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Archive for the tag “Philip Pullman”

White writing, dark materials

On Thursday 4th January 2018 we got together at Cafe 41 with David Levey and Tony McGregor for our monthly literary coffee klatsch.

David said he had been reading a book by Philip Pullman. La Belle Sauvage, that was supposed to be a prequel to His Dark Materials, and thought it lacked a sense of purpose. Pullman is apparently also planning to write a kind of postquel, or requel, as he calls it.

That got us chatting about other books where a book was followed by others to form a trilogy, which wasn’t as good as the first book, or the first trilogy. I thought of Dune, where the sequels were mediocre at best, and didn’t nearly live up to the original. Val mentioned Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant books, where the first trilogy was quite good, but the second seemed to be running out of ideas. Another was William Horwood’s Duncton Wood, which was followed by five others, each one worse than the one preceding it. And probably the worst of all was the sequel to A Canticle for Leibowitz, one of the best science-fiction books I have read, whereas the sequel was one of the worst. Some people have only one book in them. David said he thought that Madeleine l’Engle’s books worked with sequels, though I haven been able to read more than the first two, because they are hard to find in book shops.

I have been reading J.M. Coetzee’s White writing and I find it more interesting than his novels, and David agreed that he thought Coetzee a better critic than author, in spite of his having won the Nobel Prize for literature and all. I have learned quite a lot about European art history from the book — Coetzee points out that the first writers about the southern African landscape were schooled in the European picturesque style, and nothing in southern Africa fitted it.

We talked a bit about the plaasroman, which Coetzee deals with in some detail, and Val mentioned three in the genre by Elizabeth Vermeulen (none of them mentioned by Coetzee), She had had one of them as a school set book, and it was the most interesting of their school set books, far more interesting than Thomas Hardy, which they also had. . She had mentioned this to a work colleague, who had found her copies of Vermeulen’s trilogy: Towergoud, Fata Morgana and Reënboog in die skemering.

Tony McGregor mentioned Alan Paton’s account of a journey to Malawi in search of the Mountains of the Moon, and David promised to send us a copy of his thesis on Alan Paton’s early writing, which was very different from his later works. I had thought that the Mountains of the Moon were further north than Malawi, and once read an adventure story about an expedition to find them that involved airships, probably written in the 1930s, about the same period as Alan Paton’s expedition.

In the abstract of his thesis David notes:

Paton’s earliest, fragmentary novel, ‘Ship of Truth’ (1922-1923) is read in some detail; his second, and only complete early novel, ‘Brother Death’ (1930), is commented on in as much detail as its frequently rambling nature warrants. A chapter on shorter fiction discusses his short story ‘Little Barbee’ (1928?), his short story ‘Calvin Doone’ (1930), his third novel, ‘John Henry Dane’ (1934), and a novel or novella, ‘Secret for Seven’ (1934). From all these readings it emerges that the Paton of his early fiction is markedly different from the Paton generally known: his concepts of human identity, of God and of religion, though earnest, are unformed and frequently ambivalent; his characterisation often stereotyped and wooden; his political views usually prejudiced and his stylistic and other techniques, though adequate in a young writer, highly repetitive

Perhaps that can form the basis of future discussions. I tend to find the concept of “identity” rather vague and problematic
as I have noted here.

Tony told some stories about his ancestors in the Eastern Cape, and David also seemed interested, so we recommended that he get the RootsMagic genealogy program and link it to the FamilySearch site.




Evangelising atheism: Philip Pullman

One of the things I noted when reading Philip Pullman’s His dark materials was that though he accused C.S. Lewis of being preachy, he was in fact far more preachy himself, especially in the third book of the series, The amber spyglass.

When I mentioned this in discussion forums, several people said that that was just my Christian prejudice. So I was interested to find a review from someone more sympathetic to Pullman’s worldview saying the same thing. Reason Magazine – A Secular Fantasy

While Pullman has said that he is interested in “telling a story, not preaching a sermon,” he slides more and more frequently into preaching as the story goes on. Some of his favorite ideas—for instance, that the human body with its senses is far superior to the fleshless spirit of the angels, or that the best afterlife is to become one with nature—are stated again and again and again and again. The idea that the transition from childhood innocence to adult experience should be welcomed, not feared, is illustrated by a heavy-handed plot twist in which Lyra and Will’s sexual awakening proves to be the key to the world’s salvation. When ideology and literature collide, literature suffers. The Amber Spyglass is not quite on a par with the first two novels: Its new characters and worlds are generally less interesting, far too much space is given to sententious musings about the meaning of life in a post-God world, and eventually you start to feel that Pullman is trying to cram too many messages into his narrative, even if that means unnecessarily dragging it out.

I recently reread the books, after seeing the film The Golden Compass, which is based on the first book of the trilogy, Northern Lights. I enjoyed it more on the second reading, but the preachiness was still there. So too was what seemed to me the biggest weakness in the whole plot — that Pullman, after making clear that he rejects the ideas of Christian asceticism, has his protagonists end up adopting something very similar. They end up like Abelard and Heloise, or Leon Bloy and his love.

On the notion that adult experience should be welcomed, not feared, however, it seems to me that Pullman’s message is ambiguous. I recently read Lisa Chaney’s biography of J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan. Barrie had a horror of children growing up, yet recognised that Peter Pan was somehow inhuman, because he was deprived of so much of human experience. But in His dark materials there is something similar. Pullman’s protagonists go on to live rather dull adult lives, forever separated from each other, and can look back on their childhood as a time of joy, excitement, adventure and love. Growing up doesn’t seem to have all that much going for it.

Catching up on the blogroll and tying threads together

December has been a somewhat broken blogging month.

