Let’s Make This a Community, Not a Blog

I invite readers of this blog to become contributors. This may go as far as writing posts or taking the more typical route of adding comments.

I have another 10 or so posts ready to go; whether I continue depends on your interest.

In particular, I would be delighted to receive some copyright and license-free pictures of Oxford. Most people who post on the net assume that their pictures are up for grabs unless they say otherwise.

I don’t want to proceed under that convenient surmise. Moreover, while I will give you a credit line, I can’t promise anyone else ever will. So if you give me a picture to use, please state that you are placing it in the “public domain.” This means it can be used by anyone for any purpose.

I also think American readers in particular would want to understand how the Oxford experience differs from their own.

There are private colleges in the USA that cost in the region of $60,000 a year for tuition, room and board. Some public universities can cost as much; the difference is that people who are citizens of that state pay less (so if you live in Texas, you should pay less to go to one of its universities than if you cross the state line into New Mexico, Louisiana, etc.).

Colleges have a very limited number of graduate programs. Universities contain colleges, but colleges do not contain universities.

Let’s say you want to study birds. You’d be in an area of ornithology at a Department of Biology or Zoology, in a School of Arts and Sciences, at a University. Something like that. You’d graduate with a Bachelor of Science (BS) or of Arts (BA) after four years of full terms.

If you wanted to be a librarian or lawyer, you’d add a few years. If you want to do medicine, you’d add a lot more. And so on.

So how much does it cost to go to Oxford? Do Colleges within the University vary a lot? Are meals eaten together?

What do others want to know? More importantly, what do you want them to know?

And let me know what I get wrong.

You can figure this out; no spaces or course! laurie[dot] frost {at sign} yahoo [dot]com

Oxford

The first nine chapters of The Golden Compass (US) or Northern Lights (UK) comprise “Oxford.”  Not Oxford University, but the town and its surroundings.\

There are thousands of sites with pictures and maps of Oxford. Tours of Lyra’s Oxford include Philip Pullman’s Oxford Official Tour.

The University and its colleges are central to Oxford, but those that keep the city functioning live around its perimeter. I went to a summer program at University College for 6 weeks or so in 1979. The Colleges were not in session, so they rented out space to Americans and others, I guess, who brought their own faculty. I suppose these ventures have prospered.

What I liked best about the City was how easy it was to walk from place to place. As a young woman I could go to the movies alone and on foot after sundown. Imagine that!

John_Speed's_map_of_Oxford,_1605.

John Speed’s map of Oxford, 1605. I include this as a curiosity. The south is at the top and the north is at the bottom. Turning it upside down is no help because of the key to the map! It shows though that Oxford was once a walled city with a castle (P), but there were some buildings outside the walls, including Magdalene College. “P” is Oxford Castle.”N” is Oxford’s central crossroads at the junction of the High Street and St. Aldates. Broad Street and Holywell Street now run along the line of the north (that is bottom) wall.

John Speed (1542–1629) – The Digital Revolution: Changing Oxford. Map is in the Bodleian Library.

For contrast, SirMetal has contributed to Wiki this image and placed it in the public domain.

oxford_city_birdseye

The Radcliffe Camera, part of the Bodlian Library, is at the center.

Interactive map: https://maps.ox.ac.uk/embed.html#/custom?ids=oxpoints:23233620,oxpoints:23233759,oxpoints:59085049

Lyra and Her Dæmon

Lady with an Ermine Leonardo da Vinci

The first words of His Dark Materials are “Lyra and her dæmon,” and we know immediately that we are in a different world. Pullman said “Dæmons came into my head suddenly and unexpectedly, but they do have a sort  of provenance. One clear origin is Socrates’ daimon. Another is the idea of a guardian angel.” 

The notion of the human-dæmon bond, he adds, was strengthened by Da Vinci’s painting, Lady with Ermine.

mons in Lyra’s world are readily perceived. They take the form of animals, and children’s dæmons change until they reach adulthood. Then the dæmons settle. Narratively, they serve the purpose of allowing us to hear the internal debates a character has with herself. Dæmons may encourage their person to do something  — or not — but finally the dæmons and their people act as partners. One cannot live without the other.

In several passages, dæmons are equated to the soul. Breaking the bond between human and dæmon results in the release of tremendous energy. Even very brief physical separation is usually devastating (there are exceptions) to both human and dæmon.

Some in Lyra’s world believe that dæmons are “infected with Dust” (NL/GC 285). Its Book of Genesis says that Adam and Eve’s dæmons were unsettled in Eden, and one of the things Satan promised Eve was that she would learn its true — or settled — form. Knowing this brought “sin and shame and death” into the world (NL/GC 372).

Their physical status is odd. They have the abilities and nature of the animal whose form they appear in; birds fly, wolves are aggressive. One does not touch another person’s dæmon, but their dæmons can. They can feel pain, but they don’t eat or reproduce. They can communicate when their people are ignorant of each other’s language.

mons do not go through an infancy and growth period. On Twitter, a reader asked Pullman on her daughter’s behalf, if they are born with the person. He replied he’d never considered that, and some things are best kept private.

I think their dæmons appear with newborns’ first independent exhalations. That feels plausible to me.

mons pose a problem for translating the novels to a visual medium. Puppets have been used in stage productions. Movies favor computer-generated images. 

The problem for viewers like me is the animals in any scene get my attention. There’s a commercial that has been running on US television in 2019. A family of golden retrievers are driving, and then the three puppies in the backseat are let out and trudge onto obedience school. I have no idea if it is a car company or insurance commercial. I just want to watch the dogs.


Pictured above is a pine marten, one of Lyra’s dæmon’s favorite forms. US Fish and Wildlife Services (public domain).

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.

