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From: "Alice Turner" <pei047@attglobal.net>
Subject: (urth) Pullman, to Adam
Date: Sun, 27 May 2001 15:12:18 


> >> At 18:51 2001-05-24, alga wrote:
> >>> "An Almost Christian Fantasy," the review by Daniel Maloney in the
> >>> Catholic journal First Things of Pullman's His Dark Materials
> > is
> >>> up. Intelligent analysis, I think, not just religious but
> >>> http://print.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft0105/reviews/moloney.html
> Thanks for pointing this out.  I agree it's a very perceptive review.
> think Moloney has put his finger on the basic flaws of the ending,
> he's wrong to state as a definite fact that Will and Lyra do no more
> kiss.  (I'd also dispute his claim that atheists can't write fantasy,
> that's another issue.)

I think he's probably right about the kiss. Her daemon, after all, has
not yet settled. And if they did have sex, in her role as Eve she would
have to get pregnant, which is a bit much for a 13-year-old. Unless
we're doing inner-city realism, which we emphatically aren't. (Agree
about the atheists, see below.)

> Interesting that such a sympathetic review appears in First Things,
which I
> think of (possibly mistakenly) as quite conservative, both
theologically and
> socially.  Moloney does say that if Pullman's anti-Christian
propaganda had
> been presented more effectively, then he would have advised parents to
> their children away from the books.

Yes, isn't that interesting! I do know what he means, though.

> Dust doesn't seem to hard to explain, at least in broad outline; in
> Pullman pretty much lays it out in HDM, especially TAS.  Dust is
matter that
> has begun to become conscious of itself (TAS, 31), matter and spirit
> one in Pullman's metaphysics (TSK, pb, 249)  Dust is both produced by
> conscious beings (TAS, 491) and sustains consciousness in these beings
> (don't have a specific page reference at the moment, but I clearly
recall it
> being stated that if the Dust goes out of the universe so will
> consciousness).  I'm not so clear about the Specters; in particular,
> being created whenever the Knife is used seems contrived by Pullman to
> Will and Lyra apart.  (And why, after presenting his Church as evil
> suppressing scientific investigation, does he throw in this
> man-was-not-meant-to-tamper-with-the-unknown stuff?)
> (On the subject of Dust, I think it was a mistake of Pullman's to
> Dust with dark matter.  It seems that a lot of fantasy writers whose
> are set in, or cross over with, our world give in to the temptation
> identify their MacGuffin with whatever unexplained scientific
phenomenon is
> currently au courant.  Not only does this mix genres, it will date
> books horribly when the phenomenon is discovered either to have a
> mundane explanation, or worse yet, not to exist after all.)
> > in terms of
> > Manichaean Light and Dark and a logical world-view (pretty damned
> > to do when there are infinite worlds).
> I'm not sure what you're referring to when you talk of Manichaeanism.
> There's no evil Supreme Being in Pullman's books, any more than there
is a
> good Supreme Being.  The Authority is evil, but only in the sense that
> Hitler was evil, not in the sense of an evil Principle.  And Pullman's
> characterization certainly isn't Manichaean, as you're undoubtedly
> viz. the harpies, who have been evil and serving the Authority for
> of years, but are converted to good (a darn sight too quickly, if you
> me).
> And Mani also posited a radical dualism between matter and spirit,
> Pullman rejects.

I think he borrowed the Dark/Light thing from Mani and is playing around
with it--it gets out of his control, though it starts really well, first
with the epigraph and then with Asriel's photgraphs. In the Brit
editions, apparently there are epigraphs (or maybe it's margin notes) to
each chapter in the first two books, and he own drawings in the third.
What a shame the US editions left these out; they might be quite

> Incidentally, for those interested in Gnosticism, I discovered a
website on
> Gnosticism called the Gnosis archive.  It includes translations of the
> Hammadi writings and some of the Corpus Hermeticum, as well as a links
> and is maintained by believing Gnostics.  It's at
> www.webcom.com/~gnosis/welcome.html

Actually there are nearly 100 Gnostic sites, some (most) of them pretty
ridiculous. Look under Yahoo: Religion.

