Archive for the 'fiction' Category

Anne Enright: The Wig My Father Wore

January 23, 2023

      I’m really not sure what to make of this one…

Enright uses language beautifully, playfully, in a way that to me is particularly Irish, in the sense that it reminds me of James Joyce, and even more of Flann O’Brien; there’s a linguistic levity that conceals a seriousness unless you slow down and look closely, beneath the surface.

There are other aspects that make it Irish, to me: an awareness of and – not quite rejection, but distancing from – a sense of provincialism, primitiveness, smallworldliness of the place, that is also connected with religion. The effect of cloying Catholic pietism pervaded Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and it was the combination of all these factors that led him to permanent exile from his homeland a century ago. Enright also, for me, resembles Joyce in the way she conveys a particular attitude to sex and sexuality, which is also shaped by religion. It was interesting to come across a portrayal of this by a woman writer.

And then there’s the surrealism, both of the plot – Grace, the narrator, has an angel living with her, and she wants to get him into bed, and she works on an Irish TV dating show that struggles with how explicit or not to be in matters sexual – and of the general presentation of people and events; further shades of O’Brien here…

It’s incredibly funny in places, absolutely deranged in others, and yet, sixty pages in (my usual trigger for why am I bothering?) I found myself thinking, what is the point of all this? I was sort of enjoying the plot and the offbeatness of Enright’s style, but what was I getting from the book other than light entertainment, which isn’t my usual motive for persisting.

And I can’t really answer that question. I finished the book and thought okay, Irish person writing about their perceptions of the weirdness of the Irish, and their take on love and sex…well-written, but derivative and basically all done before; enjoyable enough, but nothing new to see here. Have I missed something?

Laurie Frost: The Elements of His Dark Materials

January 22, 2023

      This will be the last Pullman-focused post for a while, I think. But if you are as hooked on His Dark Materials as I am, in the sense that you both enjoy the story, and admire the inventiveness of the alternative universes and the writer’s philosophical and theological explorations of the human condition, then I’d say this book is for you.

It’s encyclopaedic. All the necessary connections, references and links are here for you to check and explore or remind yourself about if you’re slightly lost or confused. There are reflections, perspectives and thinking points a-plenty, about characters, peoples and worlds, as well as more general mini-essays; it’s clearly a labour of love by someone who is even more taken with His Dark Materials than I am; it’s a serious companion to the novels, not a work of fandom.

At the same time, there are some things that are not explained, along with a few inevitable minor errors and inconsistencies. Why, for instance, is the college in Geneva St Jerome’s College? Geneva I understand, St Jerome I know about, but the connection in his mind that led Pullman to the name eludes me… And a real index at the end would be very useful, too. It’s not a book for constantly referring to as you’re reading – Pullman’s storytelling isn’t that impenetrable – but each time I’ve delved into this book and read large chunks of it has been after a reading of the novels, to help me get my thoughts and ideas clearer in my mind, and it has worked.

His Dark Materials: Parents and Children

January 16, 2023

During this re-read of HDM, I’ve found myself thinking about what Pullman has to say or suggest about parents and parenting. Lyra grows up not knowing who her parents are, thinking Asriel is her uncle, and eventually learning that Mrs Coulter is her mother; her father has obviously ensured she is provided for at Jordan College, while her mother has nothing to do with her until the story starts. As things develop, it’s evident neither is an average nor an ideal parent. Her mother has a lust for power and influence which leads her into embracing all kinds of evil; it becomes clear, however, that there is some kind of maternal bond as Mrs Coulter’s emotions and behaviour become much more complex and conflicted when she is with her daughter, and this foregrounds itself ever more strongly as the story progresses; are we intended, by the end of the story, to feel that the bond of love between parent and child is the strongest thing there can be?

Asriel has an obsession with his conflict with the Authority which blinds him completely to his daughter other than seeing her as a potential tool in the battle; this is crystallised in Lyra’s (unwitting but necessary) moment of betrayal at the end of Northern Lights, when her friend Roger is what Asriel needs to pursue his experiments… Asriel is capable of ‘mansplaining’ various aspects of his compulsion to Lyra, but there is no recognition of any bond between them.

