Philip Pullman, born in England in 1946, is a British scholar and author, well known for writing the controversial trilogy His Dark Materials. While Pullman's novels are ostensibly for children, they have drawn adult attention, particularly His Dark Materials, because the books deal with many adult themes and issues.
Philip Pullman was born in Norwich, England, and his father was a Royal Air Force pilot. Philip and his mother moved with his father's postings until his father's death in 1953. Many of Pullman's books deal with the themes of orphaned or fatherless children and family relations. His mother remarried and moved the family to Australia, where Philip Pullman was first exposed to comic books and fantasy literature.
In 1963, Philip Pullman attended Exeter College, Oxford, and after graduating, he married Judith Speller and began teaching children. Pullman also wrote school plays and published several books and collections of plays, beginning in 1972 with the publication of The Haunted Storm, which won the New English Library's Young Writers Award. Many of his books are set in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, indicating an interest in the social, political, and economic structures of that period.
In 1988, Philip Pullman began teaching at Westminster College in Oxford, and in 1993, he began writing Northern Lights, published as The Golden Compass in the United States. In 1996, Northern Lights, the first book in His Dark Materials, was published. This was followed in 1997 with The Subtle Knife, and the final book in the series, The Amber Spyglass, was published in 2000.
His Dark Materials begins in Oxford, although a different version than the one that actually exists. However, Pullman's familiarity with Oxford and England in general is obvious in the books, which cover a great deal of territory in space, time, and other universes. The books are considered controversial because they speak out very emphatically against many of the teachings of the Christian Church and even suggest an ultimate overthrow of God himself. In addition, the books contain mature content that some parents think is not appropriate for children. Despite this, the series has won numerous prizes.
Philip Pullman has entered public debate over Christianity and the role of the Church, speaking very critically of another popular children's series, The Chronicles of Narnia. Pullman argues that The Chronicles of Narnia is merely a tool for Christian propaganda and that the books are oppressive and harmful to children. Debating opponents have said that Philip Pullman is a pleasant man to discuss issues with, rarely resorting to personal attacks and instead choosing to criticize material on content.
Pullman's writing is reasonably well executed, but the focus of his books is on content. His characters often make difficult moral choices and are sometimes forced to betray those they love. His Dark Materials deals with the themes of love, death, and religion very seriously, and some religious critics have suggested that Pullman's work be used in serious discussions about Christianity and the Church, while others choose to denounce it.
Philip Pullman's contribution to the body of English children's literature has been somewhat overshadowed by the work of J.K. Rowling, but deserves recognition in its own right. His Dark Materials is excellent food for thought for all ages, religious or not.