Speaking of Philip Pullman
Posted on December 7, 2007 Posted by John Scalzi 6 Comments
The folks at Rough Guides, who will be bringing out the second edition of my astronomy book early next year, were kind enough to send along The Rough Guide to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, which, very much as the title suggests, tells you all about the world Pullman created, a bit about the movie that’s come out today, and also a bit about the noise surrounding the books, particularly Pullman’s own view on religion and the response to the same.
I’m a sucker for books like these; I like it you have something that allows you to tell all the players apart and get the lay of the land and give you a bit of context in the bargain; they’re essentially history books of fictional worlds. And this one, as it turns out, is pretty good; most of the character and plot stuff I already had in hand from reading the books, but at least some of the background stuff was new to me, and of course, as noted in today’s Month of Writers installment by Brandon Sanderson, there’s enough controversy around Pullman’s point of view that it’s nice to get a good overview of that.
In any event, if you’re a sucker for these sorts of books, like I am, or just want to be able to talk about all this stuff at parties even if you’ve just only started the first book, here you go. Also, as a complete aside, one day I want one of my universes to be popular enough to get a Rough Guide treatment. The Rough Guide to the Colonial Union is not too much to ask for. Of course, having a $180 million movie come out, based on my universe, would help. I’m open to that.
I read the Pullman novels before I knew there was any controversy over them. I was just browsing Barnes and Noble one Christmas, and they were in a box set. And that’s one of my rules of thumb – author I’ve not read whose books are well-liked enough to get an omnibus edition or a box set, I usually pick up either the omnibus or the first volume. It’s a fairly good rule – about 80% of the time I get a new author to my list to follow, and the other 20% the books are usually high quality, so not a complete waste of time.
In this case, I didn’t think the first book was great, but it was good enough to pick up the other two. I haven’t, however, reread them since picking them up. They didn’t affect me strongly enough to do that.
But having seen some of the controversy since, I can certainly understand it. They didn’t strike me as excessively anti-religious while reading them, but having read comments by the author it’s obvious that he intended them that way. So I take the author at his word.
No, we can’t understand the books, we need to make people afraid of them so that they won’t be tainted by reading several prize winning and acclaimed works because it might “confuse the kiddies.”
But the movie has flying witches, zepplins, steam-punk, AND armored polar bears. How freakign cool is that!
Do authors/musicians get compensation from the Rough Guide publishers if the reference work is specific to a creative work?
No, probably not.
It’s worth pointing out that not all Christians are hysterically opposed to the books or the film. I think Brandon Sanderson has a good handle on things, as do others.
I’d be seeing The Golden Compass myself this weekend if my local theater chain hadn’t /finally/ gotten around to showing the Coen Brothers return to form, No Country For Old Men. I’ve been waiting longer to see that, and will take in TGC next weekend.
On a related note, the CBC radio show Writers and Company has a long two-part interview with Pullman. That link has it available in RealAudio; the show also has a podcast. Warning: the interviewer asks thematic questions about all three books, so there are lots of spoilers.