We see similar conflicts when we learn about Will’s parents: his mother seems to suffer from a kind of mental disorder which manifests itself in obsessive-compulsive behaviours at times, and Will is clearly her carer rather than she his. As the storyline develops, it becomes clearer that there is a partial explanation for this, related to the disappearance of Will’s father, the secret work he was engaged in, and the interest of the authorities in his discoveries. We accept Will’s father’s disappearance as accidental, perhaps; we know of his concerns for his son via the letters and through what we learn of him via his alter ego, the shaman Stanislaus Grumman, in the parallel universe in which he is trapped, and their brief reunion before Grumman in killed by the witch is a touching and powerful moment, as is their encounter in the world of the dead later on.

Neither hero nor heroine has what most of us might class as an ordinary childhood. Is this significant? Well yes, in the sense that Pullman didn’t have to tell the story thus; it was a deliberate creative choice. But that’s a statement of the obvious, though some might overlook it. What we do have are two characters who grow up differently from, and much more independently than most children: Lyra has a carefree existence in her Oxford, while various people keep a weather eye on her in terms of safety; one or two people are aware of some significance to her future. Will is forced to be grownup before his time, keeping his mother safe, both by physically protecting her and by participating in her strange behaviours so as not to alarm her or others too much; lurking in the background is surely the possibility of both of them being institutionalised in different ways…

Both Will and Lyra are pretty self-sufficient and self-confident in their thinking and behaviour and this means the reader is more likely to take them seriously (pinch of salt here, ok, but you get my drift) when Pullman throws them into their respective adventures, and there is the potential for a good team, too. Then, in terms of the ultimate temptation which the entire plot must lead to, there is the credible bonding, firstly via their common experience of and survival of perils, and secondly because they perhaps experience for the first time (key word there, experience) real closeness on an equal level with another person. This closeness Will knows only via caring for a loved mother and an imagined bond with an absent father, Lyra only through her deep friendship with Roger and her horror at the ultimate betrayal of it; she only knows coldness from Asriel and she is appalled by he mother’s evil. And the reader cannot but approve of the temptation and the Fall, if indeed we use those warped religious concepts here.

Milton, Blake and Dust in Pullman’s His Dark Materials

January 15, 2023

Pullman acknowledges his debt to Milton’s Paradise Lost, a masterpiece of literature that nowadays eludes many people, for a number of reasons: it’s in verse, it’s very long (12 books), it’s about religion, it’s written in 17th century English, which is a little different from today’s, though far from impenetrable. Milton’s aim was to write the ultimate epic, the story of creation, and the redemption of humanity by Jesus’ death. He tells of the temptation of Eve and the Fall of the first humans, tempted by Satan.

Unfortunately for Milton, Satan takes over the story, becoming rather more of an interesting hero-figure than God or his son. And the question of the Fall also becomes double-edged: before it, Adam and Eve mimsy around the Garden of Eden blandly doing the gardening and having rather wet and innocent conversations, and a bit of very dull sex. Our feeling tends to be, well if this is paradise, I’m not sure I’m all that interested. The temptation is to take the forbidden fruit, of the knowledge of good and evil, after which they become humans as we know them: sex and arguments and blaming each other. And the real question is, why was the fruit forbidden? Because, is Milton’s and God’s answer, and that’s that… and we humans have become what we are because we have that knowledge. There are consequences: death. Adam and Eve have no idea what it is and cannot imagine it; we are the only species on the planet that knows of death and can contemplate it… And while I’m on with the Miltonic parallels, clearly there is an intended resemblance between Asriel’s armed camp preparing for battle with the Authority, and the building of Pandaemonium in the second book of Paradise Lost.

Pullman is fully aware of the importance of this difference between innocence and experience, and how it shapes us through our lives. There are things which happen to us which change us irreversibly, and which we cannot easily explain to others who have not experienced them. How do you describe to someone innocent the experience of an LSD trip, or sex for the first time, or indeed what love actually is? And, of course, you can’t rewind from any of these points, or turn back the clock: you are now changed, experienced. I have often felt that it’s perhaps easier for adult (experienced) readers to overlook this liberating aspect of Pullman’s stories, whereas they may perhaps be more eye-opening or life-affirming for younger readers. I don’t know for certain, of course; I’m on the wrong side of the fence here.

