[DWJ] Incoherent Notes on THB and Shelley

Catherine Butler cathcbutler at gmail.com
Wed Oct 1 14:43:37 EDT 2014

Janet, I think I may have unwittingly borrowed Deborah's phrase about
Pullman being of CSL's party without knowing it in a piece I wrote for a
Farah a few years ago. Whether this is what Deborah means don't know, but
this is my take (it follows a section in which I briefly describe PP's
criticisms of CSL):

Having inverted the Christian-Romantic model of human development, however,
Pullman surprisingly preserves its structure intact. In *His Dark Materials*,
as in the tradition it critiques, puberty is *the* life-defining event, the
point at which the form of one’s daemon becomes fixed for ever. Prior to
the settling of one’s daemon one cannot know “the kind of person” one is,
while afterwards significant change is not to be expected (Pullman 1995,
167). Coming from a writer whose project is one of liberation from
ideological repression this is a highly restricted vision of the human
potential for growth and self-determination. There are other indications,
too, that Pullman’s rebellion is not as wholesale as might first appear. In
particular, the conclusion of his story is still in thrall to a moral and
aesthetic vision that defines satisfying artistic closure in terms of
self-sacrifice and self-denial – exemplified in the deaths of Lyra’s
parents and in Lyra’s and Will’s decision to part for ever. Whether or not
Pullman is of C. S. Lewis’s party without knowing it, he has not discarded
his literary heritage quite as thoroughly as his own comments might
suggest, and much of the power of his work comes from his ability to draw
profoundly on a fantasy tradition to which he very much belongs.

You anticipated the point about sacrifice, of course. If I can put on my
pop-psychological pork-pie hat for a moment, it's tempting to see in PP's
anger against CSL the disquiet of a child scared of growing up to resemble
his parent. It's a story as old as Oedipus - or Harold Bloom.


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