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Best known for the multi-award-winning fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials, British author Philip Pullman is one of our most distinguished writers of children's literature.
- Books By Philip Pullman
The Golden Compass
The Subtle Knife
The Amber Spyglass
His Dark Materials: Northern Lights / The Subtle Knife / The Amber Spyglass
La Belle Sauvage
- His Dark Materials
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The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ
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The Scarecrow and His Servant
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The Golden Compass, The Graphic Novel: Complete Edition
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The Shadow in the North
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Clockwork or all wound up
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The Tiger in the Well
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The Tin Princess
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The Firework-Maker's Daughter
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I Was a Rat! or The Scarlet Slippers
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Two Crafty Criminals!: and how they were Captured by the Daring Detectives of the New Cut Gang
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The Adventures of John Blake: Mystery of the Ghost Ship
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La Tour des Anges #1-3
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Philip Pullman Books In Order
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Philip Pullman is a British author who is best known for his young adult novels, most of which can be classed under the genre of fantasy fiction. Although he is a prolific writer with a long line of published books to his name, his most famous works are Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, which together comprise the His Dark Materials trilogy. Both critically and commercially successful, many of Philip Pullman’s novels have been adapted for television as well as the silver screen.
A Youth Spent in Travel
Philip Pullman was born on October 19, 1946 to Alfred O. Pullman, a Royal Air Force pilot, and his wife, Audrey Evelyn Pullman. While he was born in Norwich, England, he spent the first few years of his life travelling the world with his family, as his father was stationed to various posts. However, when Philip was barely seven years old, his father passed away in a plane crash while on active duty. His mother moved the family back to England, but soon remarried and took her son to Australia to start a new life.
As a child, Philip found himself fascinated by the world of comic book superheroes, and he would carry the moral lessons and grand narrative themes of good versus evil and cosmic battle into his own work. In 1957 Philip returned to the United Kingdom, where he continued his schooling in Gwynedd, Wales, although he spent a lot of time in Norfolk as well, under the care of his grandfather, who was a clergyman. The time he spent with his grandfather was pivotal to his later atheistic beliefs as well as the religious and moral themes that underlie his work.
University and the Academic Life
In 1963, Philip Pullman began his higher education at the prestigious Exeter College at Oxford University. However, despite his later success as a writer, he proved to be a mediocre student at best, barely graduating five years later with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Ironically enough, in later years Pullman reflected on his time as a student of English as not being very inspiring and clearly states that it was not an enjoyable experience for him.
In 1970, Philip Pullman married Judith Speller and settled down to life as a middle school teacher in North Oxford. While there, he wrote the first of many school plays and began work on his first published novel, The Haunted Storm. While it garnered him a coveted Young Writer’s Award, Pullman with his typical modesty refers to it as a poor effort, and for the most part shies away from discussing the novel.
Over the next several years, Pullman continued teaching at school and simultaneously worked on his plays and novels. He published a few more books over the next few years, most notably Galatea in 1976 and The Ruby in the Smoke, the first of his Sally Lockhart series, in 1986. With the publication and critical success of The Ruby in the Smoke, Philip Pullman became well-established as a writer of young adult fiction and was well on his way to becoming one of the most prodigious literary talents of our time.
Although he continued to teach, he gave up his permanent position as a middle school teacher in 1988 and took a position as a part-time instructor at Oxford’s Westminster College. While he continued to create plays for school children, he also began work on a series of more adult novels at this time, the first of which was published in 1995. Entitled The Northern Lights, it was the first book of his seminal trilogy, His Dark Materials and gained him critical acclaim as well as a number of literary awards, including the highly prestigious Carnegie Medal.
The Northern Lights
The Northern Lights is the first installment in the chronicles of a young English girl named Lyra Belacqua, who lives in a parallel universe dominated by the authority and tyranny of a body known as the Magesterium, which forms a theocracy that is single-mindedly devoted to the ruthless suppression of anything they deem to be heresy. It is a complicated world, in which humans lives with a disjointed soul that is embodied in the form of an animal companion, called a daemon. In this world, each human has a daemon of their own that accompanies them throughout their life – the daemon is an integral part of the human being it is attached to, and no human can survive detached from their daemon.
The plot centers on Lyra’s quest to find her Uncle Asriel, a scientist who has incurred the wrath of the Magesterium for pursuing his research into a substance he calls Dust. During a visit to his niece, he disappears mysteriously through a portal into a parallel universe. Around the same time, Lyra’s best friend Roger disappears as well and the young heroine is convinced that his disappearance is connected to the activities of a shadow group called the Gobblers. Determined to find her friend and her uncle, Lyra embarks on a quest to save them, aided by her daemon and an alethiometer, a four-sided compass which points her unerringly to the truth.
Over the course of a series of adventures, Lyra finds her uncle, only to discover that he is really her father and that his purpose all along was to use Roger to his advantage. In the final act of the novel, Lord Asriel severs Roger from his daemon and the resultant violent energy causes a massive explosion to rip through time and space, opening the door for Asriel to enter the parallel universe he has been searching for. As he enters the portal, he vows to find the Dust and destroy it. However, Lyra knows now that her father cannot be trusted, and suspecting that the Dust is worth protecting, she enters the void along with her daemon to stop her father from carrying out his plans.