So in His Dark Materials, there are forces – organised religion – who would have humans remain permanently in a pre-pubescent state of innocent obedience, easily controlled. And the rebellion Pullman visualises is one against this tyranny, which might install the republic, rather than the kingdom of heaven. The more I think about it, the more utopian I find this notion, as well as extremely attractive. The idea of humans taking control over their own lives and their futures, rather than kowtowing to external forces, is one which has been revolutionary through the ages, and sadly, we are no nearer to achieving it…

Here is where Milton and Pullman overlap, for me: the crux is free will, which Christianity says we were given as a test: would we freely choose to obey and serve God, or would we wilfully choose what we shouldn’t and take the consequences? Milton feels the first humans made the wrong choice and it had to be rectified; Pullman lauds that choice, and has his Adam and Eve figures willingly give in to temptation and not regret it.

Dust. There is a serious amount of philosophical, even theological argument woven in to the novels; we don’t have to worry too much about it or strive too hard to comprehend it all. There is a serious information dump about Dust and its link with the Christian notion of original sin in the final chapters of Northern Lights, in conversation between Lyra and Asriel, and I’m still not sure how convincing I find this, given Lyra’s supposed age at this point. The concept is further developed in The Subtle Knife, where the arrival of Dust is linked back 33,000 years, presumably to the time of the first emergence of human consciousness in our species, which is where Pullman seems to situate the mythical Adam and Eve event and the original ‘Fall’. I’ve still not completely fathomed the significance, several times iterated, that things began to go seriously awry three centuries ago with the making of the knife: I can’t fit this timing in to a historical event, though I suppose we are at the start of the Enlightenment and the scientific era…perhaps a more astute reader can enlighten me here. Clearly these two dates are significant to Pullman’s ideas, and the second Fall, in the world of the mulefa, has the effect of reversing something.

Phillip Pullman: Parallel Universes

January 14, 2023

Pullman uses a common SF trope in His Dark Materials, the idea of a parallel universe, one which resembles our own, but with certain differences. The concept is often used to show an alternative history, such as in Philip K Dick’s well-known novel The Man in the High Castle, set in a United States where the Axis powers won the Second World War. Pullman’s parallel universe is rather different, in that it doesn’t represent an alternate direction after a fork in time, as it were, but is one of a myriad of possible universes, one that happens to be quite similar to our own.

The conception is carefully done, even down to the level of the language used, with different but logical terms used for ideas like electrical power; different technology, with airships being the modern mode of transport; countries having slightly different names reflecting the way in which recent history has also obviously been different. A great deal of careful thought has evidently gone into constructing this world, and in a sense Pullman has far less ‘conceptual freedom’ in the framing of such a world than an SF writer constructing a forked path. One might compare a twentieth century USA in which the Confederacy won the Civil War, as portrayed in Ward Moore’s interesting Bring the Jubilee, or a world several hundred years in our future, where the Nazis had been victorious in the twentieth century, as in Katharine Burdekin’s Swastika Night, which is all the more chilling a tale for its having been written before the Second World War…

Because Pullman posits an infinity of possible worlds, the other two he develops in depth can be radically different: the empty world of Cittàgazze bears some resemblance to our own, though we cannot really map very much of our world onto it, and the world of the Mulefa visited by Mary Malone and in which she plays out her role as temptress, is alien in terms of creatures, but flora and fauna are still recognisable.

Where Pullman is at his most radical, and deliberately so, is in his vision of daemons in Lyra’s world. Every human has a daemon – a creature of the opposite gender, and this bears some thinking about – from which they are inseparable; their form is mutable until maturity or puberty is reached, at which point they become fixed permanently. We need to think about what Pullman seems to be saying here. There is obviously something about the plasticity or mutability of human personality in the younger years, and the eventual development of a more recognisable and permanent personality as we grow older.

Is the daemon a soul? It’s an inseparable part of a human, visible rather than invisible as the soul posited by various religions in our world. And we see the interaction between human and daemon, through looks, closeness or distance, and conversation. There is also conversation between daemons…. And there is also the taboo on touching someone else’s daemon, as well as the horrific process being developed by the Magisterium and Mrs Coulter, to sever the connection between a human and their daemon; here Pullman wants his readers to think about, or imagine, what exactly it is that makes us human, and what the effect of such a severing would be. In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, our attention is also focused on this question, and ultimately we are pushed to the realisation that the inhabitants of that society may look and behave like us at times, but they aren’t actually humans as we know them…

So what is the intercourse that goes on between human and daemon? It’s clearly far more than just a visible friend: there is advice, discussion, reflection back of ideas and decisions: daemon as therapist/counsellor? Somehow it’s possible to see humans in Lyra’s world as more fortunate than we are here in our world, in that such interaction is more obvious, more foregrounded? And yet Pullman also plays, at some length, with the notion that in our world, if we get to know and understand ourselves well enough, we can see our daemon and converse with it, too.

