Golden Compass' Philip Pullman on returning to His Dark Materials
A version of this story appears in the July 7, 2017 issue of Entertainment Weekly. Pick it up on stands Friday, or subscribe online at ew.com/allaccess.
Golden Compass author Philip Pullman surprised millions of fans late last year when he announced that he would be returning to the world of the immensely popular His Dark Materials trilogy.
His three new books — the first set 10 years before the original trilogy and the next two coming after the events in those books — will once again transport readers to Lyra’s Oxford. The first volume in the companion Book of Dust trilogy is La Belle Sauvage (for which you can exclusively see the cover below), which centers on Malcolm Polstead and is in fact named for his canoe, which will become a central part of the story. But fans needn’t worry, as not only will Lord Asriel (and his daemon Stelmaria) definitely make an appearance in the book along with baby Lyra Belacqua (the main protagonist of the best-selling books), but careful readers of the previous books may remember that Malcolm himself had had a brief appearance in them.
In keeping with his previous three books (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass), Pullman’s latest also tackle larger themes. In particular, the new books will detail a struggle between a tyrannical organization set on stifling speculation and inquiry, and the people who believe that speech and thought should be free.
Published from 1995 to 2000, Pullman’s best-selling His Dark Materials trilogy was part fantasy, part coming-of-age saga. It followed Lyra (and later co-protagonist Will Parry) across fantastical worlds, introducing concepts like dæmons, part of a person’s soul that appears as an animal, and Dust, a life-giving particle.
Below, read EW’s interview with Pullman about the upcoming book, and get an exclusive look at U.S. cover of La Belle Sauvage — as well as the wood carvings designer Chris Wormell created for it.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What made this the right time to return to the world of His Dark Materials? What did you feel compelled to write about that you hadn’t really touched on in the existing trilogy?
PHILIP PULLMAN: I’ve been thinking about Lyra and her world, and the implications of Dust and of dæmons, for 20 years. And my understanding of life, and of stories, and of what it feels like to be alive, has been developing too. There seemed to be another story waiting to be told, and the more I thought about it, the more it demanded that I listen and pay attention and think it through properly. I say “another story,” but it’s really still Lyra’s story, and the story of the difference between a free and open way of thinking about things and a limited and controlled way. The world has not become any nicer and more tolerant in those 20 years, and that’s part of the story too.
This new trilogy has an interesting timeline. What inspired you to make the first book in this companion trilogy more of a prequel to the original trilogy, as opposed to a sequel like the two proceeding books?
The story I found myself telling had a beginning that closely involved Lyra, but it happened when she was about six months old. Then came an interval, during which some of the consequences of the first part were worked out in the story of His Dark Materials, when she was about 11 or 12. But other things were still lying in the ground, waiting to germinate. About 10 years after the events in His Dark Materials, the first shoots of those other things begin to emerge from the ground. But because they’re not really a consequence of His Dark Materials, I don’t want to call them a sequel; and because I don’t like the word “prequel,” I didn’t want to call the first book by that word. So I call The Book of Dust an “equel.”
The original trilogy touches upon science, philosophy, and religion. How are you approaching these themes in your new work, considering all the changes that have taken place in the world?
My guide in these matters has always been the English poet and painter William Blake. He was very much opposed to what he called “single vision,” by which he meant the cast of mind that embraces fundamentalism of any kind: a narrow, literal-minded, ferociously mechanistic viewpoint. I’m writing a defense and a celebration of the immense variety of the imagination, which I think is a truer way of understanding our life and the universe we live in.
The Book of Dust will be available in bookstores on Oct. 19. And if you’d like to reread (or maybe even start) the His Dark Materials, you can join the#PullmanBooks Worldwide Read-Along, and “Crack the Compass” unlock campaign now through July 18. For more exclusive info, visit Philip Pullman on Facebook.