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Tony Grist

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The Shadow In The North [Dec. 31st, 2007|09:53 am]
Tony Grist
Warning: This review of last night's BBC dramatization of a Philip Pullman novel contains spoilers.

So, you've got your pearl-handled revolver levelled at the megalomaniac's bonce. You 've just made a pretty speech about your values- which - rather jarringly for the late 19th century- include democracy- and the ghost of your true love (clad all in white) has been nodding along in smug agreement. The megalomaniac sneers that you're too weak to pull the trigger and turns his back.  You concur and, having fluted something about how it's morally superior to be weak,  put a bullet into the steam pipe of his Doomsday machine. You can't possibly know what you're going to achieve by this, but at least no-one is going to be able to call you a murderer. Luckily everything works out for the best in the best of all possible worlds and the megalomaniac gets reduced to catsmeat by the banks of steam-powered machine guns you've inadvertently triggered. 

Real life is not like this. Most choices sting. Only in cheap fiction do you get offered a Blairite third way which sends you victorious without a stain on your conscience. 

And that's why I don't believe Pullman is as serious a writer as his reputation suggests. I wouldn't mind so much if he wasn't also so preachy. It's that little speech about liberal values that precedes the cop-out that makes me want to kick him.
 
Oh- and that Doomsday machine in the railway carriage.  The reason no-one ever actually developed such a weapon is because it's pants.  You'd get to use it once- in a surprise attack-  after which the opposition would take it out of the equation  by digging up the tracks. 
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Comments:
From: bodhibird
2007-12-31 02:40 pm (UTC)
I haven't read any Pullman--and I don't know if I want to add "yet" to that statement or not--but I tell you, his outrage against the Narnia series bothers me. I don't trust a work of art (his trilogy) which seems to be entirely a protest against or negative reaction to another work of art. His Dark Materials should be able to stand alone without his constantly comparing it to Narnia.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-12-31 03:13 pm (UTC)
I agree.

He accuses Lewis of evangelising kids, but he's doing exactly the same thing. I find them both equally- and tiresomely- preachy. I enjoyed His Dark Materials but I think it's seriously weakened by being written as an anti-religious tract. I found the whole "Killing God" thing predictable and old-hat (I mean Niezsche got there first over a century ago) and believe, once the fuss has died down, it'll make the books seem terribly dated.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-12-31 03:14 pm (UTC)
P.S. Thank you so much for the mistletoe.
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[User Picture]From: strange_complex
2007-12-31 03:01 pm (UTC)
Damn, I wish I'd noticed that was on! I have been much in need of decent telly these past few days.

You're right about Pullman, though. I read a novel of his called Count Karlstein on the back of His Dark Materials, thinking it would be fresh and clever and inventive, but it wasn't really - just generic and lacklustre. I think he got lucky with HDM, but that it isn't an indicator of his general calibre.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-12-31 03:24 pm (UTC)
HDM is the only thing of his I've read. I enjoyed it at the time, but the more I've thought about it the more it strikes me as simplistic and intellectually trite. He writes better prose than J.K. Rowling but she has much greater political and moral depth.
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[User Picture]From: strange_complex
2007-12-31 05:13 pm (UTC)
Actually, after posting my comment I suddenly remembered about the BBC's iPlayer, and have now spent the last hour and a half watching The Shadow in the North. You're right - it was bizarre. Too fantastical to be realistic (something the BBC didn't help to combat by casting late 19th-century London with an early 21st-century ethnicity), and yet not fantastical enough to be able to function as a meaningful metaphor for anything very real. Even as enjoyable Christmas nonsense, it was only half-worthwhile.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-12-31 05:46 pm (UTC)
I know there were black people in Victorian London, but they certainly didn't constitute half the population. Another untruthful thing was the way Billie announced she was having the smug guy's baby and the old man and the boy were just so joyful about it. Pulman's 19th century isn't like any 19th century I recognise.
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[User Picture]From: strange_complex
2007-12-31 05:57 pm (UTC)
they certainly didn't constitute half the population

No, and nor would a bunch of white people have attended an interracial marriage so happily. You're dead right about the baby, too.
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From: manfalling
2008-01-02 09:54 am (UTC)
Did you read the His Dark Materials books? I have a feeling you did, but did you? There's lots of hard choices and dubious morality in those, with real loss and pain and sting etc... Plus lots of interesting religion/atheist stuff.

I enjoyed them when I read them first. Read them pretty much straight through.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-01-02 04:17 pm (UTC)
I enjoyed HDM at the time, but the more I think about it the less I like it. As I said on the phone, I think J.K. Rowling is a lot deeper. No, really! She understands politics and Pullman doesn't.
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