I'm teaching THE GOLDEN COMPASS this week, in addition to this being the release week of the film adaptation - so lucky me! I get to re-read The Golden Compass.
I've just finished Part One (Oxford). I've read these books - oh, easily eight times or more - since first encountering them in late 2001. And reading now, with an eye toward teaching, I'm again simply caught up in the gloriousness of Pullman's prose. Every page is absolutely lyrical (as well as being Lyracal). Not a word misplaced, nothing extraneous, it all just pulls you along beautifully.
I love titles, it turns out. And the titling in this book gives me chills. Just reading BOLVANGAR in solid black type makes me shiver. "The Consul and the Bear." "Armor." "The Decanter of Tokay." Ooooh! it all just raises goosebumps for me, even after so many readings.
There's just such an emotional richness and depth to the novel; the way Farder Coram and Lyra react to the alethiometer's power - with fear, with awe, with wonder - is so true, and so real, you wonder how anyone could respond otherwise.
I'm very much looking forward to the film, because it looks to have a wonderful visual aesthetic - steampunky, victorian, beautiful. I'm nervous because every adaptation takes away something, as well as adds something. Nothing can replace the text, because for me so much of the pleasure of these books is in the language.
I've been reading Dickens - David Copperfield (a re-read), and Little Dorrit for the first time. I'm finding Little Dorrit utterly baffling thus far, but both books have that gorgeous richness of language and life that Dickens does so well. And it's a similar richness that I find in Pullman's books. It's so easy to fall into the story of it, but I never forget for a moment the beauty of the language, the way ideas, words, meanings are strung together so carefully, so delicately.
There is more that is true in His Dark Materials than in almost anything else I've ever read. Henry James, maybe, and maybe Dickens - both of those authors have so much that is true in their works. But the story, the plotting, of Pullman's novels just draws me in and in such an aching way. My book group students said that the books were "such a journey," and that phrase has always felt cliched to me; but in this instance, it's utterly true. The characters travel so far and so wide and so deeply inside themselves, and you - the reader - HAVE to go with them. so by the time you reach the final page of the final book, you're as exhausted as if you'd travelled to Svalbard, to Nova Zembla (the name thrills me to my core!), to Cittegazze, to Oxford, to the suburbs of the dead, to the abyss, and back again.
I had the unspeakable honor and privilege of meeting Philip Pullman this Halloween, an evening that will forever live in my memory as a dazzling, dreamlike occasion on which I behaved like a total fangrrl. I desperately wanted to be urbane and charming and witty and brilliant, but I was more like a gasping fish out of water. The Fact that Mr Pullman himself is wonderfully kind, gracious, generous and intelligent made me feel even more fish-gaspy.
But my dream of the past six years - to shake his hand and tell him how much I love these books - has been accomplished. Now I need to get to Oxford, so i can see those dreaming spires for myself in more detail.
It's funny: it isn't so much that His Dark Materials has helped me know about myself; I don't know that I'd say these books changed my life - though they have but in a way I'm not sure any other book ever has. The absolute, total beauty of these books is what it is - it's look I've stared at - for hours, in a bright, clean light - the most beautiful object in the world. You can't be unchanged by being in the presence of that kind of gorgeousness, but I don't know (yet) what the changes are. All I know is that I feel absolutely swept up, moved, shaken, thrilled when I read these books; I feel like my heart and eyes and mind are wide, wide open, and are seeing and experiencing things that cannot be described.