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Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman
Born October 19, 1946(1946-10-19) (age 61)
Norwich, Norfolk, UKOccupationNovelist GenresFantasyNotable work(s) His Dark Materialstrilogy Influences
John Milton
Official website

Philip Pullman CBE (born October 19, 1946) is a British writer. He is the best-selling author of His Dark Materials, a trilogy of fantasy novels, and a number of other books.



Pullman was born in Norwich, Norfolk, UK, to Royal Air Force pilot Alfred Outram Pullman and Audrey Evelyn Outram née Merrifield. The family travelled with his father's job, including to Southern Rhodesia where he spent time at school. His father was killed in a plane crash in 1953 when Pullman was seven. 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 school 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.

From 1963 Pullman attended Exeter College, Oxford, receiving a Third class BA in 1968. 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".[1] 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 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 about 1993. Northern Lights (published as The Golden Compass in the US) was published in 1996 and won the Carnegie Medal, one of the most prestigious British children's fiction awards, and the Guardian Children's Fiction Award.

Pullman has been writing full-time since 1996, but 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 prestigious 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.[2][3]

He is currently 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.[4][5]

On 23 November 2007, Pullman was made an honorary professor at Bangor University.[6]

In June 2008, Pullman became a Fellow[1] supporting the MA in Creative Writing[2] at Oxford Brookes University.

His Dark Materials

His Dark Materials consists of Northern Lights (titled The Golden Compass in North America), The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. The first volume of the trilogy, "Northern Lights", won the Carnegie Medal for children's fiction in the UK in 1995. The Amber Spyglass, the last volume, 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 has written two companion pieces to the trilogy entitled, Lyra's Oxford, and the newly released Once Upon a Time in the North. He has plans for one more, the as-yet-unwritten The Book of Dust, which is tentatively set for release in 2009.

In 2005 Pullman was announced as joint winner of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for children's literature.

Religious perspective

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.[7]

The His Dark Materials books have been controversial with some Christian groups. Peter Hitchens has argued that Pullman actively pursues an anti-Christian agenda.[8] In support of this contention, he cites an interview in which Pullman is quoted as saying: "I'm trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief."[9] In the same interview, Pullman also "acknowledge(s) that a controversy would be likely to boost sales. But I'm not in the business of offending people. I find the books upholding certain values that I think are important. Such as that this life is immensely valuable. And that this world is an extraordinarily beautiful place, and we should do what we can to increase the amount of wisdom in the world'."[9]

Hitchens views the His Dark Materials series as a direct rebuttal of C. S. Lewis's series.[10] Although Pullman has criticized C. S. Lewis's series The Chronicles of Narnia as religious propaganda, the two series have several things in common. Both feature children facing adult moral choices, talking animals, religious allegories, parallel worlds, and concern the ultimate fate of those worlds.

Literary critic Alan Jacobs (of Wheaton College) argues that in his recasting of John Milton's trilogy, Pullman replaces a theist world-view with a Rousseauist one.[11] Surprisingly Pullman has found some support from Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Others contend that Pullman's negative portrayal of the "Church" in His Dark Materials amounts to an attack on dogmatism and the use of religion to oppress, not on Christianity itself. Dr. Williams has gone so far as to propose that His Dark Materials be taught as part of religious education in schools. Moreover, authors of works dedicated to critical appraisals of religious themes in his writing have described Pullman as a friendly and generous debating partner[12].

Other Christian writers, such as Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware, while finding his anti-Christian position troubling, "also uncover spiritual themes within the books, which, like shafts of light, break through an otherwise gloomy universe—despite Pullman’s best efforts to keep them out. In the end, the authors argue that Pullman offers an unwitting tribute to the God he intended to discredit."[13] in their book Shedding Light on His Dark Materials.

Screen adaptations


Non-series books

Sally Lockhart

The New-Cut Gang

  • 1994 Thunderbolt's Waxwork
  • 1995 The Gasfitter's Ball

His Dark Materials

Companion Books


  • 1990 Frankenstein
  • 1992 Sherlock Holmes and the Limehouse Horror


  • 1978 Ancient Civilisations
  • 1978 Using the Oxford Junior Dictionary

Source: [3]


  1. ^ Growing Pains - Features - The Oxford Student - Official Student Newspaper
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Philip Pullman writes comic strip, The Times, May 11, 2008
  5. ^ Deep stuff, The Guardian, May 24, 2008
  6. ^
  7. ^ Miller, Laura. 'Far From Narnia' (Life and Letters article). The New Yorker. Retrieved on 2007-10-31.
  8. ^ 'Is this the most dangerous author in Britain?' (Mail on Sunday article). The Mail on Sunday. Retrieved on 2006-09-21.
  9. ^ a b The Last Word. The Washington Post (2001-02-19). Retrieved on 2007-11-29.
  10. ^ Hitchens, Peter. "A labour of loathing" (Spectator article), The Spectator. Retrieved on 2006-09-21
  11. ^ Mars Hill Audio - Audition - Program 10. Retrieved on 2007-11-13.
  12. ^ Robert Butler. "The Dark Materials debate: life, God, the universe...", The Telegraph, March 17, 2004. Retrieved on 2007-04-28
  13. ^ Bruner, Kurt & Ware, Jim. 'Shedding Light on His Dark Materials' (Tyndale Products review). Tyndale. Retrieved on 2007-10-01.
  14. ^ The Butterfly Tattoo - Home

Further reading

  • Lenz, Millicent (2005). His Dark Materials Illuminated: Critical Essays on Phillip Pullman's Trilogy. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-3207-2
  • Wheat, Leonard F. Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials - A Multiple Allegory: Attacking Religious Superstition in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Paradise Lost.
  • Robert Darby: Intercision-Circumcision: His Dark Materials, a disturbing allegory of genital mutilation [4]

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Philip Pullman PersondataNAME Pullman, Philip ALTERNATIVE NAMES SHORT DESCRIPTION English novelist DATE OF BIRTH 19 October1946PLACE OF BIRTH NorwichDATE OF DEATH PLACE OF DEATH
v • d • ePhilip Pullman's His Dark MaterialsCharacters · Dæmons · Locations · Races · TerminologyWorks Northern Lights(film)(game) · The Subtle Knife · The Amber Spyglass · Lyra's Oxford · Once Upon a Time in the North · The Book of DustCharacters Lyra Belacqua · Will Parry · Lord Asriel · Marisa CoulterOther Dust · Intercision · Objects · Republic of Heaven Categories: 1946 births | Living people | English children's writers | English fantasy writers | English novelists | British Book Awards | Guardian award winners | British humanists | English atheists | Atheist thinkers and activists | Commanders of the Order of the British Empire | Alumni of Exeter College, Oxford | People from Norwich | Fellows of the Royal Society of Literature

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