Philip Pullman

“There are some who live by every rule and cling tightly to their rectitude because they fear being swept away by a tempest of passion, and there are others who cling to the rules because they fear that there is no passion there at all, and that if they let go they would simply remain where they are, foolish and unmoved; and they could bear that least of all. Living a life of iron control lets them pretend to themselves that only by the mightiest effort of will can they hold great passions at bay.”

Dear Mr. Pullman,

I’ve started this “thank you” letter several times because I didn’t really know what to talk about. Your His Dark Materials trilogy stands as a seminal work of my childhood and budding young adulthood. I remember my mum giving me the first two books in a set and, despite being fairly certain I mispronounced at least 50% of the names and terms incorrectly in my head while reading, I was so profoundly swept away by Lyra and Will’s story that I was actually angry when I realised a third book wasn’t already out, especially after that rather mean cliffhanger you left us on in The Subtle Knife. Truly devious.

I didn’t manage to grab hold of The Amber Spyglass until around five or so years later, when I was thirteen. I devoured it amazed that, even after five years, I still remembered all the characters and the story in which they had been a part. Suffice to say that Spyglass rocked me to my core, but in a way that the first two had not, at least, not when I was still a child. I was almost a young adult when I finally read Spyglass and the content of that novel, from Lyra’s awakening to the topic of death and what comes after, of religion and faith (or lack thereof), and of the beauty of life…it still leaves me wholly speechless. It was magical, but in a seemingly tactile way: this was “magic” that I could understand because it wasn’t really magic at all. This was a discussion I’d been trying to have with myself for some time, but didn’t know how to form the words, didn’t know what exactly it was I was trying to figure out.

I admit, I wonder now if my mum would have handed me your books if she’d known all the details of their content. She’s Roman Catholic, you see, and tried to raise my younger brothers and I Catholic as well. While she was never particularly strict about it, there are certainly things related to religion and faith I find safer not to discuss with her. By the time I was being forced through Confirmation, I knew I didn’t belong in her “house of God.” I knew that I didn’t believe, and being forced into such a process where I had to lie and say “I will pledge myself to the Catholic Church body and soul” because “I believe in the Lord, our God, and his son, Jesus Christ” without being allowed any say or chance to escape was enough to make me spend many a night crying myself to sleep. I was told I was just being selfish, that I didn’t know what I was talking about because I was fifteen and how could I possibly know what it was talking about when I was so young…

But I did.

I did know, because two years prior I had read The Amber Spyglass and understood the confusion I’d been wrestling with; and just a year prior I had read your magnificent novel, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, and it felt like someone had taken so many of my abstract, incoherent thoughts and managed to start expressing a large part of them, there, printed in black ink on white page. Jesus in the Garden was a passage I read over and over and over again because it was some of the most beautiful language and profound insight I’d seen put to paper. I pull it out and read it in times of stress. I also flip to your own author’s notes at the novel’s end because your own words, divorced from a fictional narrative, are still incredible. They helped me a great deal when I thought I was crazy for thinking, “But I don’t believe in what I’m being told.”

Because of your books and your words, I was able to begin the process of articulating my own thoughts and feelings about the universe and what it was I believed, no matter what conclusion I eventually came to.

So thank you — thank you so, so much for writing these books and helping to inspire at least this one person to try and articulate the sum of her own thoughts on what she did (or did not) believe.

Sincerely,
Madeleine

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Gods Forbid We Talk About Sex

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Madeleine Cassier
Producer
Website | Twitter | GoodreadsBookTube

Every year, I make a point to re-read one of my favourite book series’ of all time: Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. Consisting of three novels (Northern Lights — entitled The Golden Compass in the US — The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass), this series marketed for young readers and young adults is a brilliant literary reversal of John Milton’s classic epic poem, Paradise Lost, even taking its own series’ title from the same poem:

Into this wild Abyss
The womb of Nature, and perhaps her grave–
Of neither sea, nor shore, nor air, nor fire,
But all these in their pregnant causes mixed
Confusedly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless the Almighty Maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more worlds,–
Into this wild Abyss the wary Fiend
Stood on the brink of Hell and looked a while,
Pondering his voyage; for no narrow frith
He had to cross.

