Updated on October 12, 2017
The Book of Dust, the ‘prequel’ to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, is finally being released next week. I’m extremely excited, and in preparation I’ve read Nicholas Tucker’s analysis of Pullman and his groundbreaking trilogy, Darkness Visible.
[This book was sent to me by the good people at Icon Books in exchange for an honest review.]
Darkness Visible is divided into two main sections: the first covers Pullman’s life, providing autobiographical information about the writer and finding links between his life and certain elements of His Dark Materials. Some of the insights here are pretty fascinating (eg: Pullman went to Oxford University and did, once or twice, climb around on the roof of his college), but I’m dubious about making too many biographical links between a writer and their work. I don’t think Pullman’s past necessarily influenced his characters, although it is an interesting idea to ponder. This section is also peppered with photographs from Pullman’s life, which are really fascinating for a ‘behind-the-scenes’ look into the writer’s life.
The second section – and by far the bigger one – deals with His Dark Materials, and analyses it from a number of angles. There is a section on the writers and works that influenced Pullman, a section about HDM and religion, and sections about daemons and the characters of Lyra and Will. I found some compelling nuggets in Tucker’s analysis. For example, during my rereading of the trilogy I noticed a similarity between Pullman’s Spectres and JK Rowling’s Dementors, and I wondered if they both came from a common source: experience of depression. In Darkness Visible, Tucker reveals that Pullman has indeed previously suffered from depression, and he draws the same Spectre–Dementor comparison. Similarly, I loved Tucker’s small revelations, such as that Pullman believes his daemon would be a jackdaw or a magpie, and that Serafina Pekkala’s name was chosen at random from a Finnish phone book.
The writing style of Darkness Visible is fairly simple, which makes it a quick and easy read (I got through it in under three hours), but the insights are often quite complex. Tucker spends a fair amount of time discussing Pullman’s optimism, exemplified by the writer’s belief that hard work can get you almost anywhere (as shown by the heroes of HDM), and that the loss of childhood innocence is not something to be sad about. We must all have hardships, we must all work towards wisdom and we must all grow up. Of course, that is the central message of HDM: Lyra, as the ‘new Eve’, demonstrates how gaining knowledge is exciting and important; her ‘Fall’ is not something to be ashamed of, but something to celebrate, that will set all the worlds free.
If you just can’t get enough of His Dark Materials and you’re looking for a little more background to Pullman’s fantastical world, I’d highly recommend Darkness Visible.
“Pullman tries to out-narrate Christianity … with a myth that is simply more appealing, more powerful and more convincing.” – Hugh Rayment-Picard
Have you read this book or are you planning to? I’d love to know your thoughts!
Want to read this? You can buy the book here.