Published in America as The Golden Compass, The Northern Lights was adapted into a major Hollywood motion picture in 2007, starring such heavyweights as Nicole Kidman and Ian McKellan. However, box office reviews were mixed and any plans to adapt the remaining works in the series into movies have been put on hold indefinitely.
The Subtle Knife
The Subtle Knife is the second in the His Dark Materials trilogy and continues the story of Lyra Belacqua’s adventures. The story continues to revolve around Lyra’s attempts to find and stop her father, this time with the aid of a young boy named Will Parry, who accidentally fell through the door into Lyra’s parallel universe. Lyra and Will join forces to find Will’s father, later revealed to be the mysterious adventurer Stanislaus Grumman, and stop Lord Asriel. However, they face a serious threat from the council of witches who have banded together under the command of Lyra’s mother, Mrs. Coulter, in order to support the cause of the evil Lord Asriel. Matters are further complicated by the discovery of a knife, which when wielded by its true guardian can protect people from the evil Spectres, which prey on the souls of people in this parallel universe. Will finds that he is the true guardian of the knife and the young protagonists struggle to keep this vitally valuable weapon from Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter. As the book winds to a close, Lyra disappears, leaving behind her prized alethiometer. Determined to find her, Will continues on his journey, temporarily abandoning his quest for Lord Asriel.
Criticism and Atheism
Like most of his works, the His Dark Materials trilogy has received rave reviews and a great deal of critical acclaim. However, Pullman’s blatantly anti-theistic views have caused more religiously conservative readers to criticize his work somewhat harshly. An avowed atheist and philosopher, Pullman takes these criticisms in stride, arguing that his goal is to present a new interpretation of the typical religious duality, presenting the world in shades of grey where morality is really in the eye of the beholder.
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Philip Pullman | First Editions
Philip Pullman CBE, FRSL (born 19 October 1946) is the author of several best-selling books, most notably the award-winning fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials and the fictionalised biography of Jesus, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ . In 2008, The Times named Pullman one of the "50 greatest British writers since 1945", alongside writers such as George Orwell, Roald Dahl, and Ian Fleming. In addition to a highly successful literary career, Pullman has been a vocal campaigner against the age and gender labelling of children's books. In 2008, Pullman led a movement opposing the introduction of age bands on the covers of children’s books. More than 1,200 authors, booksellers, illustrators, librarians and teachers joined the campaign. Pullman’s own publisher, Scholastic, agreed to his request not to put the age bands on his book covers. 6 years later, Pullman publicly supported the " Let Books Be Books" campaign, which opposed children’s books from being labelled as ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’. He was praised for his statement, "No publisher should announce on the cover of any book the sort of readers the book would prefer. Let the readers decide for themselves". See below our stock of Philip Pullman First Editions, fine bindings, sets and other collectible material.
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The Art of Darkness: Staging The Philip Pullman Trilogy.
London: National Theatre, 2003. [Theatre] SIGNED FIRST EDITION. Octavo (24 x 17cm), pp.120. Illustrated throughout with black and white photographs. SIGNED by both Butler and Pullman in blue ink to title page. Publisher's black soft covers, priced at £12.99. A fine, as-new copy. All about how the 'His Dark Materials'..... More
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Paradise Lost. An Illustrated Edition with an introduction by Philip Pullman.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. [Literature] SIGNED FIRST EDITION THUS. Octavo (24 x 16cm), pp. 374 . SIGNED by Pullman in blue ink to title page.Text printed in red and black. With facsimile plates of twelve engravings from the first illustrated edition. Publisher's black cloth, with gilt titles to spine..... More
The Scarecrow and his Servant.
London: Doubleday, 2004. [Children's Illustrated] INSCRIBED FIRST EDITION. Octavo (23 x 16cm), pp. 230 . With frequent in-text line drawings by Bailey, somewhat in the style of Ardizzone. INSCRIBED by the author in blue ink to title page: 'Greetings to Oliver — | Philip Pullman.' Publisher's green cloth with gilt..... More
Puss in Boots. The Adventures of That Most Enterprising Feline.
London: Doubleday, 2000. SIGNED FIRST EDITION. Slim Quarto (30 x 26cm). SIGNED by the author. Illustrated throughout by Ian Beck. Publisher's pictorial boards in matching dust-jacket, pictorial endpapers. A fine/as new copy, carefully warehoused ny ourselves since publication. More
London: David Fickling Books, 2003. [Fantasy] FIRst Edition. Octavo (18 x 12cm), pp.55. Publisher's red cloth boards, titles in black to spine, paper title label to upper board. Grey endpapers, with fold-out map. A touch of light wear to cloth. A crisp, near fine copy. 'Lyra's Oxford' is the accompanying..... More
The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage [and] The Secret Commonwealth.
