Last night I was at an intellectually stimulating evening where Chip McGrath, former editor of the New York Times Book Review, and Philip Pullman conversed. I loved Philip’s strong insistence that reading is a private act between the reader and the book. How he inhabits his books completely until they go out into the world and become the readers’ — “a democracy of reading.” Among many other subjects, he spoke of his own background, the writing of The Golden Compass, his involvement with the movie, Milton, Elizabeth Bishop, and first kisses.
Questions from the audience were asked (several from young people) and politely and thoughtfully answered. At one point I was delighted when Philip mentioned Erich Kastner’s The 35th of May, a fondly remembered book of my childhood. We also were shown what looked like a souped-up movie trailer. That is, there were a few scenes (notably those with Lyra and Iorek Byrnison) that I don’t recall seeing in any of the trailers. Certainly it was thrilling to see them on a larger screen with an audience for the first time.
I was seated with GraceAnne A. DeCandido who took terrific notes, posted the following on child_lit, and graciously allowed me to post it here as well:
The New York Times Center is a fine space: and you can see some
of how fine here http://thetimescenter.com/
Chip McGrath, writer at large (what a lovely title) for the NYTimes
interviewed Philip Pullman for about an hour and then Philip took
questions from the audience. I cannot guess numbers of those
present, but the range of ages was great: children from Lyra´s and
Will´s age to Philip´s age (which is also mine, that is, early 60s). It
was easy and funny and wise.
“The story begins” said Philip, “when you realize you have been
born into the wrong family.” And he went on to talk about story,
the one long story that is His Dark Materials. Chip said he thought
daemons were the best idea, but Philip noted he thought how
daemons settle was “the best idea I ever had.” He promised us not
only a book about the backstory of Iorek and Lee Scoresby(Once
Upon a Time in the North, coming in Spring 2008) but a book
about a somewhat older Lyra, The Book of Dust.
“The most private space” is between the reader and the book, Philip
said, and railed, rather gently, against those with no understanding
of metaphor who think a story can only be read one way. He talked
about that wondrous first scene in the first book, and how we get
“from this world where we are to the other world where the story
He talked a little bit about his years of teaching, and how in writing
he got from here to there, and how some characters just came to
him, like Lyra, walking into his mind. He credited the city of
Oxford and the Ashomolean Museum and the Bodleian Library,
Milton, Blake, Whitman and Wallace Stevens, and The Magnificent
Seven among his many sources of inspiration.
We got to see a perfectly splendid trailer for The Golden Compass
movie, which if you have not seen online I urge you to go right
now and search for. It´s breathtaking.
Philip was asked by members of the audience what his daemon is,
and he said a sort of bird that is attracted by shiny, sparkly things –
and steals them. He was asked his favorite piece of his own writing,
and he mentioned the delicious and very subversive trial scene in
The Scarecrow and His Servant. He called true education the
marriage of delight and responsibility – what could be better than