PP: That’s one of the main themes of the whole trilogy. When Lyra and Will kiss for the first time they don’t have to do anything more than kiss. But if you can’t remember what your first kiss was like I feel sorry for you.

NT: Broadly speaking almost all children’s and young adult novels have endings that if not always entirely happy at least make moral sense. Do you feel this applies to His Dark Materials too?

PP: Well, such endings happen more frequently than we might think with adult books too. She marries him; the murder is solved or whatever. Books that are popular and read and talked about usually have endings that actually satisfy in a moral sense whether they are happy or not. The ending of His Dark Materials made lots of people cry – it made me cry too. But it was also satisfying, I hope, because it didn’t offer easy options after so much that had gone before.

When you look at the four gospels as a storyteller, you can see exactly how well they work.

So I think a bit more subtly now about the Christian story. I can’t also deny how good some religious people are. They set about doing good a lot of the time for reasons I don’t believe in but which are satisfactory for them. I have always felt that a measure of goodness is not what you believe but what you do. And religion can supply a sense of community to some people. I once put this to Richard Dawkins: if you had a little girl who was terribly ill and knew she was soon going to die, do you tell her the stark facts of her oncoming death? Of course you don’t! You tell her a fairy tale about going to heaven. What else can you possibly do?

NT: So when did you start doubting the Christianity that you had been brought up in?

PP: I think the first thing I read that made me start thinking in a contrary way was Colin Wilson’s once famous book The Outsider. And that pointed me at people like Nietzsche and Kierkegaard and got me thinking in a new way. After that I got interested in existentialism and all that stuff and poor old God just got shuffled away. I floated in and out of various other beliefs in my twenties. I was a Buddhist for a bit and then got interested in the occult and astrology. But they all fell away. I still remain very interested in the esoteric but not as a believer. But people like Dawkins, who dismiss religion entirely as utter foolishness, I think are simply wrong.

NT: His Dark Materials starts with a child who by the end is turning into a newly sexualised young adult. This is in contrast to many other children’s books where characters often seem to stay the same age from start to finish.

This is an extract from Darkness Visible: Philip Pullman and His Dark Materials, by Nicholas Tucker, published by Icon Books, 978-1-7857-8228-2, £8.99 pbk.

Nicholas Tucker is honorary senior lecturer in Cultural and Community Studies at Sussex University.

Books for Keeps No.225 July 2017 19

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