Philip Pullman

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Philip Pullman
Philip Pullman 2005-04-16.png
Pullman in April 2005
Born(1946-10-19) 19 October 1946 (age 67)
Norwich, Norfolk, England, UK
EducationEnglish literature
Alma materExeter College, Oxford
Notable works
Notable awardsCarnegie Medal
Guardian Prize
Astrid Lindgren Award
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Philip Pullman
Philip Pullman 2005-04-16.png
Pullman in April 2005
Born(1946-10-19) 19 October 1946 (age 67)
Norwich, Norfolk, England, UK
EducationEnglish literature
Alma materExeter College, Oxford
Notable works
Notable awardsCarnegie Medal
Guardian Prize
Astrid Lindgren Award
"A bird of the raven family with a diamond in her beak. This is the storyteller: storytellers always steal their stories, every story has been told before."[1]

Philip Pullman CBE, FRSL (born 19 October 1946) is a British writer. He is the author of several best-selling books, most notably the fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials and the fictionalised biography of Jesus, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. In 2008, The Times named Pullman one of the "50 greatest British writers since 1945".[2]

Northern Lights, the first book of the His Dark Materials trilogy, won the 1995 Carnegie Medal from the Library Association, recognising the year's outstanding English-language children's book.[3] For the 70th anniversary of the Medal it was named one of the top ten winning works by a panel, composing the ballot for a public election of the all-time favourite.[4] Northern Lights won the public vote from that shortlist and was thus named the all-time "Carnegie of Carnegies" on 21 June 2007. It has been adapted as a film under its U.S. title, The Golden Compass.

Life and career[edit]

Philip Pullman was born in Norwich, England, the son of Audrey Evelyn Pullman (née Merrifield) and Royal Air Force pilot Alfred Outram Pullman. The family travelled with his father's job, including to Southern Rhodesia, though the majority of his formative years was spent in Llanbedr in Ardudwy, north Wales.[5]

His father was killed in a plane crash in 1953 when Pullman was seven, being posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). Pullman said at the beginning of a 2008 exchange that to him as a boy, his father "was a hero, steeped in glamour, killed in action defending his country" and had been "training pilots, I think." Pullman was then presented with a report from The London Gazette of 1954 "which carried the official RAF news of the day [and] said that the medal was given for 'gallant and distinguished service' during the Mau Mau uprising. 'The main task of the Harvards [the squadron of planes led by his father] has been bombing and machine-gunning Mau Mau and their hideouts in densely wooded and difficult country.' This included 'diving steeply into the gorges of [various] rivers, often in conditions of low cloud and driving rain.' Testing conditions, yes, but not much opposition from the enemy, the journalist in the exchange continued. Very few of the Mau Mau had guns that could land a blow on an aircraft." Pullman responded to this new information, writing "my father probably doesn't come out of this with very much credit, judged by the standards of modern liberal progressive thought" and accepted the new information as "a serious challenge to his childhood memory."[6]

His mother remarried and, with a move to Australia, came Pullman's discovery of comic books including Superman and Batman, a medium which he continues to espouse. From 1957 he was educated at Ysgol Ardudwy in Harlech, Gwynedd, and spent time in Norfolk with his grandfather, a clergyman. Around this time Pullman discovered John Milton's Paradise Lost, which would become a major influence for His Dark Materials.[7]

From 1963, Pullman attended Exeter College, Oxford, receiving a Third class BA in 1968.[8] In an interview with the Oxford Student he stated that he "did not really enjoy the English course" and that "I thought I was doing quite well until I came out with my third class degree and then I realised that I wasn’t — it was the year they stopped giving fourth class degrees otherwise I’d have got one of those".[9] He discovered William Blake's illustrations around 1970, which would also later influence him greatly.

Pullman married Judith Speller in 1970 and began teaching children aged 9 to 13 at Bishop Kirk Middle School in Summertown, North Oxford and writing school plays. His first published work was The Haunted Storm, which joint-won the New English Library's Young Writer's Award in 1972. He nevertheless refuses to discuss it. Galatea, an adult fantasy-fiction novel, followed in 1978, but it was his school plays which inspired his first children's book, Count Karlstein, in 1982. He stopped teaching around the publication of The Ruby in the Smoke (1986), his second children's book, whose Victorian setting is indicative of Pullman's interest in that era.

