Lyra Goes To Hollywood

By Philip Pullman
The Sunday Times, March 11, 2007


Edited by Andy Ross

From a storytelling point of view, the novel and the film aren't so different. In both the novel and the film you can use that great narrative device, the close-up, which is impossible in the theatre. And David Mamet said that the basic question each film director has to ask is "Where do I put the camera?" — which is exactly what the novelist has to think about with every sentence.

However, I didn't want to write the screenplay for the film to be called The Golden Compass. It isn't a complete story in itself; it's the first part of a long story published in three volumes. The whole thing took me seven years to write, and the last thing I wanted to do when the film rights were sold, quite early on, was to take it all apart and put it together differently. I was happy to let someone else do it.

When I heard that the script was to be written by Tom Stoppard, I was interested to see how he'd go about it. When the next name appeared, that of Chris Weitz, I watched his film About a Boy on DVD, from which I could tell that he knew how to direct children, and what's more he put the camera in the right place. I was pleased that he was going to direct as well as write.

Meanwhile, I wanted Nicole Kidman for the part of Mrs Coulter, and Laurence Olivier (c 1945) for Lord Asriel. Kidman has the extraordinary quality of being able to play cold and warm, terrifying and seductive, passionate and calculating, all at the same time; and she is perfect in the role of Mrs Coulter. Asriel was actually a difficult part to cast. When the name of Daniel Craig was mentioned, I leapt at the idea. But the central part would have to be played by an unknown actress, and the search for the right Lyra involved looking at no fewer than 10,000 girls.

So it's possible to say already, at this early stage, that the film will look spectacular, that the cast is superb, and that it sticks pretty closely to my story.

Far From Narnia

By Laura Miller
The New Yorker, December 26, 2005


Edited by Andy Ross

Every year at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich, England, a guest is invited to speak on the subject of religion and education. This year, the auditorium was filled, and another room, with a video feed, had to be set up for those who couldn't fit into the main hall. The speaker, Philip Pullman, is fervently admired for his sophisticated trilogy of children's novels called, collectively,
His Dark Materials. In Britain, his books have sold millions of copies

In his books, fantasy is a springboard for exploring cosmic questions about the purpose of human life and the nature of the universe. Nevertheless, the selection of Pullman was surprising: he is one of England's most outspoken atheists. In the trilogy, a young girl, Lyra Belacqua, becomes enmeshed in an epic struggle against a nefarious Church. Another character describes Christianity as "a very powerful and convincing mistake." Pullman once told an interviewer that "every single religion that has a monotheistic god ends up by persecuting other people and killing them because they don't accept him."

Pullman loves Oxford, but he's far from donnish. His books have been likened to those of J. R. R. Tolkien, another alumnus, but he scoffs at the notion of any resemblance. "The Lord of the Rings is fundamentally an infantile work," he said. When it comes to The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis, Pullman's antipathy is even more pronounced. Although he likes Lewis's criticism and quotes it surprisingly often, he considers the fantasy series "morally loathsome."

One afternoon, at the converted seventeenth-century farmhouse where Pullman and his wife live, Pullman came bounding back into the kitchen, waving a letter. It had arrived at his door despite the fact that the correspondent didn't know the street address. He was beaming. The envelope read "Philip Pullman, The Storyteller, Oxford." "I couldn't ask for anything better," he said.

AR  (2010) Like me, Pullman matriculated at Exeter College, Oxford, where earlier Tolkien had been a professor. He's in the 2003 college gaudy picture with me. So the movie means a lot to me.