> Do your moral and religious objections refer to Will and Lyra's
> or to the whole idea of Lyra being the new Eve, whose love for Will
> the universe?  If the latter, I agree that "the Eve thing" is very
weak as a
> resolution to the plot (Pullman does provide a sort of explanation,
though a
> weak one, on TAS p. 478), but it fits with the theme of innocence vs.
> experience, a major theme of the book (though my sense is that it's
> developed as effectively as it could have been).  The Church,
> experience with original sin, wants to keep everybody innocent.  The
Dust is
> attracted to experience, since the experienced--adults--are more
> than the innocent--children.  This is why the Church thinks Dust is
> connected to original sin, iirc.  Pullman is in favor of experience,
> it increases consciousness--an interesting reversal on the usual
attitude in
> children's and young adult books that childhood = goodness and
adulthood =
> corruption (even if Pullman doesn't carry it through consistently:
> the bad children in Cittagazze, most of the children in HDM are good
> most of the adults are either corrupted or at least morally ambiguous,
> though there are some exceptions).  So in choosing experience over
> (without consciously realizing she is doing so), Lyra is coming down
on the
> right side of the book's major dualism.

Hmm. This paragraph illustrates how tangled things get. But let me
remind you that Lee Scoresby, Will's father and the gyptians are neither
corrupted or morally ambiguous (well, Will father is a bit strange). Nor
are the Cittagaza adults on horseback who guard the children. The
witches are a special case, like the angels, being simply beyond
morality. They are certainly not corrupted, even (in the case of the
angels) in serving Asriel or even in killing Will's father. But this is,
once again, a place that Pullman's logic is fuzzy.

I would not object to the Lyra/Eve thing if Pullman had just shut up
about it and let us form out own conclusions. But to actually insist on
the connection and then emphatically to seperate her from Adam as though
THAT would simply brush Original Sin aside seems specious to me. There's
also the role of Eve as Mother of Us All, and it makes me squirm to put
a 13-year-old in that position--see above. There's also, as I have said
before, all the howdyado about her having to make this Great Choice that
will save the world (or not) all unknowingly and by herself but, when
push comes to shove, she is both pushed and shoved.

> No.  "Balthamos said quietly, '...He was never the creator.  He was an
> like ourselves--the first angel, true, the most powerful, but he was
> of Dust as we are, and Dust is only a name for what happens when
> begins to understand itself....He told those who came after him that
he had
> created them, but it was a lie.'" (TAS, 31-32)  So the Authority is
not the
> Demiurge, because matter pre-existed him.

Yes, I remembered this after I sent the Demiurge message. But for the
sake of argument, the original Gnostic Demiurge is also mistaken in the
belief that he was the creator. He too was messing around with what was
already there in the pleroma. He too lied. He was less of a creator than
Sophia, who created *him* and who also put the divine pneuma in mankind
so that they are greater, i.e. closer to the divine, than spirits or
angels--Pullman follows this division, and so does Crowley. I think you
have to admit the analogy--Pullman is not just inventing all his (dark)

> Actually, the Authority is "lower" even than that.  Dust is not the
> conscious matter, as I mistakenly stated in my earlier post; it is
> into existence by conscious living beings.  (TAS, 451; this is the
passage I
> couldn't locate in my previous post about how the vanishing of Dust
would be
> the end of consciousness.)  So the angels, including the Authority,
> dependent for their existence upon fleshly consciousness already
> Angels are lower, not higher, than humans in Pullman's cosmology,
> his high valuation of matter (see TAS, 375; also a passage I can't
find at
> the moment, where somebody talks about how much the angels wish they
> bodies).

Right, see above.

> As far as I can tell, there is no God in Pullman's world.  The
> dies on pp. 410-11, and yes, it's a very good thing (even for the
> Authority).  And the absence of God also seems to be portrayed as a
> thing.