Pullman taught part-time at Westminster College, Oxford, between 1988 and 1996, continuing to write children's stories. He began His Dark Materials in about 1993. The first book, Northern Lights was published in 1995 (entitled The Golden Compass in the U.S., 1996). Pullman won both the annual Carnegie Medal[3] and the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, a similar award that authors may not win twice.[10][a]

Pullman has been writing full-time since 1996, and continues to deliver talks and writes occasionally for The Guardian. He was awarded a CBE in the New Year's Honours list in 2004. He also co-judged the Christopher Tower Poetry Prize (awarded by Oxford University) in 2005 with Gillian Clarke. Pullman also began lecturing at a seminar in English at his alma mater, Exeter College, Oxford, in 2004,[11][12] the same year that he was elected President of the Blake Society.[13] In 2004 Pullman also guest-edited The Mays Anthology, a collection of new writing from students at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

In 2005 Pullman won the biggest prize in children's literature, the annual Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award from the Swedish Arts Council, recognising his career contribution to "children's and young adult literature in the broadest sense". According to the presentation, "Pullman radically injects new life into fantasy by introducing a variety of alternative worlds and by allowing good and evil to become ambiguous." In every genre, "he combines storytelling and psychological insight of the highest order."[14]

He was one of five finalists for the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Medal in 2006[15] and he was the British nominee again in 2012.[16]

In 2008, he started working on The Book of Dust, a sequel to his completed His Dark Materials trilogy, and "The Adventures of John Blake", a story for the British children's comic The DFC, with artist John Aggs.[17][18][19]

On 23 November 2007, Pullman was made an honorary professor at Bangor University.[20] In June 2008, he became a Fellow supporting the MA in Creative Writing at Oxford Brookes University.[21] In September 2008, he hosted "The Writer's Table" for Waterstone's bookshop chain, highlighting 40 books which have influenced his career.[22] In October 2009, he became a patron of the Palestine Festival of Literature. He is also a patron of the Shakespeare Schools Festival, a charity that enables school children across the UK to perform Shakespeare in professional theatres[23]

Pullman has a strong commitment to traditional British civil liberties and is noted for his criticism of growing state authority and government encroachment into everyday life. In February 2009, he was the keynote speaker at the Convention on Modern Liberty in London[24] and wrote an extended piece in The Times condemning the Labour government for its attacks on basic civil rights.[25] Later, he and other authors threatened to stop visiting schools in protest at new laws requiring them to be vetted to work with youngsters—though officials claimed that the laws had been misinterpreted.[26]

On 24 June 2009, Pullman was awarded the degree of D. Litt. (Doctor of Letters), honoris causa, by the University of Oxford at the Encænia ceremony in the Sheldonian Theatre.[27]

In 2012, during a break from writing The Book Of Dust, companion novel to the Dark Material Trilogy series, Pullman was asked by Penguin Classics to curate 50 of Grimms' classic fairytales, from their compendium of over 200 stories. "They are not all of the same quality," said Pullman, "Some are easily much better than others. And some are obvious classics. You can't do a selected Grimms' without Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella and so on."[28]

Beginning in August 2013, Pullman was elected President of the Society of Authors - the "ultimate honour" awarded by the British writers body, and a position first held by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.[29]

His Dark Materials[edit]

Main article: His Dark Materials

His Dark Materials is a trilogy consisting of Northern Lights (titled The Golden Compass in North America), The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. Northern Lights won the Carnegie Medal for children's fiction in the UK in 1995. The Amber Spyglass was awarded both 2001 Whitbread Prize for best children's book and the Whitbread Book of the Year prize in January 2002, the first children's book to receive that award. The series won popular acclaim in late 2003, taking third place in the BBC's Big Read poll. Pullman later wrote two companion pieces to the trilogy, entitled Lyra's Oxford, and Once Upon a Time in the North. A third companion piece Pullman refers to as the "green book" will expand upon his character Will. He has plans for one more, the as-yet-unpublished The Book of Dust. This book is not a continuation of the trilogy but will include characters and events from His Dark Materials.

Pullman has narrated unabridged audiobooks of the three main novels in His Dark Materials. While Pullman is the narrator, the other parts are read by different actors, including Jo Wyatt, Steven Webb, Peter England, Stephen Thorne and Douglas Blackwell.

