Looking through his dark materials for light

When British author Philip Pullman was a child, his grandfather was constantly filling his head with whimsy.

"We'd go for a little walk, and he'd say, 'You know boys, you see that tree over there? That's the very tree Robin Hood used to hide in!' "

It was years until Mr. Pullman discovered that the tree was nowhere near Nottingham or Sherwood Forest, but by then he'd already formed the view that the world is a better place if the imagination has free play in it.

Now, he tells his own fantastic tales -ones that captivate young people and adults alike, and even spark a bit of theological controversy. Pullman's latest, which came out in October, is "The Amber Spyglass." It's the third in the "His Dark Materials" trilogy, which began with "The Golden Compass" (1996) and "The Subtle Knife" (1997). In these tales, he carries on the story of armored polar bears, flying witches and angels, and a rather uninspiring God-figure called The Authority.

"Once you lose your innocence about storytelling, you realize that whatever you do teaches, whether you intended it to or not.... So, the goal is to tell a story and to keep the pages turning and entertain the reader."

Ah, the reader. "I don't pay too much attention to what readers' reactions are going to be," he says. "I tell the story that has to be told. My concern about readers is to put myself in their position and ask at every point, 'Would I want to know what happens next or not?' "

Always concerned about pacing, he didn't want to slow his trilogy down with lots of heavy passages about theology. But he's planning a companion volume to answer all the questions people have raised about "His Dark Materials."

While his books are often classified as fantasy -he's even asked to speak at conventions for the genre -that's not how he sees his trilogy. "I'm not writing about elves and goblins and so on. I couldn't care a fig for any of those things. Human beings are my subject matter. And although this story has fantasy elements, I think at the core of it is something which is as realistic as I could possibly make it, which is the story about growing up."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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