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His Dark Materials
Home  |  Characters  |  Dictionary  |  Author  |  Quizzes  |  Messages


The webchat is now finished. Thanks for all your questions, the response was tremendous. We're sorry that we did not have time to ask everything.

Read the author's answers below...

From Luke Flatley
Q: Did you begin with a short story and want to know more or did you have the idea of a trilogy in your head already when you started?
Philip Pullman:
A: No it wasn't a short story that became a long one - it was an incident that belonged to a long story. You can sort of sense the presence of the rest of the story there and how big it is even before you know exactly what it consists of. So I knew from the beginning that I was going to be writing something long.

From Jonathon Hewlett-Davies
Q: Did you have any strange dreams that inspired you to write the story?

Philip Pullman:
A: No, I don't rely much on dreams because it's always oddly disappointing when you try and tell someone about a dream that you've had. The thing that seemed so exciting and mysterious to you is often as dull as ditchwater to somebody else. So I try to make things up when I'm awake.

From Babak
Q: I've heard you're writing a new book called The Book of Dust. Is this true? Will you write more about the Republic of Heaven and how it's built?

Philip Pullman:
A: The Book of Dust will be not a continuation of the trilogy, but other stories about the same world and the same characters. It hasn't got very far yet so I can't tell you exactly what's in it and in any case I'd rather keep things quiet until they're finished.

From Hilary Belden
Q: How much have you been influenced by William Blake?

Philip Pullman:
A: A great deal. His work has always been very important to me and I consider him one of the greatest writers and indeed artists who ever lived. I read him constantly and continue to be amazed.

From Tommy Torquemada
Q: How has Colin Wilson influenced your work? Was it through him that you became interested in the writing of David Lindsay?

Philip Pullman:
A: Yes, it was Colin Wilson in whose work I first heard about David Lindsay. Wilson has written very interestingly on David Lindsay and I am grateful to him for making me aware not only of Lindsay, but several other people it would have taken me a lot longer to find otherwise.

From Dave Stone
Q: I remember reading your first book, Galatea and have been trying to find a copy of it for years. Is there any possibility that it might ever be reprinted?

Philip Pullman:
A: There is a publisher in America who wanted to re-issue Galatea recently but on re-reading it myself all I could see was what was wrong with it. I remain fond of the novel, but I don't think it's good enough for me to feel happy to see it in print again.

From Cathy
Q: Are daemons born at the same time as their humans, or do they somehow appear later on?

Philip Pullman:
A: This is a difficult one, because I've never had to think about it. I've never had to talk about how daemons come into being because I didn't write a scene in which a human character was being born. The gynaecology of daemons is a closed book to me. What I do know is about how they get their names: the parents' daemons choose the name of the child's daemon.

From Angela Nowell
Q: In the books, the name of Mrs Coulter's daemon is never given. And in the dramatisation, his name is given as Ozymandias – is this taken from Shelley's poem?

Philip Pullman:
A: I didn't choose that name and to be frank I don't think I would have done. I imagine that the scriptwriter did get it from Shelley's poem, but you'd really have to ask her why she went for that name.

From Alex, age 9
Q: Do you ever wish you had an alethiometer? Would you use it a lot or only a little?

Philip Pullman:
A: Yes, it would be very useful, wouldn't it? But it does take a long time to ask a question and get the answer. And I think it would be tempting to rely on it too much. We're probably better off without them.

From Graham King
Q: Did you base the alethiometer on Ramon Lull's medieval art for seeking the truth, his Ars Combinatoria, based on three circles each divided into topics or symbols which can be individually turned to produce endless connections?

Philip Pullman:
A: Well, how interesting. I didn't know about this. My source for the alethiometer was partly the emblem books of the Renaissance and partly the memory theatre as described in a wonderful book by Frances Yates called The Art of Memory. I was aware of Ramon Lull but not about this Ars Combinatoria, which sounds extremely fascinating. Thank you for telling me about it.

From Charlotte Lansley (12)
Q: I would really like to know where you got the name Aesahættr, which is really difficult to pronounce

Philip Pullman:
A: I made it up from two Norse words meaning God and death. I know it's not very easy to say, which is one very good reason for everyone to buy the audio tape!

From Darren
Q: Where did the word panserbjørne come from?

Philip Pullman:
A: It's another word I made up from the Nordic languages: the bjørne part is bear, and panser means armour. So putting the two bits together, it was easy to make the word I have now.

From Alex Bleasdale
Q: Do daemons have free will? If your daemon commits a crime, would you, the owner be held responsible?

Philip Pullman:
A: Very interesting. That raises all sorts of possibilities and suggests all kinds of stories too. However, you have to remember that you and the daemon are not separate beings - you are one being in two bodies.

From William Greenacre
Q: The name Lyra is very unusual - where does it come from?

Philip Pullman:
A: The word lyra means lyre, or harp. There's a constellation Lyra and, although I knew the word, I'd never heard it used as a name. As far as my writing of the story is concerned, it just appeared with the girl. As soon as she was there, I knew she was Lyra. I have met one or two Lyras since then and at least two people known to me have called a new baby daughter Lyra. But it isn't a very common name, although I like it a lot.

From Robin Bertrand
Q: I don't understand how Lyra becomes the new Eve. What is the temptation and how does Mary act as the tempter?

