Philip Pullman

  • Mar. 24th, 2013 at 11:19 AM
beth_shulman: (stock: open book rose)
There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children's book.

The reason for that is that in adult literary fiction, stories are there on sufferance. Other things are felt to be more important: technique, style, literary knowingness. Adult writers who deal in straightforward stories find themselves sidelined into a genre such as crime or science fiction, where no one expects literary craftsmanship.

But stories are vital. Stories never fail us because, as Isaac Bashevis Singer says, "events never grow stale." There's more wisdom in a story than in volumes of philosophy. And by a story I mean not only Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk but also the great novels of the nineteenth century, Jane Eyre, Middlemarch, Bleak House and many others: novels where the story is at the center of the writer's attention, where the plot actually matters. The present-day would-be George Eliots take up their stories as if with a pair of tongs. They're embarrassed by them. If they could write novels without stories in them, they would. Sometimes they do.

But what characterizes the best of children's authors is that they're not embarrassed to tell stories. They know how important stories are, and they know, too, that if you start telling a story you've got to carry on till you get to the end. And you can't provide two ends, either, and invite the reader to choose between them. Or as in a highly praised recent adult novel I'm about to stop reading, three different beginnings. In a book for children you can't put the plot on hold while you cut artistic capers for the amusement of your sophisticated readers, because, thank God, your readers are not sophisticated. They've got more important things in mind than your dazzling skill with wordplay. They want to know what happens next.

Philip Pullman

  • Dec. 3rd, 2012 at 10:28 PM
beth_shulman: (Default)
Allegory has to rely on a precise one-to-one relationship between story-element and meaning. A novel is more democratic: the meaning is not dictated or determined by the author, but is something that emerges in the space between the story and the reader's mind. Myth is a different matter. C.S. Lewis would say that a myth is a story that has the same force, the same effect, the same meaning, in whichever form we encounter it: it's independent of its telling. Again, a novel is something slightly different. A novel might tell a mythical story, but it would not need to be mythical in order to be a novel.

Philip Pullman

  • Oct. 14th, 2012 at 7:52 PM
beth_shulman: (Default)
I am a story teller. If I wanted to send a message I would have written a sermon.

Philip Pullman

  • Sep. 16th, 2011 at 2:46 PM
beth_shulman: (book: wizard heir)
"...My true story’s too important for me to tell if you’re only going to believe half of it. So I promise to tell the truth, if you promise to believe." (The Amber Spyglass)

Philip Pullman

  • Jun. 25th, 2011 at 10:45 PM
beth_shulman: (book: wizard heir)
There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children's book.

The reason for that is that in adult literary fiction, stories are there on sufferance. Other things are felt to be more important: technique, style, literary knowingness. Adult writers who deal in straightforward stories find themselves sidelined into a genre such as crime or science fiction, where no one expects literary craftsmanship.

But stories are vital. Stories never fail us because, as Isaac Bashevis Singer says, "events never grow stale." There's more wisdom in a story than in volumes of philosophy. And by a story I mean not only Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk but also the great novels of the nineteenth century, Jane Eyre, Middlemarch, Bleak House and many others: novels where the story is at the center of the writer's attention, where the plot actually matters. The present-day would-be George Eliots take up their stories as if with a pair of tongs. They're embarrassed by them. If they could write novels without stories in them, they would. Sometimes they do.

But what characterizes the best of children's authors is that they're not embarrassed to tell stories. They know how important stories are, and they know, too, that if you start telling a story you've got to carry on till you get to the end. And you can't provide two ends, either, and invite the reader to choose between them. Or as in a highly praised recent adult novel I'm about to stop reading, three different beginnings. In a book for children you can't put the plot on hold while you cut artistic capers for the amusement of your sophisticated readers, because, thank God, your readers are not sophisticated. They've got more important things in mind than your dazzling skill with wordplay. They want to know what happens next.

Now I don't mean children are supernaturally wise little angels gifted with the power of seeing the truth that the dull eyes of adults miss. They're not. They're ignorant little savages, most of them. But they know what they need, and they go for it with the intensity of passion, and what they need is stories. Why do they spend so much time watching TV? They're not watching documentaries about Eastern Europe or programs about politics. They're watching drama, film, story. They can't get enough of it. There's a hunger for stories in all of us, adults too. We need stories so much that we're even willing to read bad books to get them, if the good books won't supply them. We all need stories, but children are more frank about it; cultured adults, on the other hand, those limp and jaded creatures who think it more important to seem sophisticated than to admit to simplicity, find it harder both to write and to read novels that don't come with a prophylactic garnish of irony.