Oxford and London: David Fickling Books in association with Penguin Books, 2017. [Fantasy Fiction] FIRST EDITIONS. Two volumes. Octavo (16 x 25cm), pp. 545 ; pp. 686 . Vignette chapter head pieces by Chris Wormell. Publisher's black cloth with gilt lettering to spine, and gilt speckling to boards. Blue and..... More
The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage.
London: David Fickling Books, 2017. [Young Adult Fantasy] SIGNED BY THE ILLUSTRATOR, third printing thus. Octavo (25 x 17cm), pp.546. Publisher's gilt and silver decorated black cloth, with wave-decorated endpapers. With the illustrated dust-jacket, priced at £20.00. A fine copy. Pullman returns to the world of the His Dark Materials..... More
À Outrance [His Dark Materials].
Fyfield, Oxfordshire: Oak Tree Fine Press, 2009. [Epic fantasy] SIGNED LIMITED EDITION, with signed illustrations and two-line manuscript quote. Copy no.41 of 65. Small folio (34 x 25cm), pp.43; , blank; , Imprint; , blank. Typeset in Caslon, text and engravings printed by Hand and Eye Letterpress, London. Three wood..... More
Count Karlstein, or, the Ride of the Demon Huntsman. Illustrations By Diana Bryan.
London: Doubleday, 2002. [Gothic Fantasy] SIGNED FIRST PRINTING thus; originally published in 1982, this edition is newly illustrated. SIGNED BY THE AUTHOR. Publisher's cloth, fine, in very near fine wrapper. By the prize-winning author of 'His Dark Materials' trilogy. Author's signature to the title page in blue ink. Pullman's first..... More
Galatea. A Novel.
London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1978. [Fantasy] SIGNED FIRST EDITION. Octavo (21 x 14cm), pp.287; . publisher's green cloth, gilt titles to spine, dust-jacket designed by Linda Garland with printed price of £5.75 net. Signed by the author to the title page. Small bump to the top of the rear board..... More
His Dark Materials [Tenth Anniversary SIGNED set]. Northern Lights [Golden Compass]. The Subtle Knife. The Amber Spyglass.
London: Scholastic Press, 2005. [Fantasy Literature] SIGNED LIMITED EDITION SET. Three volumes. Octavo (21 x 17cm). Each volume one of 1000 copies signed and numbered by the author. Hardbacks with dust-jackets, housed in matching slipcases. As-new copies, each volume unopened in the original shrink-wrap. A special edition celebrating the 10th..... More
His Dark Materials; 1. Northern Lights [Golden Compass] 2. The Subtle Knife 3. The Amber Spyglass.
London: Point / Scholastic Press / David Fickling, 1995-2000. [Modern literature] ALL FIRST EDITIONS, with publisher's SIGNED bookplate loosely inserted in first book. 3 volumes, octavos (23 x 14 x 12cm), pp. 399 , pp. 341 , pp. 550 . Publisher's cloth in original pictorial dust-jackets, all being the correct..... More
Sally Lockhart Trilogy: The Ruby In The Smoke, The Shadow in the Plate and The Tiger in the Well.
Oxford University Press and Viking Books 1985, 1986, 1991. [Children's Literature] COMPLETE FIRST EDITIONS. Three volumes, octavos (23 x 15 x 8cm), the first being SIGNED BY THE AUTHOR. Publisher's hardcovers in illustrated jackets. Autograph of Philip Pullman in blue ink to title page of the first volume. Some expected..... More
The Shadow in the Plate [The Shadow in the North].
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986. FIRST EDITION. Octavo. pp. 236. Publisher's blue cloth, lettered in silver, in pictorial dust-jacket designed by Barrie Thorpe. Large water stain to upper board and front cover of jacket, not immediately visible. Very good overall. Sequel to 'The Ruby in the Smoke' (1985), and later..... More
[Theatre poster] His Dark Materials.
London: National Theatre, 2003. [Theatre promotion] Poster for the 2003 adaptation of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Approximate dimensions 51 x 76cm. Rolled. A fine, as-new copy (magnets used in display image, not pinned). Item will be despatched in a tube. A striking poster advertising the acclaimed National Theatre..... More
Stage Premiere of His Dark Materials: Parts One and Two [How To Read The Alethiometer].
London: The National Theatre, 2003. [Theatre Programme] ORIGINAL PROGRAMME, BOOKMARK AND SIGNED BOOKLET. Octavo (24 x 14cm), pp.. Including interviews with both Wright and Pullman about the creation of the play, and profiles of the cast. Also including the rare fold-out booklet 'How to Read the Alethiometer,' loosely inserted. Publisher's..... More
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Philip Pullman Books
The firework-maker's daughter by philip pullman.
From the author the His Dark Materials trilogy and La Belle Sauvage. Featuring wonderful new illustrations from Peter Bailey this beautiful fairyta...
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman 3 Books Collection Set - Ages 12-17 - Paperback
Titles in this set: Northern Lights The Subtle Knife The Amber Spy Glass Description:Northern Lights: His Dark Materials 1Without this child, we...
