Thursday, December 27, 2007

More on Philip Pullman and His Dark Materials

Philip Pullman talks to John Mullan about plot, morality, language, and Milton in His Dark Materials in the Guardian book club podcast. Quite a fascinating interview though there are a few moments when you can't help hoping that the interviewer would stop demonstrating his learning and his deep reading of Pullman's texts and let the author speak.

It is wonderful to hear an author explain and think aloud on his craft. Don't miss Pullman's responses to the audience's questions at the end of the interview.

Some excerpts:
On the criticism of his interpretation of the Bible:
The criticism comes it seems to me from people who think there is only one way of reading the Bible and its their way and if you read it another way, you are doing something wrong or evil or something. Well that's not what I believe. I think there are many ways of reading the many books of the Bible because they are all not the same thing at all. Its appropriate to read one part of it as history, another part of it as poetry, another part of it as law, another part of it as . . . nonsense and so on and we should use our judgement out here - judgement which is formed by our education, by our experience of the world and reading other things to decide which is the appropriate way to read it in each case rather than the one literally . . this is literally true and if you read it any other way you are going to go to hell which is the fundamentalist way of reading the bible which I think is wrong. Simply wrong.
On the autocracy of authorship and the democracy of reading:
. . . Here I am wondering if I should interpret my own work and tell you what it means. I am kind of reluctant to tell you what things mean because as I am the chap who wrote it that gives me a sort of authority in this field but I am not sure that I do have that sort of authority because if you think you have got a theory about what Dust means and you have worked it out you have every right to do that. When the book is finished and published, the autocracy of writing - it is an autocratic procedure. I am a despot. I am tyrant when I write because I have the absolute power of life and death over every sentence, every comma, every character. I can kill them, I can bring them to life, I can cut off this, end this chapter, and start somewhere else. I am the authority. No one can tell me not to do it. But once the book is published the autocracy of authorship comes to an end and the democracy of reading begins and that's the point where I cease to have any authority. I can't tell you what it means. I can tell you what I think it means . . . and so can anybody else. But if I tell you what I think it means that'll, because I wrote the book, people might think that is what it really means and there is no more argument about it. But I don't want that to happen. I want there to be discussion about it. I want you to think what all the things it might mean . . .
Listen/Download the Guardian book club Pullman podcast (47 minutes, 49.2 MB mp3 file )

Elsewhere Leslie Baynes wonders if the ferment about His Dark Materials is just Harry Potter vs. Fundamentalists redux, a clash that generates heat but no light? Probably not.

If you are intrigued by what Pullman had to say about authorship and reading, do read this post on the Death of the Author.

And here's an earlier Pullman post: The Art of Darkness.

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