Philip Pullman

Interviews | Views | Contact Pullman | Answered Letters | Recent News | Discussion

Pullman on what he believes:
"I know full well that the total amount of the things I know is a tiny little pinprick of light compared with the vast unlimited darkness that surrounds it - which is all the things I don't know. I don't know more than a tiny fragment of what it's possible to know about this world. As for what goes on outside it in the rest of the universe, it's a vast darkness full of things that I don't know. Now, somewhere in the things that I don't know, there may be a God.

But if we come down - like coming close up with a camera - getting closer and closer to this little pinprick of light, so that it begins to expand and gets bigger and bigger until we find ourselves inside it... I can see no evidence in that circle of things I do know, in history, or in science or anywhere else, no evidence of the existence of God.

So I'm caught between the words 'atheistic' and 'agnostic'. I've got no evidence whatever for believing in a God. But I know that all the things I do know are very small compared with the things that I don't know. So maybe there is a God out there. All I know is that if there is, he hasn't shown himself on earth. " Link

Pullman on the Republic of Heaven
"Firstly, a sense that this world where we live is our home. Our home is not somewhere else. There is no elsewhere. This is a physical universe and we are physical beings made of material stuff. This is where we live. Secondly, a sense of belonging, a sense of being part of a real and important story, a sense of being connected to other people, to people who are not here any more, to those who have gone before us. And a sense of being connected to the universe itself. All those things were promised and summed up in the phrase, 'The Kingdom of Heaven'. But if the Kingdom is dead, we still need those things. We can't live without those things because it's too bleak, it's too bare and we don't need to. We can find a way of creating them for ourselves if we think in terms of a Republic of Heaven. This is not a Kingdom but a Republic, in which we are all free and equal citizens, with - and this is the important thing - responsibilities. With the responsibility to make this place into a Republic of Heaven for everyone. Not to live in it in a state of perpetual self-indulgence, but to work hard to make this place as good as we possibly can." Link

"I do believe very profoundly in this notion of the Republic of Heaven--that we are all ourselves responsible for making things better, and we can't escape it by blaming anyone else for it or by shoving off the responsibility onto somebody else. It is up to each of us. I'm not trying to preach in the book, Heaven forbid, all I'm trying to do is tell a story. But if the story does resonate and reverberate in people's minds and makes them feel certain things, then perhaps that's to the good." Darkness Visible Interview

Pullman on Religion:
"When you look at organized religion of whatever sort - whether it's Christianity in all its variants, or whether it's Islam or some forms of extreme Hinduism - wherever you see organized religion and priesthoods and power, you see cruelty and tyranny and repression. It's almost a universal law.

It's not just Christianity I'm getting at. The reason that the forms of religion in the books seem to be Christian is because that's the world I'm familiar with. That's the world I grew up in and I knew. If I had been brought up as an orthodox Jew, I would no doubt find things to criticize in that religion. But I don't know that world as well as I know Christianity." Link

"We don't need lists of rights and wrongs, tables of do's and don'ts: we need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever." Carnegie Acceptance Speech

Pullman on C.S. Lewis:
"When you criticise Narnia, what you're doing, I've discovered, is not what you think. You think you're offering an opinion about the literary or moral qualities of a work of fiction. In fact, unless you offer unqualified and unstinting praise, you're blaspheming. His followers are unhinged. I got two kinds of responses to my Guardian piece: half of them said Hoorah, you've said exactly what I've been feeling for years but never dared say; and the other half accused me of mean-mindedness, spite, and every kind of twisted malevolence. A correspondent in Canada forwarded to me some of the Internet stuff (this was before I knew how to subscribe to discussions groups, so I hadn't seen it for myself). I was amazed by the frothing swivel-eyed barminess of some of it. Apparently one of my motivations was envy, because Lewis's books have sold more than mine. Well, they would, with a fifty-year start, wouldn't you think? But that was the quality of the response. So you can't criticise C.S.Lewis with any hope of a rational discussion coming out of it." Link

"I didn't read the whole of Narnia as a boy: I read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and felt slightly queasy, as if I were being pressured to agree to something I wasn't sure of. Now I can see what that was, and why I felt odd. Reading the whole sequence for the first time as an adult, I was angered and nauseated by the sneakiness of that powerful seductive narrative voice, that favourite-uncle stance, assuming my assent to his sneering attitude to anything remotely progressive in social terms, or to people with brown faces, or to children who don't seem like his own favourites." Link

"There's a distinction between the things Lewis says as a critic, which are very acute and full of sense and full of intelligent and sometimes subtle judgements - much of which I agree with - and the things he said when was possessed by the imp of telling a story, especially in his children's fiction." Link