But those adults who truly enjoy story, and plot, and character, and who would like to find books in which the events matter and which at the same time are works of literary art where the writers have used all the resources of their craft, could hardly do better than to look among the children's books.

And there's a spin-off too, a social benefit. All stories teach, whether the storyteller intends them to or not. They teach the world we create. They teach the morality we live by. They teach it much more effectively than moral precepts and instructions. The current campaign for moral education being waged by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Secretary of State for Education and Training could achieve all it wants in the field of moral education (and we all want a more moral society) by simply making sure that the schools' library service didn't die out. Give the books to the teachers, and then leave them alone; give them time to read and think and talk about the books with one another and with their students, so that they can put the right book into the hands of the right child at the right time.

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 Medal acceptance speech)

Philip Pullman

  • Jan. 24th, 2011 at 11:34 PM
beth_shulman: (tww cj)
...No one has the right to live without being shocked. No one has the right to spend their life without being offended. Nobody has to read this book. Nobody has to pick it up. Nobody has to open it. And if you open it and read it, you don't have to like it. And if you read it and you dislike it, you don't have to remain silent about it. You can write to me, you can complain about it, you can write to the publisher, you can write to the papers, you can write your own book. You can do all those things, but there your rights stop. No one has the right to stop me writing this book. No one has the right to stop it being published, or sold, or bought, or read...

Source
beth_shulman: (book: meg powers)

…Philip Pullman has said that your life begins when you are born, and your story begins when you discover that you have been born into the wrong family by mistake.

But when does the life of a storyteller begin?

Mine began when I was about six. Up until then, I had half-believed that my mother could read my thoughts. But at some point during first grade, I realized that I was completely alone in my own consciousness. I used to regularly freak myself out by sitting still, closing my eyes, and asking myself the same question over and over until I was in a sort of trance. The question was, How am I me?

What I meant was, How did my particular self get in here? Again and again, I would close my eyes and plunge myself into this existential angst. Why did I do it? I think that, like someone alone in a dark room, I was feeling around for a door. Because I really, really did not want to be alone in there.

And I did find a door, eventually. )

Philip Pullman

  • Oct. 31st, 2010 at 2:57 PM
beth_shulman: (book: wizard heir)
"...I came to believe that good and evil are names for what people do, not for what they are..." (The Amber Spyglass)

Philip Pullman

  • Oct. 6th, 2010 at 1:11 AM
beth_shulman: (Default)
I don't know about this business of writing 'for' this audience or that one ... it shuts out more readers than it includes. If I think of my audience at all, I think of a group that includes adults, children, male, female, old, middle-aged, young - everyone who can read. If horses, dogs, cats or pigeons could read, they'd be welcome to it as well.

Philip Pullman

  • Sep. 21st, 2010 at 11:06 PM
beth_shulman: (wizard heir)
Books which satisfy us and feed us and nourish us have to have this substratum of genuine truth in them.

Philip Pullman

  • Sep. 12th, 2010 at 1:30 PM
beth_shulman: (book: wizard heir)
Everything has a meaning, if only we could read it.
beth_shulman: (book: wizard heir)
One of the texts I sometimes quote - it's not a text, it's just a pronouncement - was made by Pope Gregory the Great in about 592, I think. This was in connection with the question of whether it was okay to paint pictures on the wall of churches, given the commandment that forbids us to make representations of things. What he said was, "What words are to the reader, pictures are to those who cannot read." Which, on the face of it, seems to make sense. It seems sound, good policy. If you can read, you have the words; if you can't read, you have the pictures.

But what it does actually is make ... assumptions that I think have bedeviled our understanding of pictures for a long time since then. One is that words and pictures are equivalent, whereas they are not. When you see an actor in a role on a screen, for example, that actor's face is forever afterward associated with that character. It is very hard to disentangle the two. When we read about that character in a book, we can supply what the person looks like, and we supply all sorts of other things that are not there, because they don't have to be there. Words and pictures are not the same.