The Sally Lockhart Mysteries 4 Books Collection by Philip Pullman - Ages 9-14 - Paperback
Title in This Set :1. The Ruby in the Smoke2. The Shadow in the North3. The Tiger in the Well4. The Tin Princess Description:The Ruby in the Smoke...
The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman 2 Books Collection Set (His Dark Materials) - Ages 12-17 - Paperback
Titles in This Set: La Belle Sauvage The Secret Commonwealth Description:La Belle SauvageMalcolm Polstead's Oxford life has been one of routine, ...
His Dark Materials Novellas by Philip Pullman 3 Books Collection Set - Ages 12-17 - Hardback
If you're a fan of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, then you must grab this collection of novellas. Read between the original trilogy and The B...
His Dark Materials: Gift Edition including all three novels Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
Now a major critically acclaimed BBC series This special collection features all three titles in the award-winning trilogy: Northern Lights, The Su...
The Imagination Chamber by Philip Pullman
Master storyteller Philip Pullman returns to the world of Lyra and Will, Mrs Coulter and Lee Scoresby, Pantalaimon and Iorek Byrni...
The Collectors (His Dark Materials and The Book of Dust) by Philip Pullman
'D'you - er - have you seen her before?''Yes. I know who she is.''But, Grinstead, this painting is seventy years old - probably nearer eighty! You'...
The Subtle Knife: The Graphic Novel by Philip Pullman
Enter the remarkable world of His Dark Materials like never before with this stunning, full-colour graphic novel. Lyra has stepped into a brand-n...
Daemon Voices: On Stories and Storytelling by Philip Pullman
Warm, entertaining, and above all thought-provoking, Daemon Voices provides a remarkable insight into the mind of one of our greatest writers. He e...
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
A two-play dramatisation of Philip Pullman's extraordinary award-winning fantasy trilogy, first seen at the National Theatre. His Dark Materials ...
Lyra's Oxford by Philip Pullman
This book contains a story and several other things. The other things might be connected with the story, or they might not; they might be connected...
Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
A stunning full-colour illustrated gift hardback to celebrate the 25th anniversary of NORTHERN LIGHTS, with breathtaking art throu...
Lyra's Oxford: Illustrated Edition by Philip Pullman
A full-colour beautiful gift edition of this magical story featuring Lyra and Pan, set in the world of Philip Pullman's ground-breaking His Dark ...
Grimm Tales: For Young and Old by Philip Pullman
A phenomenal bestselling author meets the most magical stories ever told, now in a beautiful clothbound classics editionIn this stunningly designed...
In this beautiful book of classic fairy tales, award-winning author Philip Pullman has chosen his fifty favourite stories from the Brothers Grimm a...
His Dark Materials: The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
The second volume in Philip Pullman's groundbreaking HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy, now a thrilling, critically acclaimed BBC/HBO series. "W...
The Tiger in the Well
The third book in Philip Pullman's classic SALLY LOCKHART quartet in a beautiful new edition. Sally Lockhart is 25, and somebody wants...
The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
The third volume in Philip Pullman's groundbreaking HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy, now a thrilling, critically acclaimed BBC/HBO televisio...
The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
The second volume in Philip Pullman's groundbreaking HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy, now a thrilling, critically acclaimed BBC/HBO series. "What is he?...
Once Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman
A mesmerising episode from the universe of His Dark Materials and The Book of Dust, giving us an extraordinary insight into this world and its char...
Four Tales by Philip Pullman
Four stories of myth, magic and adventure from the master teller of talesThe Firework Maker's DaughterI Was A Rat!ClockworkThe Scarecrow and His Se...
I Was a Rat! Or, The Scarlet Slippers by Philip Pullman
Featuring wonderful new illustrations from Peter Bailey, this intriguing and exciting tale of chance and misfortune by multi award-winning Philip P...
Count Karlstein by Philip Pullman
The very first children's novel by Philip Pullman, Count Karlstien is a deliciously terrifying, wickedly funny adventure, beautifully illustrated b...
Serpentine : A short story from the world of His Dark Materials and The Book of Dust
**Don't miss the second series of His Dark Materials on BBC One this November.**A brand new short story set in the world of His Dark Materials and ...
Spring-Heeled Jack by Philip Pullman
A fun, thriller of an adventure told in words and pictures from master storyteller, Philip Pullman, including beautiful cover illustration by Peter...
The Definitive Guide to Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials: The Original Trilogy
The extraordinary world of Philip Pullman's bestselling trilogy is explored in all the detail any fan of the books will ever need. With i...
The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman
The first book in Philip Pullman's classic SALLY LOCKHART quartet in a beautiful new edition. Soon after Sally Lockhart's father drowns a...
The first volume in Philip Pullman's groundbreaking HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy, now a thrilling, critically acclaimed BBC/HBO television series. Fi...
The Secret Commonwealth (His Dark Materials: The Book of Dust 2) by Philip Pullman
**Don't miss the second series of His Dark Materials on BBC One this November.**From the author of the phenomenal His Dark Materials comes the next...
