25 March 2007

Pullman Panel Promotion

Following breadcrumbs laid through the woods at Educating Alice, I found Saestina's report on a panel in Oxford where Philip Pullman participated in promoting the upcoming film adaptation of his novel Northern Lights/The Golden Compass.

The most interesting tidbits, I thought, had to do with Pullman's creative process while writing the books, lo those few years ago. He's mentioned the inspiration for the trilogy title before:

His initial inspiration for the book was the landscape of hell that Milton describes in the first two books of Paradise Lost, which is also where the title His Dark Materials comes from. The original working title for the trilogy was The Golden Compasses, also from a quotation from Paradise Lost.
That would be from Book VII:
Then staid the fervid wheels, and in his hand
He took the golden compasses, prepared
In God's eternal store, to circumscribe
This universe, and all created things:
One foot he centered, and the other turned
Round through the vast profundity obscure;
And said, Thus far extend, thus far thy bounds,
This be thy just circumference, O World!
Saestina's description of Pullman's remarks continues:
When Northern Lights went to the US editor, he thought the [original series] title was a reference to the alethiometer, changed it to a singular compass and made it the title of the first book instead of the trilogy as a whole. This is, apparently, the same editor who changed the name of the first Harry Potter book from Philosopher's Stone to Sorceror's Stone, which Pullman said, "obviously makes no sense."
Not to quibble, but the US publishers of the Harry Potter series and Pullman's retitled (and soon to be renumbered) trilogy are different companies. In fact, to confuse matters beyond easy meaning, the UK publisher of Northern Lights is the same multinational firm as the US publisher of Harry Potter.

It may also be worth acknowledging that a stone which conveys magical immortality makes much more sense--in modern usage--as a "sorcerer's stone" than as a "philosopher's stone." Yes, I support educating fourth-graders in the history of Renaissance scientific nomenclature as much as the next guy, but let's face it--until that happens, there's a case for "sorcerer's stone."

And it definitely seems noteworthy that while J. K. Rowling's Philosopher's Stone title survives in the UK and around the world, for both book and movie, Pullman accepted the US title for his first volume even though that meant he had to find a new series title. Such is the power of US sales.

An item of more interest to story creators:
Pullman really struggled with the first chapter of Northern Lights. On his sixteenth draft (according to him, I think this may have been hyperbole) he was hit with the idea of daemons and it all came together.
What, at least from this hind perspective, seems like a fundamental element of the His Dark Materials universe, and even of some of the books' plotting, wasn't part of Pullman's original planning.

Fuse #8 provides a link to another Golden Compass movie promotion, an advance trailer spotlighting the half-finished special effects.


Anonymous said...

I wish Pullman would just kiss and make up with C.S. Lewis already. Especially since they were both influenced so heavily by the same source. The Narnia Chronicles are rife with Miltonian imagery.

J. L. Bell said...

I like what Adam Gopnik wrote about Lewis's religion in the New Yorker in 1995:

Converted to faith as the means of joy, however, Lewis never stops to ask very hard why this faith rather than some other. His favorite argument for the truth of Christianity is that either Jesus had to be crazy to say the things he did or what he said must be true, and since he doesn’t sound like someone who is crazy, he must be right. (He liked this argument so much that he repeats it in allegorical form in the Narnia books; either Lucy is lying about Narnia, or mad, or she must have seen what she claimed to see.)

Lewis insists that the Anglican creed isn’t one spiritual path among others but the single cosmic truth that extends from the farthest reach of the universe to the house next door. He is never troubled by the funny coincidence that this one staggering cosmic truth also happens to be the established religion of his own tribe, supported by every institution of the state, and reinforced by the university he works in, the “God-fearing and God-sustaining University of Oxford,” as Gladstone called it.

Where Lewis ignored those institutions and their power, Pullman, as a modern Oxfordian, seems to dwell on them.

Gopnik, as a non-Anglican, and even a non-Christian, has particular reason to note Lewis's tunnel vision.