In a discussion on fantasy as escapism, Pullman admitted he never reads fantasy as 'it's not satisfying.' He then went on to argue that he sees His Dark Materials as 'stark realism,' not fantasy.[30]

Perspective on religion[edit]

Pullman is a supporter of the British Humanist Association and an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society. New Yorker journalist Laura Miller has described Pullman as one of England's most outspoken atheists.[31] Pullman has also referred to himself as knowingly "of the Devil's party", a reference to William Blake's revisionist take on Milton in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.[32] On 15 September 2010, Pullman along with 54 other public figures (including Stephen Fry, Professor Richard Dawkins, Terry Pratchett, Jonathan Miller and Ken Follett) signed an open letter, published in The Guardian newspaper, stating their opposition to Pope Benedict XVI being given "the honour of a state visit" to the UK; the letter argued that the Pope has led and condoned global abuses of human rights, leading a state which has "resisted signing many major human rights treaties and has formed its own treaties ("concordats") with many states which negatively affect the human rights of citizens of those states".[33]

Literary critic Alan Jacobs (of Wheaton College) said that in His Dark Materials Pullman replaced the theist world-view of John Milton's Paradise Lost with a Rousseauist one.[34] The books in the series have been criticised for their attitude to religion, especially Catholicism, by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights[35] and Focus on the Family.[36] However, Donna Freitas, professor of religion at Boston University, argued on that challenges to traditional images of God should be welcomed as part of a "lively dialogue about faith", and Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, proposed that His Dark Materials be taught as part of religious education in schools.[37] The Christian writers Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware "also uncover spiritual themes within the books."[38] Pullman's contribution to the Canongate Myth Series, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, was described as "a far more direct exploration of the foundations of Christianity and the church as well as an examination of the fascination and power of storytelling" by Mike Collett-White.[39]

Writing in the Catholic Herald in 1999, Leonie Caldecott cited Pullman's work as an example of fiction "far more worthy of the bonfire than Harry [Potter]" on the grounds that "[by] co-opting Catholic terminology and playing with Judaeo-Christian theological concepts, Pullman is effectively removing, among a mass audience of a highly impressionable age, some of the building blocks for future evangelisation".[40] Pullman was "flattered" and asked his publisher to include quotes from Caldecott's article in his next book.[41][42] In 2002, the Catholic Herald published an article by Sarah Johnson that compared Pullman to a "playground bully" whose work "attacks a religious minority".[43] The following year, after Benedict Allen's reference to the criticism during the BBC TV series The Big Read, the Catholic Herald republished both articles and Caldecott claimed her "bonfire" comment was a joke and accused Pullman and his supporters of quoting her out of context.[44][45] In a longer article for Touchstone Magazine earlier in 2003, Caldecott had also described Pullman's work as "axe-grinding" and "a kind of Luciferian enterprise".[46]

Peter Hitchens has also argued that Pullman actively pursues an anti-Christian agenda, citing an interview in which Pullman is quoted as saying: "I'm trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief."[47][48] In the same interview, Pullman acknowledges that a controversy would be likely to boost sales, but continues "I'm not in the business of offending people. I find the books upholding certain values that I think are important, such as life is immensely valuable and this world is an extraordinarily beautiful place. We should do what we can to increase the amount of wisdom in the world".[48] Peter Hitchens also views the His Dark Materials series as a direct rebuttal of C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia;[49] Pullman has criticized the Narnia books as religious propaganda.[50] Peter Hitchens' brother Christopher Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great, praised His Dark Materials as a fresh alternative to Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and J. K. Rowling, describing the author as one "whose books have begun to dissolve the frontier between adult and juvenile fiction."[41] However, he was more critical of 'The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ', accusing Pullman of being a "Protestant atheist" for supporting the teachings of Christ but being critical of organised religion.[51]

Pullman has, however, found support from some other Christians, most notably from Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury (spiritual head of the Anglican church), who argues that Pullman's attacks focus on the constraints and dangers of dogmatism and the use of religion to oppress, not on Christianity itself.[52] Williams has also recommended the His Dark Materials series of books for inclusion and discussion in Religious Education classes, and stated that "To see large school-parties in the audience of the Pullman plays at the National Theatre is vastly encouraging".[53] Pullman and Williams took part in a National Theatre platform debate a few days later to discuss myth, religious experience and its representation in the arts.[54]