More to come…

Re-reading Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials

January 13, 2023

      This read took me just over a week; my first, in 2001 only two days. Pullman gets the story off to a cracking start, making Lyra’s Oxford intriguingly strange from the outset, through the different language used for all sorts of things in that parallel universe, as well as introducing complex human/daemon interaction straightaway: the reader’s attention is grabbed and shaped immediately.

There’s an effortless quality to Pullman’s prose, a style which I can see is attractive and instantly accessible to a young adult audience – which some think is his target audience, though I beg to differ – comprehensible yet accessible without being simplistic. Equally, it flows just as well for adult readers; quite an achievement. Pullman is a masterly storyteller.

There are complex, many-layered plots, and myriad characters, and yet Pullman leads his readers easily on; the story is easy to follow, and various complex ideas are carefully woven into the thread of the narrative. Readers are both entertained and challenged, I feel. And Pullman is strong in his portrayal of his characters’ feelings, too: Lyra’s sense of betrayal of her friend Roger at the end of the first book, Mrs Coulter’s growing closeness to Lyra, and the developing closeness between Lyra and Will through their adventures all feel natural and convincing.

For this reading, and prompted also by the last series on television, I focused particularly on the complex and developing relationship between Lyra and Mrs Coulter, that is, between mother and daughter. I felt the TV adaptation lacked a measure of clarity in this respect. I was also interested in just how much was changed for the small screen; obviously a great deal had to be left out, as The Amber Spyglass runs to almost 500 pages in print. It was also interesting to note that for the screen, Will and Lyra appeared rather older and more mature (only a bit, but to me noticeably) than in the novels, where we are explicitly told that they are both 12 years old at one point. Then I felt a bit churlish and thought about how much time might be needed for all the travelling and all the adventures in the three books together to actually take place and I could accept the idea of their being several years older by the end of The Amber Spyglass. The second ‘Fall’ has to feel natural and convincing and in my judgement, Pullman carries this off pretty well.

In the end, His Dark Materials is only a story. It’s very well-narrated, respecting the intelligence of the reader; it’s an easy (in the sense of flowing) read; it has been extremely well translated to television in the recent three-part adaptation, although, after re-reading the novels, it’s evident how much has inevitably had to be cut or glossed over in that adaptation; equally, it’s surprising how few details have actually been changed…

Only a story… but, as with all the best stories, it is more than just a tale, it is a story to made its readers think, if they wish to. What are good parents, and how are they good (or not)? What is freedom, and free will? How much of it do we/ can we have? How much of it do we want? What about institutions that exert power and control over us? Even if they are doing it – as they say – for our own good? And how might we re-take some/ all of that control back for ourselves? What makes us human? Do we have souls? What goes on inside us, in the deepest recesses of our minds? What is good, and what is evil? And so much more. We don’t have to engage with any or all of those questions, but if we are human, if we are curious, then the chances are that we will. And we are brought back to that initial curiosity which – for Milton in a bad way, for Pullman in a good way, led the original Adam and Eve of the creation myth – to Fall, or to become fully human. Either way, we are experienced, we cannot turn back the clock.

The final message that Pullman leaves his readers with is clear at the end of The Amber Spyglass: we only have this one life, that we know about and are part of, and it’s our duty to ourselves to live life to the full, to make the best possible use of it in terms of using our intelligence, developing ourselves, understanding ourselves and our world, and making our best efforts to do good while we are here. Amen to that.

Jorge Luis Borges: Collected Fictions

January 3, 2023

     This re-reading of Borges’ short stories was less satisfying than my previous visits, as I recall; it was a case of separating the wheat from the chaff. I have always liked him for the bizarreness, as well as for his ability to do something really interesting with the short story form, which I have so often found thin, empty and disappointing. I also respect him as part of the inspiration for Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, one of my favourite novels of all time, in which the mad monastery librarian is named Jorge, in tribute to Borges.