La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One by Philip Pullman
From the world of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials- now a major critically acclaimed BBC series *Now coming to the stage in the summer of this y...
Philip Pullman was born in Norwich and has had a career spanning over 40 years. His first novel, The Haunted Storm , was published in 1973, but his most popular series is His Dark Material s Series which started with The Northern Lights , called The Golden Compass in the US in 1995.
Pullman has released many other literary series over the years. The Sally Lockheart series began with The Ruby in the Smoke (1985) and ended with The Tin Princess (1994). He has also released The New Cut Gang series , The Book of Dust Series , and various standalone novels for children and adults.
His Dark Materials
Philip Pullman’s Young Adult Fantasy trilogy, His Dark Materials , follows Lyra Belacqua and her animal Daemon Pantalaimon (Pan for short) through an alternate version of our Earth. She is trying to discover more about her family and growing interest in her uncle Asriel’s research in ‘Dust’.
The first book in the series is Northern Lights , also known as The Golden Compass . Published in 1995, this novel begins with a roughly eleven-year-old Lyra living at Jordon College, Oxford. The adventures continue for Lyra in book two of the His Dark Materials trilogy, The Subtle Knife . Published in 1997, Lyra meets Will Parry, who appears to be from a different world, one much closer to our world.
Philip Pullman stated that his primary source of inspiration was John Milton’s Paradise Lost. His Dark Materials uses the idea of good and evil, God, Angels and the Devil that Milton describes in his 17th-century epic poem.
The final book in the trilogy is The Amber Spyglass , published in 2000. However, the adventure doesn’t end here; Pullman also released several short stories and novellas that tie in with the trilogy. These are Lyra’s Oxford, Once Upon a Time in the North , The Collectors , Serpentine and most recently, The Imagination Chamber .
Pullman has produced many other novels through the years, including The Sally Lockhart Series and The Book of Dust Trilogy , with the final book yet to be released. He has also released children’s novels, including Count Karlstein, Spring-Heeled Jack, I was a Rat! or The Scarlet Slippers . Check out our Four Philip Pullman Fairy Tales Boxset or Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales for Young and Old , an anthology of fairytales specifically chosen by Pullman with an introduction explaining their importance and their background.
About the Author
Sir Philip Nicholas Outram Pullman was born in Norwich in 1946. His father was an RAF pilot, so the family travelled significantly due to his role. Throughout his childhood, Pullman travelled to India, Yemen, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, and the Canary Islands. His father died in combat in Kenya when Pullman was seven.
He attended boarding schools as a child and studied at Exeter College, Oxford. As he started to build worlds for His Dark Materials , he drew inspiration from his own experiences at school and University. He has been writing full-time since 1996 and specialises in Young Adult and Children’s fiction.
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25 years of His Dark Materials: Philip Pullman on the journey of a lifetime
When Pullman began to write Lyra’s adventure in 1993, the world was a very different place. He looks back on the creation of his alternative Brytain
- Read and listen to an exclusive extract from Serpentine below
I t was 1993 when I thought of Lyra and began writing His Dark Materials . John Major was prime minister, the UK was still in the EU, there was no Facebook or Twitter or Google, and although I had a computer and could word-process on it, I didn’t have email. No one I knew had email, so I wouldn’t have been able to use it anyway. If I wanted to look something up I went to the library; if I wanted to buy a book I went to a bookshop. There were only four terrestrial TV channels, and if you forgot to record a programme you’d wanted to watch, tough luck. Smart phones and iPads and text messaging had never been heard of. The announcers on Radio 3 had not yet started trying to be our warm and chatty friends. The BBC and the National Health Service were as much part of our identity, of our idea of ourselves as a nation, as Stonehenge.
Twenty-seven years later I’m still writing about Lyra, and meanwhile the world has been utterly transformed.
To some extent, my story was protected from awkward change because I set it in a world that was not ours. It was like ours, but different, so I could take account of the real-world changes that helped my story, and ignore those that didn’t. I didn’t want to write a pure fantasy of the Tolkien sort , unconnected at any point with the real world, because the real world was exactly what fiction ought to be dealing with; but I’d always felt ignorant about the real world, whatever and wherever that was. I could probably have written a realistic novel about teaching in the sort of school I was teaching in at the time, but I didn’t want to, probably because I wouldn’t have wanted to read one; and because of a combination of timidity and idleness, I knew practically nothing about anything else.
The only stories I could write confidently were set in this world at another time ( the Sally Lockhart series , set in the 1870s and 80s), or fairy tales ( Clockwork , The Firework-Maker’s Daughter , and so on), or at our own time in another world: the kind of thing that became His Dark Materials . I hoped this new venture would turn out to let me write realistically about human beings while making up whatever they needed by way of a world to live and breathe and move and work in.
Surely it should be possible to write fantasy (if that was what this was: I still don’t like that term) so as to embody a theme from the real world?
