In Pullmans longed-for return to the world of His Dark Materials, two children battle to protect baby Lyra as enchanted parable combinings with a retelling of the Biblical story of the flood
Philip Pullman is the living heir of Lewis Carroll and George MacDonald and, yes, CS Lewis- in spite of Lewis being his chief bugbear, whom he attacks furiously for his religiosity and misanthropy. While JK Rowling carried on the tradition of jolly school adventures and gripping supernatural yarns, he has chosen the pilgrim road of fantastic metaphysical parable, and his new volume nods to Spenser’s The Faerie Queene in the same way as His Dark Materials took on Milton and Paradise Lost . In this longed-for opening volume of the new trilogy, Pullman faces his pedigree without apology: his young heroine is even called Alice, and the narrative follows her as she is swept down the Thames in the eponymous canoe of the hero, Malcolm. But whereas the Thames offered Carroll’s Alice an idyllic, pastoral meander, a very contemporary apocalypse explosions around this older Alice.
To begin with, La Belle Sauvage feelings old-fashioned and comfy, set in a picture-book Oxford redolent of stewed cabbage, meat pies and generous assistances of pudding, lit by naphtha lamps and warmed by brandwijn. The action takes place 10 years before Northern Lights , and unfolds how Lyra, the once and future heroine of His Dark Materials, will come to grow up in the Oxford college called Jordan. The hero, Malcolm, a red-haired, good-natured, savvy and inquisitive 11 -year-old, runs as a potboy in his parents’ saloon, The Trout at Godstow, and helps out the nuns living in the priory on the island across the style. He is an ordinary chap in some respects, but a golden son over all- like Pip and Oliver in Dickens, with a dash of Kim, and of Emil from another classic Pullman admires, Erich Kastner’s Emil and the Detectives . As for Alice, she is insured, early on, working as a barmaid; when clients pinches her bottom, she smashes a beer tankard and flings the handle at the offender.
One night, as Malcolm is watching great crested grebes nesting by the river, he accidentally find a spy fell going wrong, and after that” everything just then seemed hung about with an unhappy air of distrust and anxiety “. Pullman is a powerful voice for many endangered features of postwar society, which devoted his( and my) generation so many chances. In Malcolm’s Oxford there are no free libraries any more; teachers are being bullied into dreary box-ticking; dissenting voices publicly humbled and disappeared. The novel lets out an angry howling about climate change, inequality and criminal financial arrangements.On Pullman’s world map, however, the oppressors’ headquarters are in Geneva, the fountainhead of Calvinism, and of the doctrine of predestined damnation which Pullman has attacked so vehemently, while Uppsala in Sweden is the base of the organised resistance. The dreaded Consistorial Court of Discipline and its horrible outgrowths are imposing full-scale monitoring and dreary intellectual conformity throughout schools, and urging children to denounce their parents for failing to conform. Worldwide, a craving for mysterious dust and its quantum possibilities drives the evil characters, and their machinations unfold in fractured glimpses as the mood grows ever more sombre.
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