Borges here is in translation, of course, and for me, the translator has successfully captured a style and use of language, particularly through the use of long, languorous sentences, descriptive and atmospheric. There is often an almost Brechtian sense of alienation from our particular reality in Borges’ playing with time and space in so many of the stories, and in requiring the reader to suspend disbelief in more ways than fiction usually asks of us.

There is also his aptitude for creating a sense of verisimilitude, through the use of small plausible details which we cannot or have no real desire to verify, in totally invented situations, in order to confuse or deceive the reader; I found myself being reminded of the very earliest novelists such as Defoe and Swift, who realised way back in the early 18th century how to do this to great effect. The overall weirdness of Borges’ universes also recalled to me the fiction of Ben Marcus, and I wondered if that writer was familiar with Borges.

So, the tales or fictions are often bizarre or disturbing. The summit, I think, is reached in The Library of Babel, which posits a library as big as the universe which contains all possible writings; it combines Borges’ fascination with books with his fascination with labyrinths, and there is a computer programmer who has paid tribute to these by constructing a website that lets you interact with the library of Babel.

While I enjoyed my favourite stories again, I found myself wondering what exactly Borges had been trying to achieve; weirdness, a sense of eeriness? Alienation? Ensnaring his reader? Throughout, there is a sense of a man, a human like the rest of us, haunted by the meaninglessness of existence when confronted with time, immortality and the inevitability of death; hence the labyrinths in which characters wander, trapped… I found the earliest and the last stories better than those from the middle of his writing career, where there are too many about macho confrontations and knife fights in South America for my liking. There are some real gems, but you have to search for them.

Philip Pullman: The Collectors

January 1, 2023

     There’s a whole series of mini-books by Philip Pullman that are in some way connected with the events or characters of His Dark Materials. Sometimes they read like add-ons, other times like rough sketches or drafts from the days before the trilogy; this is one of the latter. They’re always pretty short, but beautifully produced, and, I suppose, aimed at readers like me who are fascinated by the creations of Pullman’s imaginations and will happily devour anything… So they’re not bargains, or big reveals, but are nonetheless fascinating.

This one is a vignette about the young Mrs Coulter, via a painting of her and bronze statue of a monkey, and their strange and malign influence on people even at this early stage in the sequence of events. The idea of multiple universes, and connections between them is also introduced, along with the idea of humans with daemons in another one of these universes…you can see what’s happening here.

It really does feel like a precursor, and the character of Mrs Coulter is given another edge. Recently watching the final TV series I found myself much more aware of the complexity of her character; along with pure evil, and a fatal attraction to power, there is a fully developed antithesis to this in Coulter’s complex relationship with and feelings for her daughter Lyra, and perhaps it is the visual medium and the talents of the actor which allow these aspects to emerge more fully.

It’s a brief but gripping read, and nicely illustrated.

2022: My year of reading

December 30, 2022

A house move early this year has had a major impact on my reading: books boxed up, being unable to find books that I wanted to read, far less time to read due to having so many other pressing things to deal with: are those excuses or reasons? I’m not sure. But the books are now, much later, out of boxes and on shelves, although in different places, so tracking down and finding a book still isn’t easy, until my ageing brain has internalised my new system…

There has been a certain amount or re-reading; there has been the usual ‘compulsory’ reading for our book group, some of which were real eye-openers. In 2022 I bought or was given (and kept) all of 19 books, which represents a slight decrease on 2021; I read 50 books, which marks a serious decrease on last year’s total, for the reason above-mentioned.

I have a number of resolutions for 2023: to continue buying fewer books – and this is partly because a good number of the new books I come across I only want to read once, and I know I shan’t return to them – to return to my interrupted project to re-read all of Shakespeare’s plays in chronological sequence, to revisit a lot of the poetry I cherish, to revisit some old favourites including Josef Skvorecky, Garrison Keillor and Amin Maalouf, and to continue weeding my library and disposing of books I no longer want. And, driven by the final TV series which is currently being screened, I want to re-read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy: I’ve watched the TV adaptations and loved them, and I’ve listened several times to the excellent full audiobook recording of the trilogy while I’ve been on my travels, but it’s a good few years since I actually consumed the printed volumes…

I’ve read far fewer travel books this year, and I’m wondering if I’ve finally exhausted that bug. There does seem to be a limit to the number of new travelogues through Siberia, or the various deserts of the world, that a person needs.