I think this may be true, both parts of it. If cornered, Pullman might
refer to the Alien God, though I suspect he may personally be an
atheist, as is Crowley. You absolutely don't need to be religious to use
these wonderful (dark!) materials--I just wish his logic were
consistent. In a Gnostic universe, however, the Alien God would
definitely not be a plot factor! The best you could hope for would be

> Okay, now I see what you meant by saying you objected to the Eve thing
> moral and religious grounds.  But I think you have hold of the wrong
end of
> the stick.  The cosmic choice, the choice it is Lyra's destiny to make
> must make freely, is not the choice to give up Will.  It is her choice
> love Will and show her love.  The Church's values are the opposite of
> Pullman's, but the Church can read the alethiometer; and according to
> Church, it is Lyra's giving into "temptation," not her rejection of
> temptation, which will lead to the triumph of "Dust and sin." (TAS,
68)  And
> since Dust is good, and the Church is bad, Lyra's "temptation" is
> Recall also that the Dust, speaking through Mary's computer, tells
Mary she
> must "play the serpent," which she does by telling Lyra of her love
> and awakening Lyra's sexuality.  Original Sin is not "averted": in
> metaphysics, it doesn't exist.  The "Fall" is good, since it leads to
> greater consciousness: recall the mulefa's story of the serpent.

I just can't buy that either. A young teen falling in love is not making
a choice, she is giving in to little dancing hormones. She can make a
choice about "going all the way" or not but there is nothing to indicate
that these two very young kids do that--it's ambiguous, and my
inclination is to think they don't, but it's not from choice: it's that
they are really too young for sex; they are in a sort of bliss. The kids
on the fan fiction site think it's the most romantic thing in the world.
Mrs. Coulter, who serves the Church, seems to have been, and remains,
rather a lively sort in that department. I'd forgotten about that
Mary/serpent thing, but that seems entirely too muddled to me as well.

> Granted, Pullman muddies the waters by requiring Lyra and Will to make
> another decision later, in which they do have to resist "temptation";
> as I discuss below, if they make the wrong decision at that point, it
> not destroy the world.  And reading the end of Chapter Thirty-Five, in
> Lyra and Will express their love (TAS 470), it's clear that _this_ is
> the world is saved.

I'll read that again.

From Eli:

If it had occurred to Will and Lyra
> > that
> >> the obstacles were not absolute, they could have gone on to ask
> >> interesting questions: what if everybody did it?  are we special,
> >> justify it?  And the question Pullman didn't dare to ask them: even
> >> we can, should we?
> >>
> >> In a way, he did quite right.  I don't know that they would have
> >> answered the way he wanted.  The honest story, I want to call it
> > though
> >> I really shouldn't, might be a tragedy.
> But the decision that Lyra and Will have to make at the end is not to
> up all the windows: the angels tell them to do this.  The decision
they have
> to make is to resist the temptations, first for one of them to go to
> others' world and have ten years of happiness and then death; and then
> use the extra Dust they will create to keep a window open for
> instead of keeping their promise to the dead.  These decisions they do
> without being coerced by threats of cosmic disaster.
> (I'm not saying I find this part of the book well worked out.  Your
> objections are valid.  Also, it makes little sense for Xaphania to
> tell Will that there is a way he can learn to travel to other worlds,
> will take him a lifetime to learn; and then say that they can't leave
> natural windows open because if they did, Will would spend a lifetime
> searching for it (TAS, 494-495).  And come to think of it, couldn't
> leave one natural window open, and then tell Will where it is?  I'll
have to
> go back and look at the readerview discussion, because the more I
> about it, the stranger Pullman's insistence on their separation
> It's exactly like "The Cold Equations": the author stacks the deck to
> a "tragic" choice upon his characters, which when examined more
closely is
> not really forced at all.  There has to be a name for this type of
> where the characters frantically come up with ways to escape the
choice the
> author wants to force upon them, and an all-knowing authority figure
> up with ad hoc reasons why they won't work.

Absolutely agree--and remember that Will's father preceded him. Pullman
is going to have to address some of this in his Dust book, I would


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