Pullman has singled out certain elements of Christianity for criticism, as in the following: "I suppose technically, you'd have to put me down as an agnostic. But if there is a God, and he is as the Christians describe him, then he deserves to be put down and rebelled against".[55] However, Pullman has also said in interviews and appearances that his argument can extend to all religions.[56][57]

Screen adaptations[edit]

Selected works[edit]

These are some of Pullman's books.[59]

Non-series books[edit]

Sally Lockhart[edit]

The New-Cut Gang[edit]

His Dark Materials[edit]

Companion books[edit]




See also[edit]


  1. ^ Alternatively, six authors have won the Carnegie Medal for their Guardian Prize-winning books. Professional librarians confer the Carnegie and select the winner from all British children's books (although it was established in 1936 as a once-in-a-lifetime award). The Guardian newspaper's prize winner is selected by British children's writers, "peers" of the author who has not yet won it, for one children's (age 7+) or young-adult fiction book. Details regarding author and publisher nationality have varied.


  1. ^ Philip Pullman's imagined Coat of Arms; as described in his interview with FT Magazine -
  2. ^ "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945". The Times. 5 January 2008. Retrieved on 2010-02-05.
  3. ^ a b (Carnegie Winner 1995). Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
  4. ^ "70 Years Celebration: Anniversary Top Tens". The CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Children's Book Awards. CILIP. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
  5. ^ "Philip Pullman: How Wales inspired his life and work". 18 March 2013. Retrieved 20 March 2013. 
  6. ^ Moreton, Cole, "Philip Pullman: His dark materials: The death and absence of his father has informed so much of the fiction written by this highly acclaimed author over the years, but he has never known – or wanted to know – the truth about what really happened. Until now...", The Independent, 25 May 2008. Retrieved 2010-10-21.
  7. ^ Philip Pullman: How Wales inspired his life and work
  8. ^ "University of Oxford, Cherwell newspaper Interviews: Philip Pullman". Cherwell. 2 September 2009. Retrieved 2 August 2009. 
  9. ^ Growing Pains – Features – The Oxford Student – Official Student Newspaper at the Wayback Machine (archived December 16, 2008)
  10. ^ "Guardian children's fiction prize relaunched: Entry details and list of past winners". theguardian 12 March 2001. Retrieved 2012-08-02.
  11. ^ Acclaimed Author Philip Pullman to Visit UCE Birmingham at the Wayback Machine (archived September 24, 2006). 6 May 2004
  12. ^ Undergraduate Life at the Wayback Machine (archived January 9, 2010).
  13. ^ Report to St James’s 2004.
  14. ^ "2005: Philip Pullman: Maintaining an Optimistic Belief in the Child". The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. Retrieved 2012-08-13.
  15. ^ "IBBY Announces the Winners of the Hans Christian Andersen Awards 2006". International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY). Press release 27 March 2006.
     "Hans Christian Andersen Awards". IBBY. Retrieved 2013-07-22.
  16. ^ "2012 Awards". Hans Christian Andersen Awards. IBBY.
     "Philip Pullman". IBBY. Retrieved 2013-07-20.
  17. ^ Philip Pullman writes comic strip, The Times, 11 May 2008
  18. ^ Deep stuff, The Guardian, 24 May 2008
  19. ^ Pullman's page at the DFC website, The DFC
  20. ^ BBC News (2007-11-23). Retrieved on 2012-01-02.
  21. ^ "Philip Pullman Creative Writing Fellow for new MA". Oxford Brookes University. 11 June 2008. Retrieved 26 January 2009. 
  22. ^ "Philip Pullman To Host Next Waterstone's Writer's Table". 2 July 2008. Retrieved 26 January 2009. 
  23. ^
  24. ^ The Convention on Modern Liberty. (2009-02-28). Retrieved on 2012-01-02.