But that aim or purpose, or theme, wasn’t where I started. It’s far too abstract. I know some writers do start with a theme and make up a story to illustrate it, and some fine books have been written like that. But I can’t work in that way. In fact I don’t start with a theme in mind at all, but with characters in particular situations. If I’m lucky a theme becomes visible to me before I reach the end of the story, so I can go back and cut, or shape, or move, or amplify, or reduce various parts of the text in order to clarify the theme I’m beginning to see.
In the case of His Dark Materials, it wasn’t until I’d got halfway through the first part, Northern Lights , that I realised I was writing a story about leaving childhood behind, or the journey from innocence to experience. I was happy to discover that, because I thought I might have something to say about it; I was just rather surprised to find that the story I was writing had been perfectly shaped, no doubt by my unconscious mind, to contain and express it.
Anyway, the final part, The Amber Spyglass , was published in 2000, and I went on to write other things. But Lyra hadn’t finished the journey towards experience: she’d only begun it. There were many things she had yet to learn, and I was curious to see how this would happen.
So in 2004 I wrote a short story which I called Serpentine , set five years after the end of The Amber Spyglass, in which I discovered that Lyra’s lifelong and mutually devoted relationship with her dæmon Pantalaimon had a flaw in it, just the smallest hint of a crack or fracture; nothing serious just then, but it contained the possibility of something extremely serious that might come later on.
By the time of The Secret Commonwealth (2019), the action of which takes place when Lyra is 20 years old, that crack has secretly snaked its way between them, and become a gulf. Other factors have contributed to this estrangement, not least the influence of two books Lyra has been reading, both of which Pantalaimon detests: one of them sternly rejects the illogical, the irrational, the imagination, while the other rejects the possibility of truth altogether. Finally, unhappy and impatient, he vanishes, leaving her devastated.
I certainly hadn’t seen this coming back in 1993, when I discovered that Lyra had a dæmon, but it did provide a vivid way of picturing something I’d been obsessed by for years: the cast of mind that William James called “the Sick Soul” ( The Varieties of Religious Experience , 1902). A profound sense of alienation, from oneself and from the rest of life, is something Lyra is experiencing right now, as I continue to write about her. In her world this can be dramatised or pictured by the loss of her dæmon, but it’s an experience that torments its victims just as savagely in our own world, where it has no such visible consequence. The condition I mean can vary in intensity; at one end it’s experienced as something mild, no more than a lowness of spirits, a wistful sadness, an almost sensuous languishing in autumnal nostalgia. At the other end it’s monstrous, pitiless. It makes you hate yourself, and it can kill you. Medication might be able to dull it a little, and kindness helps; but it can’t be cured by reason. Rationality itself breaks down and retreats in confusion. This is something that Pantalaimon has to learn as well as Lyra, but I can’t say any more about it here. The story is still working itself out.
And it’s not only Lyra and Pan who have changed: their world has become a different and harsher place. The Magisterium, that loose assembly of different organisations that embodied the authority of the church, has come together in a single body with a single leader, and is so much the more of a threat to freedom of thought and speech. At the same time, civic and public life in Brytain and elsewhere is coming more and more under the influence of large corporations and other bodies with no democratic accountability. Turmoil in the Middle East and Central Asia has forced thousands of refugees to flee their homelands and take to the sea in the hope of reaching safety.
Lyra is caught up in all this political activity, and has to find a way through it that’s true to her vision of “the republic of heaven”. And the crux of it all is her, and our, understanding of the term imagination . Pantalaimon leaves her, so he says, in order to search for the imagination he claims she’s lost. She is surprised to find how hurt she feels by this accusation. After all, wasn’t a great deal of her childhood success as a liar, that talent that kept her alive in more than one desperately dangerous situation, due to her imagination?
Well, not quite. As early as Chapter 15 of Northern Lights , I’d said of Lyra that “Being a practised liar doesn’t mean you have a powerful imagination. Many good liars have no imagination at all; it’s that which gives their lies such wide-eyed conviction.” Imagination, as Pantalaimon understands, is not just a superficial facility for making things up. It’s much deeper, much more complex and mysterious than that, and it involves the whole of our being. A good deal of my own thinking about the imagination has been illuminated by William Blake, of course, and also by Iain McGilchrist’s inexhaustible book The Master and His Emissary , which explores the profound difference between the left and right halves of the brain.
But it’s not hard to be so affected by the powerful ideas of this poet or that philosopher that we end up by creeping about in our own invented worlds trying not to make a noise or knock something over, and checking everything we write against the authority of the great thinkers whose influence has come to dominate us. I learned long ago that while their authority might be supreme in their own books, in my book the authority was mine. I make the rules here.
Most of the rules elsewhere, though, are increasingly policed by algorithms. The publishing life of His Dark Materials happened to coincide with several enormous changes in the world of bookselling and publishing, all connected: the end of the net book agreement and the arrival of the massive discounting of bestsellers, the vast sudden undreamed-of might of Amazon and online bookselling, and the development of electronic point-of-sale data such as Nielsen BookScan, which enabled publishers to keep a much closer eye on what was actually selling.
