Philip Pullman's The Book of Dust preview
Children’s booksellers and critics share their enthusiasm about The Book of Dust, the new companion trilogy to His Dark Materials which launches tomorrow
Philip Pullman at an exhibition at London Zoo in 2004 based on the His Dark Materials trilogy, with Dana, a lemur, and young fams. Photograph: MJ Kim/Getty Images
It’s been 17 years since The Amber Spyglass, the final instalment of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials fantasy trilogy was published. The novel was the first children’s book to be longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, as well as the first to win the Whitbread Book of the Year. Now the heroine, Lyra Belacqua, will return in The Book of Dust, a new and long-hinted-at trilogy that Pullman describes as an “equel”, a set of books that can be read alongside the originals while also being accessible to new readers.
“An ‘equel’, the simple word that had me at hello!” David O’Callaghan, children’s book buyer at Eason’s, is excited. “I have been waiting for this book for so long, I just accepted it was never coming and then three appear.” He describes His Dark Materials as part of the books that led the “golden wave” of children’s books in the late 20th and early 21st century, along with Harry Potter, Sabriel and Artemis Fowl.
Children’s booksellers in Ireland are in agreement about the importance of Pullman’s work. Lisa Redmond recalls, “I started bookselling in 1998 and His Dark Materials was already being hailed as an outstanding series for older readers. This new series will be huge and I can’t wait to read it and start recommending it to customers.”
MaryBrigid Turner cites the trilogy as “one of the first series that made people take children’s books seriously and realise the wider influence and appeal they had.” Pullman was already known as a “serious” children’s writer after publication of his Sally Lockhart quartet, a series depicting a young Victorian adventurer, but His Dark Materials elevated his profile even more and remains the work he is best known for.
“There’s still nothing quite like it out there,” Helen Corcoran adds. “I also think it would be seen as much more of a risk in current publishing. It would still get published, but it would likely need to be championed more.”
The trilogy – named for, and in many ways a response to, John Milton’s Paradise Lost – was both criticised and praised for its philosophical elements and treatment of religion. For Karina Clifford this is among its greatest strengths: “I loved the way the books questioned the emptiness of organised religion, the way the structure can become hollow and so that supporting that empty structure becomes the raison d’etre for everything, even if the methods of doing so explicitly contradict the tenets of the original faith.”
Dr Pádraic Whyte is a director of the M Phil in Children’s Literature at Trinity College Dublin – an academic field that has grown substantially in the past 20 years. He describes the series as “a wonderfully sophisticated and imaginative rewriting of biblical myths. Let’s hope the next offering similarly encourages young readers to question the authority of, and recognise the corruption within, oppressive religious institutions.”
Louise Gallagher, who is completing her PhD in children’s literature at Trinity, also points to the “outstanding world building” and “undeniable crossover appeal”.
The trilogy has long been recognised as worthy of serious study; Dr Keith O’Sullivan, who now lectures in the School of English at Dublin City University, completed his doctorate on His Dark Materials in 2010 and is relieved that the new trilogy “was no more than a twinkle in Pullman’s eye back then. The thought of having to grapple with a work that Pullman describes as neither a prequel nor a sequel but ‘an equal’ is, even at this remove, crushing. Consequently, I am very much looking forward to reading The Book of Dust purely for pleasure – roll on October.”
The first novel in The Book of Dust trilogy will be published by Penguin Random House Children’s and David Fickling Books in the UK, and Random House Children’s in the US, on Thursday, October 19th. Dust – which is capitalised within Pullman’s world – is a mysterious particle which may be linked to original sin, and among his reasons for continuing to write about Lyra.
“Questions about that mysterious and troubling substance were already causing strife 10 years before His Dark Materials, and at the centre of The Book of Dust is the struggle between a despotic and totalitarian organisation, which wants to stifle speculation and enquiry, and those who believe thought and speech should be free. The idea of Dust suffused His Dark Materials. Little by little through that story the idea of what Dust was became clearer and clearer, but I always wanted to return to it and discover more.”
Readers who feel October is simply too far away to wait for a new Philip Pullman novel might console themselves with his time-travel high-seas adventure, The Adventure of John Blake: Mystery of the Ghost Ship (illustrated by Fred Fordham), which will be published by David Fickling Books in June.
Claire Hennessy is a writer and editor of children’s and YA fiction