I love this series. I’ve loved it since I first picked it up back when I was in elementary school. However I often find it difficult to talk about this series without needing to acknowledge the…notoriety this series holds with many (usually religious) societies
and people. One publication actually called the His Dark Materials the “stuff of nightmares Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 7.42.09 PM.pngand worthy of the bonfire.” Wow. Them’s fightin’ words — and, for the record: I believe book burning is the stuff of nightmares and demonstrates nothing more than a level of ignorance and hatred so great, that there are not enough superlatives in the world that can, in any way, encompass it.

Bringing it more close to home, I can speak from experience the reactions that even seeing someone else reading this series can have upon the intolerant. While I spent my childhood in the suburbs of Buffalo, New York, my young adulthood was spent in the suburbs of Richmond, Virginia. Now, when I started reading this series in New York at the tender age of around nine or ten, nobody bothered me about it. But come the age of seventeen-ish, when I picked up this book to re-read it? I got spewed with quite of bit of religious diatribe and verbal vitriol, a lot of it from people who hadn’t even read the books.

But despite all that, I don’t want to talk about the issues various religious groups have with these novels, or even the ridiculousness I have experienced over the years when people see me re-reading Pullman’s trilogy — you may take those as you will. Instead, what I want to discuss is the more insidious form of censorship that this series has experienced in North America: the invisible kind of censorship. I say invisible because, unless you were to own multiple versions of the series, or happen to like looking at books’ Wikipedia pages (as I do), you might not have known that several lines in the North American publication of the third novel in the series, The Amber Spyglass, were censored by the publishers. 

Spoiler-warning

CAVEAT EMPTOR: This post will contain spoilers for the His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, specifically details relating to the character arc of the protagonist in its concluding novel, The Amber Spyglass. You have been warned.

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TBT 04: Religion in YA Literature

Happy Holidays! Members of Backroom Whispering got together just before Christmas to discuss how religion is discussed and used in YA literature, including but not limited to His Dark Materials, Harry Potter, and the Chronicles of Narnia. We had a lot of different thoughts, so we hope you enjoy! Continue the conversation on our Facebook and Twitter pages!

In this episode you heard from:
Moderator: Dorothy | @bwp_dorothy
Akhi | @akhipill
Madeleine | @madnbooks | youtube.com/madnbooks
Rebecca | @rumy91989
Louisa | @otterbewriting
Sara (read by Dorothy) | @fantasticpiggy

The Book Table is a podcast from Backroom Whispering Productions. Our theme music is by Mark Wayne.

If you liked this podcast, rate us on iTunes! You can also listen on YouTube or on other favourite podcast apps — just search “The Book Table” and let us know if you can’t find us!

Or get in touch with us:
Twitter | @BackroomWhisper
Facebook | facebook.com/BackroomWhispering
Email | BackroomWhispering@gmail.com

TBT 03: His Dark Materials

In this episode of The Book Table, we discuss the series His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. We had a lot to say on this topic, if an hour and a half is too much there’s a built-in pause-and-stretch-break with our spoiler cut at 35:47. If you would like spoiler-free content, feel free to stop listening at that point.

This episode is also available on YouTube, iTunes, and your favorite podcast apps: just search “The Book Table!”

In this episode you heard from:
Madeleine | @madnbooks | youtube.com/madnbooks
Rebecca | @rumy91989
Shelly | @shllybkwrm
Dorothy | @bwp_dorothy

The Book Table is a podcast from Backroom Whispering Productions. Our theme music is by Mark Wayne.
If you liked this podcast, rate us on iTunes! Or get in touch with us:
Twitter | @BackroomWhisper
Facebook | facebook.com/BackroomWhispering
Email | BackroomWhispering@gmail.com