Phillip Pullman Explains His Influences and Inspiration

By October 22, 2017Literature, On Writing

Phillip Pullman’s new addition to the His Dark Materials series comes not a moment too soon for fans of his writing. The first book in the newest trilogy The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage, was due for release on the 19th of October 2017 but had an accidental early release 15 days before its due date. 

Pullman described the book as not a prequel, but an equel. A series not to stand before or after the novels that concluded in 2005, but ones that will stand beside them. The stories follow “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”.

Pullman spoke to the media about his inspiration behind his well-loved stories, and what has influenced his writing and characters over the years.




Speaking to the Daily Mail, Pullman said:

“It’s the question of consciousness, perhaps the oldest philosophical question of all: are we matter? Or are we spirit and matter? What is consciousness if there is no spirit? Questions like that are of perennial fascination and they haven’t been solved yet, thank goodness. I’m still very grateful that scientists have not discovered what dark matter is. I was holding my breath and crossing my fingers they wouldn’t while I was writing His Dark Materials. They still don’t know and I’m very happy about that.”

The literary world Pullman created was inspired by his regular walks along the rivers and canals of Oxford, and “looking at maps of the city, which is laced through and through with water”. His community and the village where he grew up also played a big part in forming his interests and encouraging his literary prowess.

“An old lady in the village took an interest in me and invited me to borrow books from her library. I read HG Wells and Tarzan. That was a very generous thing to do and I thought of her when I was writing about Hannah.”

On writing characters, Pullman revealed his particular interest in exploring the more evil characters in his novels. The villain Bonneville was a favourite creation to explore:

“Is he a psychopath? He’s a nasty piece of work. I enjoyed him very much. There’s nothing more fun than writing about villains. I loved writing Mrs Coulter in His Dark Materials and greatly enjoyed him in this.”

Part of the appeal of his novels is the timelessness of them, and that he never meant to write for a specific audience. His characterisation of the young protagonists was such that anyone who has been a ‘normal’ child could relate in some way. Pullman insisted that both Lyra and Malcolm are just ordinary children.

“There’s nothing divinely gifted about them. They’re not special children. When I was a teacher, there was a Malcolm in every class and a Lyra in every class. I didn’t base them on actual children, but I based them on the notion of children that I formed during that period. Children are capable of extraordinary feats of courage, of affection and determination and I was glad to discover Malcolm wandering in my mind.”

Fans old and new are looking forward to exploring the world he created once more, and delving deeper into His Dark Materials.

Get your copy of the new novel here:




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