What Brought Me to His Dark Materials

I am well-positioned to agree with Pullman that school librarians should be professionally trained. When my children were young they went to a small, progressive private school, and in exchange for their tuition, I was the sole librarian. I was enthusiastic, loved the job, and unqualified. I read to my kids a lot, but that isn’t enough.

The picturebook crowd was easy enough; I’d simply choose books with large, vivid pictures that those in the back could see. But what about those who were older? Library time was an hour a week, with 20 kids in a roughly 18 ft by 30 ft space. So I read to all groups.

The ages extended to about 14 years; grade divisions included several years in a single class. But even the oldest kids loved to be read to. Sometimes I read Peter Sis picture books with them, Tibet through the Red Box, for example. Some of the best art, I’d argue, is to be found in children’s books. David Almond’s Skellig worked well, and I recall one mother telling me the only reason her daughter came to school was to hear the next chapters of Kit’s Wilderness.

But where to go next? Harry Potter they would read on their own. The Series of Unfortunate Events proved unpopular because some did not see the humor in the events endured by the orphaned children. So I got on a children’s lit list-serve, and the answer was unanimous: Philip Pullman. I ordered a selection and started reading.

The school was small enough that there was no cafeteria and the kids ate their lunches outside or in a commons area shared by all the classes. 

A November day came with a soaking rain. The kids dashed over to the trailer (or caravan) housing the library, and I began reading Philip Pullman’s Clockwork, or All Wound Up. It’s suspenseful, with a sinister villain, a mechanical heart, and a storyteller. Library time ended, the rains did not, and the kids asked if I would keep reading through lunch. I said sure, but no one was obliged to return (I think they all did anyway). They ran and collected their lunches, and I resumed. I was about 15 pages from the end when lunch was supposed to be over. They asked if they could send an emissary to the classroom teacher for an extension of lunchtime, and she of course agreed.

That was a very satisfying day.

I had begun The Golden Compass with them, but we didn’t get too far. I had been watching the antics of the soccer coach. This was a school that previously had no bullies. Parents would complain; I suggested we approach the Head. No one went with me, but I took the matter up, notwithstanding that the coach’s mom was the Head. She ranted and raved at me. In the end, my children were allowed to finish the year but I was banned from campus. The Philip Pullman books I’d ordered remained, of course.

My instincts, my gut-feelings, that this man did not belong around children are now indisputable. Ten years after my departure he was convicted of felonious child endangerment.

After I was fired, I began writing The Elements of His Dark Materials.

The Fandom: Ann Giles, Bookwitch

One reason I am doing this blog is for fans of His Dark Materials. Ann Giles, who writes the enormously popular young people’s book blog, Bookwitch.wordpress.com. A fan herself, Ann is the mother of one of the guiding forces for the UK fans, Ian Giles, who once devoted many hours to BridgetotheStars.net. She did a profile of me and my books yesterday, A definitive guide to HDM.

Bridge’s French Twitter affiliate, Twitàgazze, is now the best source for Pullmania on that platform.

I first “met” Ann when she wrote in 2007 about my sending a copy of one of the guides to her son to review for bridgetothestars.net, And How Son Eventually Became a Footnote. He supplied me with many of the photos of contemporary Oxford. Check the credits.

Ann’s son is a few years older than mine, as is her daughter. We’ve spent the last 12 years as e-mail pals, and it feels like we have brought our kids up together.

One time when they met Philip at a conference, they snapped this picture for me.

A Blog by the Author of The Definitive Guide

Nearly 20 years and 20 pounds of books later, I have decided to write a blog for the already saturated world of Philip Pullman blogs, just brief glimpses of His Dark Materials that continue to fascinate me. Why bother with the annoyances of WordPress? I’m doing it for the fantastic fandom, in hopes a few of you derive some pleasure from revisiting the worlds.

These are the books I am trawling, or really, four versions of my one book. Some of the posts are not based on the books.

The first, The Elements of His Dark Materials, was published by The Fell Press in 2006. It has been out-of-print since 2008. ScholasticUK bought all but the US rights and published Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials in paperback in 2007, followed by the hardcover The Definitive Guide to His Dark Materials in 2008. Last month, September 2019, ScholasticUK reprinted the book under the same name.

It is unlikely that the book will be published again in the US. It would be if I could make it happen. I regret this terribly, primarily on behalf of the fans, but also independent booksellers. It can be ordered from UK book dealers for delivery in the US, including Amazon.co.uk or Waterstones.