Another interesting difference between them is that words work in time, and pictures work in space. Pictures are very good at showing you where things are, what things look like, how far away things are -- that sort of thing. But a single picture on its own cannot show us the order of things happening. Stories are all about the order of things happening. This happened, and then that happened because of what happened earlier on. To do that, you need words, which are extremely good at depicting this because of the way verbs have tenses, and the way sentences have grammatical sequence of clauses and so on, all of which help us to understand the order of things. So words and pictures aren't equivalent. That's the first kind of mistake that Pope Gregory made about them...

These things have interested me for a long time. Why was I happy, then, to say, "Go ahead and make a film of The Golden Compass?" Apart from the small question of the fee involved, there was the fact that I had come to think that stories are not actually made of words. Stories can be presented in the form of words, but they can also be presented in the form of pictures. You can even present a story in the form of a dance. Whatever stories are made of, words aren't fundamental to it. Something else is. And what I think is fundamental to the narrative process is events -- stories are made of events.

...

There was a sort of embarrassment about storytelling that struck home powerfully about one hundred years ago, at the beginning of modernism. We see a similar reaction in painting and in music. It's a preoccupation suddenly with the surface rather than the depth. So you get, for example, Picasso and Braque making all kinds of experiments with the actual surface of the painting. That becomes the interesting thing, much more interesting than the thing depicted, which is just an old newspaper, a glass of wine, something like that. In music, the Second Viennese School becomes very interested in what happens when the surface, the diatonic structure of the keys breaks down, and we look at the notes themselves in a sort of tone row, instead of concentrating on things like tunes, which are sort of further in, if you like. That happened, of course, in literature, too, with such great works as James Joyce's Ulysses, which is all about, really, how it's told. Not so much about what happens, which is a pretty banal event in a banal man's life. It's about how it's told. The surface suddenly became passionately interesting to artists in every field about a hundred years ago.

In the field of literature, story retreated.
The books we talked about just now, Middlemarch, Bleak House, Vanity Fair - their authors were the great storytellers as well as the great artists. After modernism, things changed. Indeed, modernism sometimes seems to me like an equivalent of the Fall. Remember, the first thing Adam and Eve did when they ate the fruit was to discover that they had no clothes on. They were embarrassed. Embarrassment was the first consequence of the Fall. And embarrassment was the first literary consequence of this modernist discovery of the surface. "Am I telling a story? Oh my God, this is terrible. I must stop telling a story and focus on the minute gradations of consciousness as they filter through somebody's..."

So there was a great split that took place. Story retreated, as it were, into genre fiction - into crime fiction, into science fiction, into romantic fiction - whereas the high-art literary people went another way.

Children's books held onto the story, because children are rarely interested in surfaces in that sort of way. They're interested in what-happened and what-happened-next. I found it a great discipline, when I was writing The Golden Compass and other books, to think that there were some children in the audience. I put it like that because I don't say I write for children.  I find it hard to understand how some writers can say with great confidence, "Oh, I write for fourth grade children" or "I write for boys of 12 or 13." How do they know? I don't know. I would rather consider myself in the rather romantic position of the old storyteller in the marketplace: you sit down on your little bit of carpet with your hat upturned in front of you, and you start to tell a story. Your interest really is not in excluding people and saying to some of them, "No, you can't come, because it's just for so-and-so." My interest as a storyteller is to have as big an audience as possible. That will include children, I hope, and it will include adults, I hope. If dogs and horses want to stop and listen, they're welcome as well.

So I have always hoped that my audience would include children, and that means that I have to pay close attention to the story, and how the story is unfolding, and whether the story is clear and comprehensible. They don't have to understand everything that's happening, but they have to know what's happening. They don't have to understand why everything is happening, because that's a puzzle to the people in the story as well. The reason children, quite young children have read this story and followed it all the way through is because they know that Lyra is puzzled about the things that are happening, but she is going to find out. So they don't mind being puzzled, because they know that Lyra is, too, and they are following her. They are with her.

Source
Credit to [livejournal.com profile] hazelwillow for the link.

Philip Pullman

  • May. 30th, 2010 at 2:34 AM
beth_shulman: (Default)
"After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world."

Philip Pullman

  • May. 24th, 2010 at 12:15 AM
beth_shulman: (Default)
"I think there's too much attention paid to the urgency and importance of our own feelings and too little paid to the courtesy we owe to others."

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