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His Dark Example

Colin Burrow: ‘The Book of Dust’, 4 January 2018

The Book of Dust, Vol. I: La Belle Sauvage 
by Philip Pullman.
David Fickling, 546 pp., £20, October 2017, 978 0 385 60441 3
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Daemon Voices: Essays on Storytelling 
by Philip Pullman.
David Fickling, 480 pp., £20, October 2017, 978 1 910200 96 4
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... wit and hidden political mischief, C.S. Lewis when his eye was on the story. And then there was Philip Pullman – whom I met first in his delightful retelling of Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp (1993), and then in the cosmically ambitious His Dark Materials trilogy (1995-2000). I am no doubt unusually central to the target zone of fiction that pours ...

Improving the Story

Frank Kermode: Philip Pullman’s Jesus, 27 May 2010

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ 
by Philip Pullman.
Canongate, 245 pp., £14.99, April 2010, 978 1 84767 825 6
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... topic. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, however, is a game of an older kind. Philip Pullman is a writer admirable for his control of tone and genre. Open his trilogy, His Dark Materials, almost anywhere and you may find bears boasting their readiness for ritual combat in language vaguely reminiscent of Beowulf, and onlookers who ...


Marina Warner: Medea, 3 December 2015

... usually discounted as childish make-believe. It has been most powerfully adopted by writers like Philip Pullman who are read principally by children. It also serves the crucial mythic purpose of mapping limits and prohibitions, demarcating the centre ground where fathers don’t eat their children, brothers don’t marry their sisters, and mothers ...

The Atheists’ Picnic

Julian Bell: Art and Its Origins, 10 June 2010

Conceiving God: The Cognitive Origin and Evolution of Religion 
by David Lewis-Williams.
Thames and Hudson, 320 pp., £18.95, March 2010, 978 0 500 05164 1
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... stepping forward to pat the newcomer on the back and welcome him along, who should it be but Philip Pullman? ‘Magnificent … a sane, courteous and devastating criticism of religion,’ reads his statutory puff on the dust jacket of the latest addition to the New Atheist library. Lewis-Williams, however, makes a hesitant arrival. The seasoned ...


Patrick McGuinness: Oxford by Train, 17 June 2021

... of Oxford’s most appealing areas, from the same fate as St Thomas’s. The Jericho reimagined by Philip Pullman exists today because of Gibbs and people like her. In 1839 a curate at St Thomas’s decided to launch a floating chapel. The Boatman’s Chapel served workers on the canal for thirty years, until it sank. Oxford’s canals are full of old ...

Coruscating on Thin Ice

Terry Eagleton: The Divine Spark, 24 January 2008

Creation: Artists, Gods and Origins 
by Peter Conrad.
Thames and Hudson, 529 pp., £24.95, September 2007, 978 0 500 51356 9
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... Pico della Mirandola, Leonardo, Milton, Rameau, Sade, Mozart, Balzac, Darwin, Wagner, Rodin, Philip Pullman and a supporting cast of hundreds. A single page, selected at random and by no means the most thickly populated, scatters references to Conrad (Joseph), Hesiod, Rilke, Shakespeare, Plato, Mann, George Eliot, Gide and St John. Quite how much ...

The Last Whale

Colin Burrow, 4 June 2020

Ahab’s Rolling Sea: A Natural History of Moby-Dick 
by Richard J. King.
Chicago, 430 pp., £23, November 2019, 978 0 226 51496 3
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Complete Poems 
by Herman Melville, edited by Hershel Parker.
Library of America, 990 pp., £37.99, August 2019, 978 1 59853 618 8
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... their own harpoon, of seamen pulled from the icy waves – with exact descriptions of local fauna. Philip Pullman knew what he was doing when he borrowed Scoresby’s surname for the entrepreneurial balloonist Lee Scoresby in His Dark Materials, since both Scoresbys manage to be at once sentimental and dispassionate polar adventurers. The original ...

Reasons for Liking Tolkien

Jenny Turner: The Hobbit Habit, 15 November 2001

... help with Harry Potter.3 But both Ursula le Guin (in her great Earthsea trilogy, 1968-73) and Philip Pullman (in his trilogy, His Dark Materials, 1995-2000) developed evocative and consistent naming systems for their imagined worlds without going on and on about it. Of course Iorek Byrnison, one of the armoured bears in ...
The ego is always at the wheel 
by Delmore Schwartz.
Carcanet, 146 pp., £6.95, May 1987, 0 85635 702 2
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A Nest of Ninnies 
by John Ashbery and James Schuyler.
Carcanet, 191 pp., £10.95, June 1987, 0 85635 699 9
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... an obsession he enjoyed feeding: he would invent ridiculous sources for it – a delicatessen, a Pullman railroad car, a Tammany Hall club – while in his stories and poems he would always inflict on his leading character, who was always himself, a name exotic or absurd, half old-time Jewish and half Hollywood – Shenandoah Fish, Hershey Green, Cornelius ...

Choke Point

Patrick Cockburn: In Dover, 7 November 2019

... only as it reaches the sea that the valley opens out, with the giant docks to the left and right. Philip Hutton, an architectural historian, thinks Dover’s layout makes it look like ‘a hammerhead shark’: that long tapering stretch inland, and then the massively spread-out head of the port areas facing the sea. It’s a town that invites this sort of ...

Long Live Aporia!

Hal Foster: William Gaddis, 24 July 2003

Agapē Agape 
by William Gaddis.
Atlantic, 113 pp., £9.99, January 2003, 1 903809 83 5
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The Rush for Second Place: Essays and Occasional Writings 
by William Gaddis, edited by Joseph Tabbi.
Penguin, 182 pp., $14, October 2002, 0 14 200238 0
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... Eastman (photography), Morgan (credit), Ford (assembly line, plant police), Pullman (model town), Mary Baker Eddy (applied ontology), Taylor (time studies), Watson (behaviourism), Sanger (sex) etc, etc.’ Clearly Gaddis is concerned less with mechanisation per se than with the ‘more pervasive principle of organisation’ which ...

Philosophical Vinegar, Marvellous Salt

Malcolm Gaskill: Alchemical Pursuits, 15 July 2021

The Experimental Fire: Inventing English Alchemy, 1300-1700 
by Jennifer M. Rampling.
Chicago, 408 pp., £28, December 2020, 978 0 226 71070 9
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... fairytale trappings still hinder its restoration to the pre-modern intellectual mainstream. In Philip Pullman’s Lyra’s Oxford (2003), Sebastian Makepeace slaves away in ‘a hot, close, sulphurous room lit only by the flames of a great iron furnace in one corner. Benches along each wall were laden with glass beakers and retorts, with crucibles and ...

Pink and Bare

Bee Wilson: Nicole Kidman, 8 February 2007

Nicole Kidman 
by David Thomson.
Bloomsbury, 311 pp., £18.99, September 2006, 0 7475 7710 2
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... shirts’ by day but takes them off later on for a love scene with her deceived husband (Bill Pullman). Thomson is not so keen on her bottom here. In itself, it is ‘pretty’ and ‘enough to bring credit to any actress’ but it is ‘so guarded by a separate close-up that we don’t necessarily trust it to be Nicole’s’. More authentic is the ...

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