These developments affected His Dark Materials as they did every other book published in the past 25 years or so. I’m often asked whether the stories about Lyra are children’s books or not, because apparently they don’t seem like it. Sometimes categories like children’s book seem like the idea of species in the era before Darwin: divisions that are fixed, essential, ordained by God. But labels such as true crime, biography, fiction in translation, children’s books, travel, mind body and spirit and so on are there to help publicists, booksellers, librarians, marketing researchers, literary editors, and (ultimately) accountants. They were not developed to help writers. Our job is to tell the story as well as we can, not to decide how to sell it or work out which shelf to put it on; that’s someone else’s job. Northern Lights and its successors were initially marketed for children, reviewed by children’s literature experts, sold in children’s bookshops, confined to children’s libraries and so on, not because that was what I had wanted or intended or hoped for, but because they were published by a children’s publisher, so they had to be categorised as children’s books, for reasons that had more to do with algorithms than with anything else.
But these frontiers are permeable. Readers, I’m glad to say, seem to take little notice of them. Parents were happy enough to read His Dark Material s if urged to by their children; and I’ve often noticed that the most popular shelf in the library is the one labelled “Returned Books”, where the books are put before they’re sorted out and put back tidily in their proper places. Serendipity is a much better guide to discovery and pleasure than knowing what you like and sticking to it. There are large areas of life where algorithms are no help.
And I’m still writing about Lyra, but I’m fairly sure that this book will be the last. Whether my last or hers remains to be seen.
Read an extract from Serpentine
Ever since Lyra Silvertongue and her dæmon Pantalaimon had been reunited, following their terrible parting on the shores of the world of the dead, Lyra had wanted to ask him about the time he’d spent away from her. But she had the obscure sense that she shouldn’t ask him directly: he would tell her when he wanted to. However, time went past, and still he didn’t, and it began to trouble her.
This feeling came to a head during a visit she paid to the northern lands (a year after the witch Yelena Pazhets had nearly killed her in Oxford: the time when Lyra had been saved by the birds). The curse of Bolvangar had been lifted, but the northern lands had still not recovered from the climatic devastation Lord Asriel had caused. However, the retreat of the snows and the loosening of the permafrost meant that all kinds of archaeological work was possible, and Jordan College sponsored a dig in the region of Trollesund to investigate some recently discovered settlements of the Proto-Fisher people.
Naturally, Lyra demanded to go too; but they made her work. So she slept in a tent and spent days sifting through the squalid rubbish in a mud-filled midden, while Pantalaimon snapped at mosquitoes; and as soon as the chance came, she begged a ride on the weekly supply-run into the town. She wanted to look at the places she remembered: the sledge depôt where she’d bargained with Iorek Byrnison, the dockside where she’d met Lee Scoresby, and the house of the witch-consul Dr Lanselius.
“Two hours, Lyra,” said Duncan Armstrong, the graduate student who was driving the tractor, as they drew up outside the General Post Office. “If you’re not here at three o’clock precisely, I’ll go without you.”
“You don’t trust us,” she said.
The sledge depôt was empty and derelict, but she found Einarsson’s Bar, where in the yard next to the alley she’d had her first sight of an armoured bear, and watched Iorek swallowing a gallon of raw spirits and heard him speak of his captivity. The yard looked just the same, with a rusty shack leaning over in a sea of mud. The docks, though, looked very different: the buildings she remembered were half underwater, and new cranes and warehouses had had to be set up further back.
“It’s a mess,” said Pantalaimon severely.
“Everything’s a mess. Let’s see if Dr Lanselius is in.”
The consul represented the interests of all the witch-clans, even those who were feuding. Lyra wasn’t sure if he’d remember their first meeting, and Pan scoffed.
“Not remember us?” he said. “Of course he will!”
“When we first came I’d have been sure no one could forget us,” she agreed. “But now … I’m not so sure about things.”
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Philip Pullman is a British author. On Five Books, his book The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ has come in for special attention, but he is the best known for His Dark Materials trilogy, an epic written for young adults. It is also highly recommended on our site. In 2018, Pullman published the first book in another trilogy, a prequel (and sequel) to His Dark Materials, called The Book of Dust. So far two books in that trilogy have been published, La Belle Sauvage , which takes place when Lyra, the heroine, is a baby, and The Secret Commonwealth , which is set during Lyra’s student days at Oxford.
Books by Philip Pullman
Northern Lights - The Graphic Novel: Volume One
Philip pullman, adapted by stéphane melchior, illustrated by clément oubrerie, translated by annie eaton.
Read expert recommendations
“It’s very original and very well written. You really get into the world of those characters, and there is lots of adventure…The novel is not necessarily a children’s book although the main character is a child. Having it as a graphic novel really helps to make it an easier read, so you can give the story to younger children. It’s quite a complicated story. You need less imagination to read the graphic novel, so unless you have a very good imagination it’s a bit more escapism to read it. The art is very good. They put the story into a graphic novel really well, much better than most that were not originally a graphic novel. And the characters are well represented according to how the author described them and their personalities in the book. The illustrator has to make artistic choices but that doesn’t mean you should completely change the characters’ appearance, but quite a few graphic novels do. This graphic novel is a great alternative to reading the book, especially for 10-13 year olds.” Read more...
