening though, and you would definitely be the dad that all the children would be a bit scared of and hope you wouldn’t be in if they ever slept over at your kid’s house.
A fear that, considering everything that happens at the end of the first book isn’t completely unfounded.
You know what I mean.
Um… I mean stay wise and clever and homicidal!
The important things, you know.
*This could also be named The Jennifer Lawrence/Katniss Everdeen Effect.
Dear Mr Byrnison,
I am writing to you today to apply for the job that I saw advertised on Daemons 4 U. I feel like I would be the perfect candidate for this position because I am from England and I am used to the cold and horrible weather. Which, as it says, in the job description, is vital for this role. I am strong-willed, determined to succeed and I work well within a team, preferably in life and death situations. Like rounders or netball.
I feel like I would make an excellent daemon for you because I am great at conversation and I have the ability to give alarmingly good cuddles. Also, when it gets humid, my hair goes really, really frizzy. And I feel that this is almost like I am changing species, like a true daemon.
Whereas I have no experience in making armour that will prevent you from dying, I have a GCSE in Graphics. I feel this shows that I am able to colour within the lines and use a ruler, a skill that, if I were successful in my application, would be vital to this position. I am also able to use my skills at making perfume boxes and I am confident that I would be able to apply them to manipulating iron. I can also sew really well, which would be useful for sewing up your wounds when your armour fails miserably. Which it would never do.
I’m also really excellent at close combat fighting. And when I say ‘close’ … I mean shouting encouragement from a distance.
And when I say ‘combat’…. I mean knitting.
Please find attached my CV.
I look forward to your response.
Miss Jo W.
Note to self: Write to Hollywood and ask them to make the next two books into films. Failing that, recreate the scene where Lyra and Will first get the subtle knife in Cittagazze. Because some book scenes need to be made into a film, and that’s one of them.
If can’t find actual subtle knife that cuts through to other worlds- a bread knife and some curtains will do. After all, these books are supposed to encourage imagination. Tomato sauce will do for the blood.
Are you bringing the cakes for this week’s Witch ‘n’ Bitch club? I could bring those flap jacks that I make but I’m sure you could make something better. I mean, you can’t have lived for a thousand years and NOT have picked up some delicious recipes, am I right? I’m so glad you’re making an exception for me to join in your meetings. I know I can’t come to your OFFICIAL meetings, not after that one time I did and then I was so excited that you knew who I was that I just told everyone your secrets… while wearing Ruta’s tiger tooth crown. I will get that back off the gyptians one day, I promise. I’m so glad you forgave me for that, but seeing as we’re best friends now… you know?
Last week was brilliant though, you and Ruta singing ‘I Put a Spell on You’? INSPIRED. I wish every day was a Witch ‘n’ Bitch day!
Thanks for sorting my splinter out, too. I never knew Cloud Pine was so dangerous! That’ll teach me to try and fly! HAHA.
Anyway, let me know about the flapjacks.
In a bit, dear.
ps. Kaisa didn’t happen to be in the park yesterday morning, did he? Well, no reason really. It’s nothing to worry about, I guess. I was just feeding the ducks and I got a bit giddy with the portions and, well, I saw this grey goose kind of choking on a piece. I bet it wasn’t Kaisa at all. He’ll be fine.
pps. Seriously, have you seen him?
I’m so glad we’re talking again. Isn’t this better for everyone? I think Lyra’s glad because now she won’t have to sit on you and read out my letters so you have no choice but to listen to them.
You are my favourite fluffy companion in any YA book. And that’s some feat, considering this past year I have become embarrassingly attached to animal companions in books. I have no idea what’s come over me. Anyway, you will always win. Always.
And I’ll always get choked up when you and Lyra… and the boat… and the… gosh, I can’t even think about it.
Promise me you’ll stick together for ever and ever? And you’ll still let Lyra get away with a little bit of mischief every now and again? Life’s no fun without mischief.
Look after Lyra for me,
Love you lots.
ps. If you see my daemon, could you tell him to fix into something fluffy and cuddly? Thanks Pan, I owe you one mate.
pps. I really am sorry about the slipper.