  25. ^ Pullman, Philip (27 February 2009). "Malevolent voices that despise our freedoms". The Times (London). Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  26. ^ School safety 'insult' to Pullman. BBC News (2009-07-16). Retrieved on 2012-01-02.
  27. ^ Honorary degrees awarded at Encaenia – University of Oxford. Retrieved on 2012-01-02.
  28. ^ Philip Pullman turns to Grimm task
  29. ^ Alison Flood (25 March 2013). "Philip Pullman to be Society of Authors' new president". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 March 2013. 
  30. ^ Pullman, Philip. "The Great Escape". Retrieved 21 January 2014. 
  31. ^ Miller, Laura. "'Far From Narnia'" (Life and Letters article). The New Yorker. Retrieved 31 October 2007. 
  32. ^ Whittaker, Jason. (2010-04-09) His Dark Materials – Blake and Pullman. Retrieved on 2012-01-02.
  33. ^ "The Guardian: Harsh judgments on the pope and religion". London: The Guardian. 15 September 2010. Retrieved 16 September 2010. 
  34. ^ "Mars Hill Audio – Audition – Program 10". Retrieved 13 November 2007. 
  35. ^ ""The Golden Compass" Sparks Protest". Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. [dead link]
  36. ^ Jennifer Mesko. "Golden Compass Reveals a World Where There is No God". Focus on the Family Retrieved 7 December 2006. [dead link]
  37. ^ "Golden Compass Film Angering Christian Groups – Even With Its Religious Themes Watered Down". MTV Asia. 
  38. ^ Bruner, Kurt & Ware, Jim. "'Shedding Light on His Dark Materials'" (Tyndale Products review). Tyndale. Retrieved 1 October 2007. 
  39. ^ Collett-White, Mike (28 March 2010). "Pullman Risks Christian Anger With Jesus Novel". Reuters. Retrieved 15 January 2014. 
  40. ^ Caldecott, Leonie (29 October 1999). "The stuff of nightmares". Catholic Herald. Retrieved 15 January 2014. 
  41. ^ a b "Oxford's Rebel Angel". Vanity Fair. October 2002. Retrieved 15 January 2014. 
  42. ^ "A dark agenda?". November 2002. Retrieved 15 January 2014. 
  43. ^ Johnson, Sarah (1 February 2002). "Closing children's minds". Catholic Herald. Retrieved 15 January 2014. 
  44. ^ Farrell, Christina (26 December 2003). "Challenge to BBC over book allegation". Catholic Herald. Retrieved 15 January 2014. 
  45. ^ Caldecott, Leonie (26 December 2003). "The Big Read and the big lie". Catholic Herald. Retrieved 15 January 2014. 
  46. ^ Caldecott, Leonie (October 2003). "Paradise Denied - Philip Pullman & the Uses & Abuses of Enchantment". Touchstone Magazine. Retrieved 15 January 2014. 
  47. ^ Hitchens, Peter. "'This is the most dangerous author in Britain'" (Mail on Sunday article). The Mail on Sunday. Retrieved 21 September 2006. 
  48. ^ a b Wartofsky, Alona (19 February 2001). "The Last Word". The Washington Post. Retrieved 29 November 2007. 
  49. ^ Hitchens, Peter. "A labour of loathing" (Spectator article). The Spectator. Retrieved 21 September 2006. 
  50. ^ Crary, Duncan. "The Golden Compass Author Avoids Atheist Labels" (Humanist Network News Interview). Humanist Network News. Retrieved 1 December 2008. [dead link]
  51. ^ [1] July 2010 Retrieved on 2013-10-21
  52. ^ Petre, Jonathan (10 March 2004). "Williams backs Pullman". Daily Telegraph (UK). Retrieved 12 April 2007. 
  53. ^ Rowan, Williams (10 March 2004). "Archbishop wants Pullman in class". BBC News Online. Retrieved 10 March 2004. 
  54. ^ Oborne, Peter (17 March 2004). "The Dark Materials debate: life, God, the universe...". Daily Telegraph (UK). Retrieved 1 April 2008. 
  55. ^ "Sympathy for the Devil by Adam R. Holz". Plugged In Online. Retrieved 14 September 2013. 
  56. ^ Spanner, Huw (13 February 2002). "Heat and Dust". Retrieved 5 April 2007. [dead link]
  57. ^ Bakewell, Joan (2001). "Belief". BBC News Online. Archived from the original on 11 September 2004. Retrieved 5 April 2007. 
  58. ^
  59. ^ "Philip Pullman". FantasticFiction. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]