The Best Graphic Novels for 10-12 Year Olds
Harald , Children
The Secret Commonwealth: The Book of Dust Volume 2
By philip pullman.
The Secret Commonwealth is the second book in the long-awaited Book of Dust trilogy, written by Philip Pullman for children but in reality appealing to children and adults alike. It follows the spectacular success of His Dark Materials , the fantasy trilogy about Lyra Belacqua, a young girl from Oxford (where Pullman himself lives) and recommended multiple times on Five Books. The Book of Dust goes back in time to when Lyra is a baby. In the first book of the Book of Dust trilogy, La Belle Sauvage , we followed hero Malcolm and baby Lyra as they escape Oxford by canoe and we left them in London. What will happen next? We eagerly await the next installment.
This is a great series to read out loud at bedtime with children of 'tween' age. But like Harry Potter , there is no real age limit to enjoying them. If you haven't read any of these Philip Pullman books yet, get ordering and get reading.
La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume 1
His Dark Materials
Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials is the name of a fantasy trilogy comprising three books: Northern Lights , The Subtle Knife , and The Amber Spyglass . Although it's a children's book (11+), adults will also love it.
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ
“Jesus is the good man who believes in the non-institutionalism of religion, who says that my religion is a religion of love, there will be no institutions, no insiders and no outsiders, no money, no authority. His brother is the scoundrel Christ who, to me, is modeled very much on St Paul. He is not a bad man” Read more...
The best books on The Role of Religion
Selina O'Grady , Journalist
Interviews with Philip Pullman
Favourite books , recommended by philip pullman.
The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa
Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi, translated by Patrick Creagh
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
The Jeeves Omnibus - Vol 1 by P. G. Wodehouse
The Chambers Dictionary
The author Philip Pullman—creator of the beloved His Dark Materials trilogy, and one of the world’s greatest storytellers—recommends five of his favourite books: from a fragmentary masterpiece by Fernando Pessoa to P. G. Wodehouse’s comic triumphs.
Interviews where books by Philip Pullman were recommended
The best books on the role of religion , recommended by selina o'grady.
The Aeneid (Robert Fitzgerald translation) by Virgil
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman
Our Church: A Personal History of the Church of England by Roger Scruton
The Human Stain by Philip Roth
The Children Act by Ian McEwan
Religion has an ability to create groups and communities that has yet to be surpassed, argues Selina O’Grady, author of And Man Created God: A History of the World at the Time of Jesus.
The best books on Morality Without God , recommended by Mary Warnock
Dialogues and Natural History of Religion by David Hume
Godless Morality by Richard Holloway
The Collected Philosophical papers by G E M Anscombe
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Which comes first, morality or religion? And what happens when religious dogma clashes with the morality it purports to uphold? British philosopher Mary Warnock recommends the best books on morality without God.
Fierce Girls in Tween Fiction , recommended by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Matilda by Roald Dahl
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M Valente
The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell
Books like Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls popularise the many different ways women and girls can be strong, and as strong as they need to be. Award-winning children’s author, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, talks us through some of her favourite strong female characters in children’s fiction.
The best books on Humanism , recommended by Andrew Copson
Two Cheers For Democracy by E M Forster
Adam Bede by George Eliot
On Humanism by Richard Norman
Mengzi: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries by Mengzi
Humanist ideas are not a recent phenomenon, but have been around for millennia, says Andrew Copson, chief executive of Humanists UK. He explains why it’s worth making a positive choice to be a humanist and recommends a great humanist reading list.
Editors’ Picks: Children’s Books , recommended by Sophie Roell
The Secret Commonwealth: The Book of Dust Volume 2 by Philip Pullman
The Last Secret (Scarlet and Ivy, Book 6) by Sophie Cleverly
Winter in Wartime by Jan Terlouw & Laura Watkinson (translator)
The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell
The Beast of Buckingham Palace by David Walliams
Five Books editor Sophie Roell selects the best children’s books of 2019, after intense discussions with her family about which books should make the list.
The Best Graphic Novels for 10-12 Year Olds , recommended by Harald
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
The Legend of Sally Jones Jakob Wegelius, translated by Peter Graves
Mysteries of the Quantum Universe Thibault Damour, Mathieu Burniat, translated by Sarah-Louise Raillard
Kariba by Daniel Clarke, Daniel Snaddon & James Clarke
Northern Lights - The Graphic Novel: Volume One Philip Pullman, adapted by Stéphane Melchior, illustrated by Clément Oubrerie, translated by Annie Eaton
Even as kids become old enough to read books without pictures, reading a graphic novel is a great way to relax or get a grasp of a complex subject (like quantum physics). 11 year old Harald, an avid reader, recommends some of the best ones he’s read that other kids his age might also enjoy.
Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume 1 by Philip Pullman
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