Philip Pullman announces new fantasy trilogy
The award-winning series His Dark Materials has captivated readers young and old for two decades. Now, the first book in a ‘parallel’ trilogy is due out in October — and fans are delighted.
The year was 2000 — a new millennium had begun. Potter fever was gripping the world. But in October that year, fans of an entirely different fantasy series were eagerly awaiting its final instalment.
That book was The Amber Spyglass, the third volume of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. It went on to be the first children’s title to win the Whitbread Book of the Year award. The Guardian called it an ‘exhilarating and poetic mixture of adventure, philosophy, myth and religion enriched by a heady brew of quantum physics’.
Today, the trilogy has sold 17.5 million copies around the world, in over 40 different languages. A 2006 film starred Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. The BBC is adapting it into an epic TV drama series.
And yesterday, Pullman delighted fans by announcing that in October he will be publishing the first in a brand new trilogy called The Book of Dust. It will be set in the same world as His Dark Materials, featuring many of the same characters — but it is not a prequel or a sequel, says Pullman. It is an ‘equel’.
More specifically, it will fill in the gaps in the story of Lyra Belacqua, a young girl from a world where magic, science and religion are closely intertwined. His Dark Materials began when she was 11-years-old, and it followed her through multiple alternate universes, including our own. She met witches, talking polar bears, and daemons.
But it was not ‘just’ fantasy. Pullman’s stories also posed deep theological questions; he has described them as being ‘about killing God’.
The Book of Dust will not shy away from difficult topics either. Pullman says it will centre around ‘the struggle between a despotic and totalitarian organisation, which wants to stifle speculation and inquiry, and those who believe thought and speech should be free.’
Fantasy is booming. Harry Potter has a new movie franchise; 23 million people watched Game of Thrones last year; now Pullman’s fans will be blessed with new books about Lyra. For many people, these imaginative tales are a welcome escape from the chaotic world we all share. There are clear good guys and bad guys, exciting adventures, and you can lose yourself in a great story. That is what makes the genre so popular.
But for others, the best fantasy stories are the ones which pose more thoughtful questions about our own society. Pullman is particularly good at this; his ‘magic’ draws on theories about dark matter. He is critical of religions with too much power. And his new series will attempt to challenge the ‘merciless reductionism’ of seeing things as ‘right or wrong’. As his publisher put it: the best people for telling us the truth about our times are our storytellers.
- Are you excited that you will be able to read the new trilogy by Philip Pullman?
- What makes fantasy stories so popular?
- As a class, take it in turns to suggest the key features which you think make a good fantasy story. Discuss: can you think of a story that includes all of these?
- Write your own short fantasy story set in an alternate universe — but include a political debate that you have encountered recently.
Some People Say...
“Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever.”Philip Pullman
What do you think?
Q & A
- I don’t like fantasy stories. Why should I?
- The genre has often been looked down on as being for children or ‘nerds’. But great fantasy novels are worth your time for the reasons in this article. They are also amazing feats of imagination. The best fantasy writers create entire worlds which have their own histories, rules and even languages — all of which can feel completely real to the reader.
- What will happen in The Book of Dust?
- The details of the plot are still under wraps. However, we do know that the first book will take place when Lyra is a baby, and its sequels will take place when she is a young woman of 20, after the events of His Dark Materials. There will be new and old characters, including ‘an ordinary boy whom eagle-eyed readers may have spotted in Lyra’s story before.’
- The fourth book of the Harry Potter series was published in July 2000. Three million copies were sold in the first weekend in the USA.
- Quantum physics
- Much of His Dark Materials involves Lyra’s quest to understand a mysterious, fictional elementary particle called Dust. In the novels, it is closely tied to human consciousness and dark matter (more on that below).
- These beings in animal form are manifestations of a character’s soul. They can talk to their humans, and change shape while that human is still a child.
- Pullman was criticised for what many saw as an attack on religion — in Lyra’s world, the church is a controlling, authoritarian institution. Pullman says that he is only criticising religion becoming too powerful. ‘Religion is private thing… As soon as it becomes public and political, it’s dangerous.’
- 23 million people
- The figure for last year’s final episode, according to Entertainment Weekly. It includes streaming, repeat showings and recordings.
- Dark matter
- A mysterious substance which physicists know little about, as it does not react to light.