Philip Pullman is one of the most renowned writers of our era. He’s not afraid to say what he thinks and is particularly known for his views on religion. This book is a collection of speeches, essays and opinion pieces about storytelling at its most fundamental. It’s not intended as a ‘how-to’ guide for writers, although it may give writers and even illustrators a fresh perspective on their own practice.
I think the book could have been more selective, as there was some repetition of subjects. On the whole, it’s a valuable collection of texts which occasionally I struggled to comprehend. Most of them are from 15 – 20 years ago so there are some outdated references. Each piece has a very short afterword which Pullman has added for this book, usually reinforcing his point or giving a little more context. Although I don’t tend to share Pullman’s reading taste and I don’t agree with his opinions on fantasy literature, I appreciate his discussions on these. It’s also interesting to go behind the scenes of His Dark Materials. There are plenty of illustrations within the text and a section of colour plates. Some of the pieces which impressed me the most were ‘Reading in the Borderland: Reading, Books and Pictures’, ‘The Story of The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ‘, ‘Let’s Write it in Red: The Practice of Writing’ and ‘The Classical Tone: Narrative Tact and Other Classical Virtues’.
It’s not the kind of book you want to read continuously. It took me a few months, picking it up when I felt in the mood for something intellectual, and in this way I gradually worked through the book.
First published in 2017 by David Fickling. Edited with an introduction by Simon Mason.