Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Philip Pullman faces his daemons

[...] His anger towards God remains undimmed. It can sound frightening and immoderate, given his impeccably polite diction. The occasional thud of an F-word is really very funny. His rage comes across as that of someone with an authority problem - someone who has evidently exercised his own as a teacher and a father with restraint. Was there a clue about all this when he mentioned the man who helped to bring him up before his mother remarried and took him off to North Wales - his grandfather, a Norfolk clergyman of the old school? No; it's unlikely that he's responsible for Pullman's take on the Almighty since he was “a man I really loved, one whom people looked up to and trusted”.

Besides, it's not really God he vilifies but the people who do terrible things in the name of religion. Yet aren't there other belief systems he should be fingering? The Magisterium of his trilogy is analogous to the historic Roman Catholic Church, which is arguably less menacing than modern Islamic extremism. “Well,” he replies, “it would be dishonest of me to start writing about Muslims or Jews, as I don't know about them. I don't even know the Catholic tradition. You call it a soft target. It is now, but go back a few hundred years and it was that that burnt you if you got on the wrong side. We are living in a little bubble of time. It might not last much longer, but it is a bubble of time that is still warmed by background radiation from the Enlightenment. We are very fortunate to live in a time and place where you don't get dismembered for having the wrong political convictions, and we should be thoroughly grateful for it every day of our lives.”

When people talk of his books and about those characters of his who carry their daemons like visible souls, they talk also of spirituality. They may know less of his views than of his creations, but it is a good job he can't hear them as this is what he says of the S-word: “I never use it. I never know what it means. It could mean any one of a whole raft of things, from vague feelings of emotional uplift...and then you're off into the realms of the ‘intense inane', as Shelley called it. I find it almost unbearably stupid when people talk about exploring their spirituality because I don't know what the f*** they mean. I think they mean ‘I'm no end of a fine fellow and you ought to respect me because I've got a higher dimension than you material people'.” Read more
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1 comment:

John Thomas said...

The truth, of course, is that if Pullman wrote about Muslims/Allah in the way he does about Christians/God, they'd blow him to bits - well, he admits he hits soft targets ... but the harder ones ...? He's just a coward in end, without the courage of his convictions, like so many other "anti-religion" people.