Thursday, March 11, 2004

Dark Materials

One of my favorite literary writers, Michael Chabon, writing in he New York Review of Books, goes into great detail on young adult fantasy in general and Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy in particular.

An interesting point that Chabon makes is that most modern fantasy stems for the Norse and Celtic trappings of Tolkein, but that there is another tradition in fantasy, the Miltonian, and that Pullman's world of broken universes is more closely alligned with Milton.
Any list of the great British works of epic fantasy must begin with Paradise Lost, with its dark lord, cursed tree, invented cosmology and ringing battle scenes, its armored angelic cavalries shattered by demonic engines of war. But most typical works of contemporary epic fantasy have (consciously at least) followed Tolkien's model rather than Milton's, dressing in Norse armor and Celtic shadow the ache of Innocence Lost, and then, crucially, figuring it as a landscape, a broken fairyland where brazen experience has replaced the golden days of innocence; where, as in the Chronicles of Narnia, it is "always winter and never Christmas."

A recent exception to the Tolkienesque trend is Pullman's series of three novels, The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass (with a promised fourth, The Book of Dust), which reshuffle, reinterpret, and draw from Milton's epic both a portion of their strength and their collective title: His Dark Materials. Pullman, who was a student at Oxford in the 1960s, has just served up a new volume, a kind of tasty sherbet course in the ongoing banquet, entitled Lyra's Oxford.

Read the whole thing here.

[Link via Crooked Timber]

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