Philip Pullman:
A: What Mary does is to tell a story about falling in love. When Lyra hears it, she suddenly understands something about herself and Will which she hadn't seen before. Mary makes the connection even closer by the next day by giving her some fruit, which Lyra offers to Will in the same gesture that Mary described in her story. This is the moment when the two children begin to leave their childhood behind and this to my mind is what the story of Adam and Eve is all about. It's the moment we left our childhood behind and began to grow up.

From Sarah Matheson
Q: How important is research when you are writing a story?

Philip Pullman:
A: It's important for the background. But the background is where it must stay. The only function of doing research is to help you make up stuff convincingly. If you put your research undiluted into a story you soon find yourself writing a text book instead of a novel.

From Bonnie R. Calderwood
Q: How many things did you invent for your books and then leave out?

Philip Pullman:
A: Well, there were quite a lot of them and the reason I left them out was that they didn't help the story move forward. You have to be ruthless with your own inventiveness if you want readers to follow you through a story.

From Caleb Woodbridge (17)
Q: What books have you enjoyed reading recently? Are there any books you'd recommend in particular?

Philip Pullman:
A: I'm reading with great pleasure at the moment a book by Colin Thubron called In Siberia. I'm also reading Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections and a book I read recently and was very impressed by is Alasdair Gray's Lanark.

From Beth
Q: The angel told Lyra that she read the alethiometer by grace. Where did Lyra get that grace from and why does she lose it and have to work to get that ability back?

Philip Pullman:
A: Grace is a mysterious quality which is inexpicable in its appearance and disappearance. It's disappearance in Lyra's case symbolises the loss of innocence but the fact that she can regain it through work and study symbolises the fact that only when we lose our innocence, can we take our first steps towards gaining wisdom.

From Michael Newman
Q: Do you think children are encouraged to be writers and artists at school? How would you change our schools to bring out the creative nature of children?

Philip Pullman:
A: The first thing I would do is give teachers the freedom to teach without testing children all the time. Testing is a curse. Targets are a curse. No child should be tested at all. No child should suffer the indignity of being part of a target for a school to have to meet. Let's make education humane again.

From Rory McLean
Q: What is the difference between Ghosts, which were human once, and Angels, which were also human once? Why do the Ghosts dissolve when they return to a real world, when the Angels don't?

Philip Pullman:
A: Not all angels were humans once. It is very rare for a human ghost to become an angel. Most of the time they want to return to the physical world and dissolve into the air as the ones in the story do.

From Ruth Addison
Q: How long did it take you to write each book?

Philip Pullman:
A: Two years for each of the first two, and three years for The Amber Spyglass.

From Jenny,12
Q: How did you come up with the name His Dark Materials

Philip Pullman:
A: Well, if you look at the very beginning of Northern Lights you'll find a quotation from the Milton's poem Paradise Lost which contains the phrase "his dark materials". When I was looking for a title I was thinking about dark matter which is the subject of Dr Mary Malone's research, among other things, and the phrase "his dark materials" seemed to echo that very well.

From Russell
Q: Would you call yourself a Gnostic?

Philip Pullman:
A: Not really. The essence of gnosticism is its rejection of the physical universe and the whole tendency of my thinking and feeling and of the story I wrote is towards the celebration of the physical world. Nevertheless, gnosticism is a fascinating and very powerful and persuasive system of thought.

From Taras Young
Q: Do you use a computer in your work?

Philip Pullman:
A: Yes, but not to compose the story on in the first place. The first draft is always written by hand on A4 narrow-lined paper with a ball-point pen. I put it on the computer once the first draft is finished and then I can fiddle with it until my publishers get fed up and tell me to hand it over quickly.

From Jane Wrin
Q:How do you keep up with your ideas? Do you carry a dictaphone or note pad?

Philip Pullman:
A: I don't use either of those. If an idea is any good, I'll remember it. And if isn't any good, I'll forget it.

From Anna
Q: Are any of your family writers?

Philip Pullman:
A: No, none, I'm the only one.

From Sarah Spencer
Q: Do you believe in the many worlds theory?

Philip Pullman:
A: It's a very attractive thing to believe. It's full of interesting possibilities and endless opportunities for the storyteller. As far as I can understand the scientific background to it, it does seem to make sense in terms of the laws of physics. But I really don't understand much about that and I'm content to rely on experts who take it seriously.

From Roger Jackson
Q: Are there linguistic messages in the names of your characters?

Philip Pullman:
A: I don't think I'd call them messages. Names are chosen for several reasons. One is euphony - that is I want them to sound good. Another is to indicate the part of the world that a character comes from. For example, Russian characters will have Russian names. But I can't think of an example of a name with which I wanted to convey a message. Or if there was one, I've forgotten what the message was. So it obviously wasn't very important.

From Rebecca Cooney
Q: Have you got any hints or tips for aspiring young writers? Thankyou.

Philip Pullman:
A: Yes I have. The most helpful thing I can tell you is to write exactly what you want to write. This will probably be the sort of thing you like to read. But what you have to do is to give all your attention to your own preferences and not take the slightest bit of notice of anyone else's. It's only when you write something intended to please yourself alone that you'll succeed in pleasing other people - strange but true!

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