Pullman's Inspirational Dust

Saturday, 16th September 2017

By Deepka Ratra

There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction;
they can only be dealt with adequately in a children’s book.

Philip Pullman

*spoilers alert*

It’s been not half an hour since I was sitting at a Thai restaurant on the main street of Summer Hill, reading the last pages of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. I’ve rushed home to write while I’m surfing the waves of my literary hangover with cup of chai in hand. There is so much to say, but I’m not quite sure how to say it - so I’m just going to write as the words come to me.

Witches, daemons, gods, ghosts, humans, Mulefa, uncountable universes and mind-bending concepts. What an expansive world Pullman has managed to create. I wasn't planning on getting attached when my friend gave me the first book. I didn’t read it for weeks, but then when I finished the first chapter, I didn’t put it down till I had read the entire series. I was not prepared for the enormity of the journey on which I was about to travel.

He left nothing unturned. Perilous decisions, pain and joy, religious challenges and the profound questions of facing death. Who knew that it was possible to approach such vast and delicate subjects with such courage and humility? Pullman wrote his story in a vigorous passion, bringing tales of morality, wisdom and patience as he took his readers on an exciting ride: At first, you know nothing at all. All of a sudden, the incomprehensible chaos of the stars align and settle upon you like Dust.

I didn't understand why we were bothering to talk about the world of the Mulefa, or the tiny Gallivespians, it didn’t seem to be crucial (oh, how naive I was). I wanted to read about Lyra and the alethiometer, or about the light-born angels that seemed both incredibly powerful yet weak at the same time. In the end, the things that seemed inconsequential became as crucial as any other part of the story.

One of the last chapters in the book is spoken by the angel Xaphania: “And if you help everyone else in your worlds to do that, by helping them to learn and understand about themselves and each other and the way everything works, and by showing them how to be kind instead of cruel, and patient instead of hasty, and cheerful instead of surly, and above all how to keep their minds open and free and curious…Then they will renew enough to replace what is lost through one window.” It’s simple to understand, yet it is the thing that our world seems to continuously chase, never quite fully realising it.

It’s pretty obvious that Pullman would have had to haul himself through treacherous, thrilling and titanic ideas to get to the last page of The Amber Spyglass. He grabbed the vibrant, fraying threads of his story and sewed them together with fierce and brilliant language, bringing the numerous delicate matters of his tale to an end. Lyra and Will were never meant to be together. However painful it was, it was inevitably the way of the worlds; a true, clean ending with a moral to pass:

“I remember. He meant the kingdom was over, the kingdom of heaven, it was all finished. We shouldn’t live as if it mattered more than life in this world, because where we are is always the most important place.”

Pullman bravely noted in his acknowledgments, “I have stolen ideas from every book I have ever read.” Let’s be honest, nobody likes to talk about it, but it’s how our world works: we are living beings inspired by the people, things and ideas around us, just as Pullman’s story was carved and shaped by the millions of ideas he had ever read.

It’s not often that you come across a book that makes you stop and think, that changes something. It’s not often that you are so moved and affected by it that you need to tell someone about what has just happened to you. But when you do, that’s when you know it matters, and that’s when you need to do something about it. It matters to me that people live consciously and presently, that they aren’t living for a future that is completely uncertain. To be chasing things that are perpetually out of reach is a disservice to yourself and to the lives around us. To live is to be present; present within yourself and present for the moments you experience in such a demanding, difficult and diverse world. It matters that we try to be the best version of ourselves in the time that we have, and to be aware of our actions, and to understand what it means to be responsible for those actions. One of my favourite aspects of the book was the knife; the most powerful and beneficial weapon was also the thing that was destroying the world. Lyra and Will had to find a way of reconciling that, and it came with such a heavy price. To have great power is indeed to have great responsibility, and I know Pullman didn’t take it lightly.

To you who have read the book, I encourage you to spread the word. To you who have not (I hope you skimmed over the spoilers...!), go to your local bookstore, download the e-book, ask a friend, whatever it is, read the book. It mattered to Pullman, it mattered to me, so I hope it will matter to you.

Thank you again, Mr Pullman. My life has become more enriched because of you, and I hope to create golden clouds of Dust wherever I go.