This year’s awards:

Best novel: Sequioa Nagamatsu How High We Go In The Dark. A novelist I’d never head of and took a punt on; a challenging fantasy which I really enjoyed and hope to go back to shortly. It’s good to read new authors.

Best non-fiction: Alberto Angela Une Journée Dans La Rome Antique. I’ve liked everything I’ve read by him.I’ve been fascinated by ancient Rome since my school days, and this historian brings it to life with a wealth of detail, without ever being patronising or talking down to his readers.

Best travel: Edward Abbey Desert Solitaire. I love deserts, and travel in deserts, and this journal of time in one of the US natioanl parks by an early ecologist (as you’d have to call him nowadays) is a gem: he shows you the desert and makes you love it as much as he does.

Best re-read: Jan Potocki Manuscript Found in Saragossa: an astonishing novel, a tour de force from the early 19th century; it was good finally to find time to re-read this one. And I have the film, waiting to be watched, too.

Best book group discovery: Ben MacIntyre Agent Sonya. I thought, “Do I really want to bother reading this? Why would I read this?” and I did, and it was another object lesson in not dismissing books too easily. A fascinating and thought-provoking account of pro-Soviet espionage in the twenties, thirties and forties, and out book group discussion was enhanced by a guest appearance from one of the heroine’s relatives.

I’m hoping to resume normal service in 2023, ie lots more reading and re-reading, further pruning of my library, and continuing to buy rather fewer books than previously.

His Dark Materials on TV

December 27, 2022

I first encountered Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy many years ago when I was ill and spent several days in bed. I devoured the novels, and remember sending someone out to buy a missing volume. This Christmas I have been languishing in bed, and for the first time in my life I have binged on television, once I had figured out how to get the BBC iPlayer app to behave, and watched all of the final TV series production of His Dark Materials. It was compulsive viewing, and utterly awesome. I could not understand some of the semi-lukewarm reviews I’d come across by some critics in the previous few days.

I’ve long maintained that the novels are masterpieces, and I have been astonished at how well and how faithfully they have been translated to television; the last series is no exception, and although it has been a long wait, it has been worth it.

The stories are eminently readable, and not aimed at a particular age group or audience, in my opinion. They certainly don’t talk down to, or preach at, a young adult audience; Pullman regards his readers as intelligent human beings, who don’t have to like his books or his message.

The TV series are a gift to SFX departments, who have risen to the occasion superbly, envisioning daemons, creating unreal creatures, imaginary technology and unearthly landscapes – unearthly in terms of our world, that is.

I think, however – and I suspect this may well be one of the reasons for some of the rather silly reviews I mentioned earlier – that the TV production is a complement to the novels rather than a replacement for them, and if someone hasn’t read the books, then they will find the story and the ideas rather harder to follow from the TV series alone. Obviously, I haven’t found this a problem. I had certain expectations, from my acquaintance with the novels, and largely these were met, within the limitations of any attempt to transfer 1500 pages of novel to 24 hours of television. Here I’m reminded of the achievement of the BBC in the early 1970s, when they turned War and Peace into a 26-part TV series.

Plot wasn’t re-written, though clearly slimmed down and perhaps perspectives and emphases changed; casting was very well done and highly convincing, particularly in the cases of Will, Lyra and Mrs Coulter. Settings were stunning, throughout. And the interaction between human and daemon was fascinating to watch, although the concept of interaction between the two did suffer a times, I think, and the idea of the externalisation of one’s soul was only foregrounded in the final series. But I felt actors and directors had a fine sense of the interaction between characters, and seeing them onscreen allowed me to observe and reflect more closely on those relationships, which enriched the story for me, as well as providing food for thought.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the novels, and of Pullman’s ideas, to translate from page to screen was that of dust, and its link to the idea of what makes us fully human, as well as the contrast between innocence and experience. This merits a post of its own, which I hope to get around to writing some time soon.

I realise I’m probably sounding like more of a fan than a critic here. So be it. I was disappointed in the film The Golden Compass, which preceded the TV adaptations, and my copy of that film has mysteriously disappeared, not that I miss it. I had great hopes when I first heard of the TV project, and I haven’t been disappointed. Pullman’s novels have been one of the fantasy milestones of the century, and for my money leave Tolkein and J K Rowling in the shade…

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