A couple of weeks ago there was a storm that knocked out our phone lines for a couple of days — a cable struck by lightning or something. No sooner had that come back than we lost web access — run out of bandwidth again, halfway through the month! No I don’t do YouTube and podcasts, so it must be someone else in the family — perhaps my son downloading updates to his graphics program, which he’s using to draw fleas.

Then it comes back, and then it’s off again. Telkom has a thing that lets you buy extra bandwidth now, but it doesn’t seem to work. There’s a problem, they apparently didn’t like my credit card, so I report the problem but there’s no feedback. They simply don’t reply. Later my wife tries with her credit card, and that works, so we are back on the web, but for how long I don’t know.

So I try to catch up with blogs I read — starting first by checking on visitors to my blogs who have either left comments, or who have left a record of having visited through MyBlogLog. Then I go on to my blogroll, and so eventually discover several others who have been blogging on similar topics to me, so here is some of the catchup, and linking similar threads together. Some of them have been on my other blog, Khanya, which I use for afternoon and evening blogging, since Blogger works only in the morning. If it were afternoon now, I’d be blogging this on Khanya too, but since it’s before noon, I’ll use Blogger while it’s working.

Christian responses to witchcraft and sorcery

This is a topic that has long been of interest to me, and I recently blogged about it on my Khanya blog, noting an apparent difference between Christian responses in Southern and Eastern Africa, and those in Western and Central Africa, notably in Nigeria and the DRC. And this seems to be spreading to the Western world as well, through the African disapora.

In my catchup, first through MyBlogLog and then through my blogroll, I discovered that some of my blogging friends have also been blogging on this topic:

If you’re interested in the topic, those are well worth a read.

We’ve also been discussing it in the AIC mailing list. One things that strikes me about all this is that it seems to point to a significant divergence between Pentecostal and Neopentecostal theology, and between the attitude of Zionist and other “Spirit-type” African independent churches (AICs) on the one hand, and Neopentecostal AICs on the other.

I say “seems to point” because there does not seem to have been enough research on this topic. It’s something that needs urgent attention from African and Pentecostal theology researchersbecause people are dying, and so far the reasons are mostly based on guesswork.

For me there are at least three big questions, probably more:

  1. What is the reason for the apparent differences between Eastern and Southern Africa and Western and Central Africa?
  2. What is the difference between Pentecostal/Zionist theology on the one hand, and Neopentecostal theology on the other?
  3. What is the link between Neopentecostal theology and Neoliberalism? How far have Neopentecostals bought into the Neoliberal ideology, and is Neopentecostalism simply a contextualisation of the gospel in a Neoliberal worldview (thinking of economic liberalism rather than political liberalism here).

The Golden Compass

Before the film The Golden Compass (based on Philip Pullman’s novel Northern Lights) was released, there was an SMS campaign by some people in South Africa urging people to boycott the film. I blogged about this at The Golden compass — to boycott or not to boycott. When the film was released I went to see it, and enjoyed it, but found it rather over-simplified. But once again, I’ve discovered some of my blogging friends had written far better reviews than I could:

The first is from a neopagan, and the second from a Christian perspective, and both are well worth reading. Lots of people have written reviews of the film, but these are two of the best.

Iambic Admonit: review of "The Golden Compass"

A very good review of the film The Golden Compass, and also the books on which it is based.

Iambic Admonit:

Now, let’s move to the next phase of discussion: The Golden Compass as a film adaptation of the book.

This is definitely one of the most satisfying book-to-movie adaptations I have seen. There was a lot of plot streamlining, some character merging, and a good deal of simplification that happened in the transition process. However, these simplifications are necessary in order to adapt a novel of 350 pages into a 2 hour movie. I would have been happy had the filmmakers decided to go the Lord-of-the-Rings-three-plus-hour-epic route. The book deserved it. But I’m happy that there were no shocking plot changes (like in Frankenstein–the 1931 version, which I saw recently) or character destructions (like Faramir) or ridiculous additions (like the atrocious riding the ice scene in LWW!) or pervasive alterations of tone and emphasis (like in the beautiful new Pride & Prejudice). I have only two criticisms.

Well worth reading.

The Golden Compass

Last night I went to see the film The Golden Compass, based on Philip Pullman’s book Northern Lights. It’s been a bit controversial, with some people urging others to boycott it, which I blogged about here. So this comment is avbout the film itself rather than whatever moral or philosophical or theological issues it raises.

One of the problems of films made from fantasy books is whether one should see them in case the film does not live up to the book. I did not see the films of Lord of the rings because I did not want the film to interfere with the pictures in my head when I read the book. I had no such problem with, for example, the Harry Potter films. Though I haven’t seen them, I’d be quite happy to see the Narnia films. But not Lord of the rings.

But The Golden Compass was for the most part OK. It generally stuck fairly closely to the book. Other people who have seen it said that the bits with the armoured bears were the best, and I have to agree, and in fact those were better than the book. The armoured bears were something I liked least about the book, but worked better on film.

The beginning and the end, however, were cut short.

Perhaps the end of Northern Lights will be tagged on to the beginning of next one (The subtle knife) if it is made.

But the beginning was cut so short as to be confusing. The explanation that it was not taking place in our world, but in one of many possible parallel universes was OK, but the explanation of Dust at the beginning was a bit of a spoiler. Not that it should make much difference, though. One of the things that hooks the reader is that “Dust” is something of a mystery, and one goes on reading to find out more about it, and one of the disappointments is that Pullman never really explains it.

The emphasis on the aletheiometer and the explanation of it as a “golden compass” of the title of the film also seems to oversimplify the plot in the film. Perhaps that is inevitable in the transfer from book to film, but when the plot was a bit tjhin in the first place it seems a pity to oversimplify it further.

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