His Dark Materials: Whose? What?

“…Into this wild Abyss

The womb of Nature, and perhaps her grave–

Of neither sea, nor shore, nor air, nor fire,

But all these in their pregnant causes mixed

Confusedly, and which thus must ever fight,

Unless the Almighty Maker them ordain

His dark materials to create more worlds,–

Into this wild Abyss the wary Fiend

Stood on the brink of Hell and looked a while,

Pondering his voyage…”

The epigram for His Dark Materials is lines 910 to 919 of Book 2 of John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1674). “His” refers to “the Almighty Maker,” and “Materials” to Chaos; the precursors to creation. What happened earlier in the book was that Satan and some other angels, tired of their subservient position, waged war against their Maker. Predictably, they lost, and were hurled into the Abyss. There, Satan and his council (Pandenomium) discuss their options. Figuring that waging war again was a bad idea, they instead decide to bring their battle to a world newly created, held to Heaven by a gold chain — Earth.

Here, Satan has made his way out of the depths with suspiciously little trouble and is contemplating his next move.

Milton’s success in achieving his stated aim, to “assert eternal providence/And justify the ways of God to men” (Book I, lines 25-26), is dubious. He seems conflicted himself; Satan is a far more interesting character than Christ, and Eve is seduced by the promise that if she ate the fruit, she could fly. An omnipotent God could have stopped the Fall. Eve has never experienced pain or sorrow or evil: can she be faulted for not having fear of what she does not know? And so on.

paradise

In 2005, Oxford Press published a fine, well-crafted edition with brief comments on each book and a general introduction by Pullman. There are no notes. He says that what first attracted him were the poetry and the narrative, remembering fondly reading it aloud in Miss Enid Jones’ Ysgol Ardudwy, Wales, pre-college program.

While footnotes on a first read are distracting, should you decide to read Paradise Lost a second time, unless you are well versed in cosmology, theology, mythology, folklore, science, and literature of and prior to the 17th century, you are going to need a well-annotated edition.  I used one in which there are more notes than poem, edited by Alastair Fowler.

Your experience of His Dark Materials will be deeply enhanced by knowing Paradise Lost. In fact, for hundreds of years running, it has remained the book you need to know to understand English literature.

But without spoilers, how does this fit with His Dark Materials? Lyra is every child who when her questions are silenced with a “because I said so, that’s why” response, thinks, no, that is not good enough. For many, over successive years of taking direct, inexplicable orders, their goal is to become the ones giving, not getting them. For a few, their purpose is to understand the why behind the what.

IMG_20190813_104909_2

@ Laurie Frost, 2019. All rights reserved.

Waiting for The Secret Commonwealth

A few nights ago, The New Yorker published on-line a phone interview about Philip Pullman and what to expect from the second book of The Book of Dust, The Secret Commonwealth, available tomorrow, October 3, 2019.

One thing that did not surprise me is that Lyra will be going to Turkey. Among the found materials at the end of Lyra’s Oxford is an ad and itinerary for an Aegean cruise, with the port call to Smyrna circled for Monday, May 11.

Smyrna is an ancient city and strategic port, sometimes Greek, and most recently Turkish. It is known now as Izmir.

The College of Izmir is mentioned in chapter 8 of Northern Lights/Golden Compass (132). Lyra conflates the story of Asriel’s near poisoning by the Master of Jordan College in a tall tale she tells the gyptians in which she claims a Turkish ambassador dies after poisoning Asriel’s drink. She says that as a show of friendship, the glasses were exchanged prior to the toast.

There are many older photos of Smyrna, (now Izmir) here.

Who she is going to see and why, I don’t know yet.

We also learn in the interview that Lyra is “marked by melancholy, and the reason for that, and probably one of the results of that, is she and Pantalaimon have suffered a rupture.”

They are not getting along.

Initially, this surprised me, but consider the end of The Amber Spyglass. She is he and he is she, but still, when she left Pan to cross fully into the World of the Dead, that had to have hurt. Knowing her parents died as they did, that too, hurt. And Lyra’s (and in turn Pan’s) lover is forever inaccessible in another world.

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.

What Year Is It in Lyra’s World?

Lyra’s world is like ours in many physical ways, and not. Its history is different than ours, but how about time?

To answer this, go to Once Upon a Time in the North, a novella about how Lee Scoresby and Iorek Byrnison met.

It is past 1911 (p. 54) when the two meet. I believe at one point in Once Upon a Time in the North, 1918 is mentioned.

Thirty-five years lapse between when Scoresby is given the rifle he uses in the final shoot-out in Cittàgazze. (In The Subtle Knife, he’ll tell Grumman he has not seen his mother’s Navajo ring in decades.)

Now look at the two found scraps that follow the story. We learn that:

  • Lyra continues at Oxford and has completed her thesis on Developments of Patterns of Trade int the European Arctic Region with Particular Reference to Independent Cargo Balloon Carriage 1950-1970).
  • One of her professors is Dr. Polstead (hero of La Belle Sauvage, I bet).
  • Her M Phil is in Economic History.

So do the math. Lyra was about 14, I’d guess, in His Dark Materials. Scoresby was probably around 55 at least when he died. So say 20 years has elapsed since Lyra was born and Scoresby died. It is past 1970 when Lyra completes her M Litt. So, very roughly:

  • Scoresby was born around 1900; dies in the mid-1950s.
  • Lyra was born in 1940; completes her degree post 1970, age 30.
  • So how did Lyra spend her teen years or 20s? Will The Secret Commonwealth cover this?
  • Or does time move differently in different worlds of the multiverse?

I’ll have more on Iorek and Lee later, when the subject of armored bears is raised at Jordan College.

Jesse James’s Winchester Rifle. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2005682813/