Thursday, July 22, 2010

AGTO Day Five: The Seminar

Today (it's Thursday, I'm actually managing to write about something on the day it happened) Philip Pullman was the topic of discussion. Now, I am a big fan of Philip Pullman. I like the His Dark Materials series a lot. I read it at a time when I was getting board with fantasy. Fantasy is very formulaic, it's essentially the hero's journey. Unlikely hero, quest, blah blah blah. And I was feeling like I hadn't read any really original fantasy in a while. And then there was Philip Pullman with this fabulously original series and I loved it.

We began by looking at an article Pullman had written that was published in The Guardian. It was called "The Dark Side of Narnia." Pullman wonders why C. S. Lewis is such a celebrated writer. Why are we still giving the Narnia books to children to read? They're full of religious propaganda and racism as well as being misogynistic. Pullman does not mince words in this article. Read it, it's really something.

Well, we had quite the debate. There was a lot of back and forth about perhaps Lewis being a product of his time, and that's why the books are racist, ect. And that children didn't understand those connotations so it didn't matter, and those of us saying the point Pullman was trying to make wasn't whether or not Lewis was a product of his time, but are they good books for children to be reading today? I absolutely agree that the books are misogynistic. One women tried to make the point that Susan and Lucy are given powers too. But I disagree because they're given mothering power, nurturing powers. Lucy has healing and Susan has the power of calling for help when she needs it. They're given weapons and told not to use them. Don't try to tell me this is a girl power book. We talked about whether it's OK to suggest books like this to kids, even if they don't understand the connotations, do we want them absorbing it subconsciously?

We went on like this for quite a bit. It was an interesting conversation. We obviously didn't come to a conclusion. I don't know where Pullman gets off accusing Lewis of propaganda though. I mean really. Although Pullman probably doesn't think of it as propaganda. He has discovered this truth, and he really, really wants us to see it too.

The readings we had the night before where Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, and the first section of the first chapters of Pullman's The Golden Compass. I have a hard time getting through Woolf. There are very clear connections between the two though. Woolf talks about being shut out of everything. She can't walk on the grass, she can't go into the library, she can't do anything because she's a women and it's a man's world. Lyra is very much in a man's world. She's grown up in this boy's club, and she's always breaking rules but she's still very much stuck in the system.

We read a section from Paradise Lost, after Satan and the other angles have been thrown out of heaven. Satan comes off sounding rather good.

The mind is its own place, an it itself
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less then hee
Whom Thuneder hath made greater? Hence at least
We shall be free...

He's the rebel fighting against unjust authority. The underdog. We root for that. Pullman, who went to Oxford and would have read Milton, makes Lord Asriel his Satan character. As the books go on, all the characters we like are the ones who are fighting against The Authority. It's very Paradise Lost.

We took a look at a map of Oxford and compared it to Lyra's Oxford. All the rivers are in the same places, the landscaping is all the same. Many of the colleges and roads are the same too. The last section we read and discussed was from The Subtle Knife when Lyra is in Will's Oxford. She goes to the University Museum of Natural History and Pitt Rivers. Which is where we went. The two museums are connected, and to get to Pitt Rivers you have to enter through the Natural History Museum. Pitt Rivers is the strangest museum I have ever seen. You might just want to look at the pictures, because I don't know how well I can really describe it. Glass cases. Lots and lots of glasses cases, all over the place. Not really in rows or anything. Like this:

And the cases would have a title like "Spears," and then there would be like a hundred spears all in the case with teeny pieces of paper next to each one saying something about it. Or "Amulets," or "Flutes," or "Treatment of Dead Enemies."

It was strange, but interesting. I found the Arctic clothes that Lyra saw.


  1. And this has been said before, but Susan isn't allowed to come back to Narnia after she discovers lipstick and stockings and boys -- after she becomes a woman. Peter, presumably (though I don't remember whether it says this, actually -- possibly Peter is meant to remain a man-child or monk) is all over women who *wear* lipstick and stockings, but he still gets to come back.

  2. I remember that Susan wasn't let in because of the lipstick, etc. We talked about that, I brought it up actually. I don't remember it saying anything about Peter. It's been a while since I read the last one though. I'll have tot take a look.


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