"Narnia has always seemed to me to be marked by a hatred of the physical world. When I bring this up, people say, oh no, what nonsense! He loved his beer, loved laughter and smoking a pipe, and the companionship of his friends and so on. And so he might have done. But that didn't prevent perhaps his unconscious mind from saying something quite different in the form of a story. I'm by no means alone in attacking Lewis on these grounds." Link

The things he's being cruel to are things I value very highly. The crux of it all comes, as many people have found, with the point near the end of the Last Battle (in the Narnia books) when Susan is excluded from the stable. The stable obviously represents salvation. They're going to heaven, they're going to be saved. But Susan isn't allowed into the stable, and the reason given is that she's growing up. She's become far too interested in lipstick, nylons and invitations. One character says rather primly: 'She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown up.'" Link

"That's what I find particularly objectionable in Lewis - and also the fact that he kills the children at the end. Now here are these children who have gone through great adventures and learned wonderful things and would therefore be in a position to do great things to help other people. But they're taken away. He doesn't let them. For the sake of taking them off to a perpetual school holiday or something, he kills them all in a train crash. I think that's ghastly. It's a horrible message." Link

Pullman on criticism from religions:
"I'm kind of relying on Harry Potter to deflect all that, actually. I was quite happy for Harry Potter to get all the attention so I could creep in underneath all of it." Pullman Reaches the Garden, Link

"My response to that was to ask the publishers to print it in the next book, which they did! I think it's comical, it's just laughable. According to Peter Hitchens in the Mail on Sunday, I'm the most dangerous author in Britain. Apparently I have my own sinister agenda. " Link

From the South Bank Show Interview: "What I say to people who criticize me for attacking their religion... is simply this: what qualities in human beings does the story celebrate and what qualities does it condemn? And an honest reading of the story would have to admit that the qualities that the stories celebrates and praises are those of love, kindness, tolerance, courage, open-heartedness, and the qualities that the stories condemns are: cruelty, intolerance, zealotry, fanaticism... well, who could quarrel with that?

On Fantasy
(about his comment that His Dark Materials isn't fantasy, it's stark realism):

"I've had to deal with that frequently in the last couple days at this festival. People say, "What were you talking about? Of course you're writing fantasy!" Well, when I made that comment I was trying to distinguish between these books and the kind of books most general readers think of as fantasy, the sub-Tolkien thing involving witches and elves and wizards and dwarves. Really, those authors are rewriting The Lord of the Rings. I'm trying to do something different: tell a story about what it means to grow up and become adult, the experience all of us have and all of us go through. I'm telling a story about a realistic subject, but I'm using the mechanism of fantasy. I think that's slightly unusual." Pullman Reaches the Garden, Link

"I have said that HIS DARK MATERIALS is not fantasy but stark realism, and my reason for this is to emphasise what I think is an important aspect of the story, namely the fact that it is realistic, in psychological terms. I deal with matters that might normally be encountered in works of realism, such as adolescence, sexuality, and so on; and they are the main subject matter of the story - the fantasy (which, of course, is there: no-one but a fool would think I meant there is no fantasy in the books at all) is there to support and embody them, not for its own sake. Daemons, for example, might otherwise be only a meaningless decoration, adding nothing to the story: but I use them to embody and picture some truths about human personality which I couldn't picture so easily without them. I'm trying to write a book about what it means to be human, to grow up, to suffer and learn. My quarrel with much (not all) fantasy is it has this marvellous toolbox and does nothing with it except construct shoot-em-up games. Why shouldn't a work of fantasy be as truthful and profound about becoming an adult human being as the work of George Eliot or Jane Austen?" Link

"Lyra learns to her great cost that fantasy isn't enough. She has been lying all her life, telling stories to people, making up fantasies, and suddenly she comes to a point where that's not enough. All she can do is tell the truth. She tells the truth about her childhood, about the experiences she had in Oxford, and that is what saves her. True experience, not fantasy - reality, not lies - is what saves us in the end." Pullman Reaches the Garden, Link

"I can't read fantasy either. And I discovered that the reason I don't is because it doesn't tell me anything interesting about being a human being. In the world-of-the-dead passage in The Amber Spyglass, Lyra's fantasy doesn't satisfy the harpies. They're only satisfied when she tells them the truth. And I mean that. That's something which I can put my hand on my heart and say: I believe passionately that that is true and that books which satisfy us and feed us and nourish us have to have this substratum of genuine truth in them. And I don't see much of that in most fantasy." Darkness Visible Interview, Link

Content © 2001-2011 BridgeToTheStars.Net.
Images from The Golden Compass movie are © New Line Cinema.