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
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
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."
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.