Sad death of imagination

Having just struggled through most of Philip Pullman's Northern Lights (I couldn't finish it), I am left wondering which fantasy island Amanda Craig is writing from (review of The Amber Spyglass, Books, 30 October). "This as-tonishing trilogy has gained a place in the canon of great children's literature"? If Northern Lights is typical of the rest of Pullman's oeuvre, that is simply risible.

Devoid of everything that makes the Harry Potter series proper children's classics (such as a great sense of humour), Pullman's prose leaves you feeling as if you've eaten a lunch of lead.

Truly excellent children's fantasy writers do not worry themselves about setting an "intellectual challenge as to the essential nature of the human and the divine" - whatever that pathetic animal might be, in or at an age when it has long ceased to matter. They have imaginative fun. They certainly do not resort to a cobbled-up mish-mash of sub-Dickensian polar exploration laced with improbably convenient tricks. Take Pullman's ludicrous "alethiometer" - a device that, when the author cannot engineer his characters to carry his plot forward (or wield his imagination), tells the reader "the truth".

Craig seems to think that Pullman's devotion to storytelling is what gives his writing clout. Fortunately for us, C S Lewis, Alan Garner, J R R Tolkien and J K Rowling found this to be such a natural talent that it never needed emphasis. Children vote with their hearts, and they know that Pullman's universe is so contrived that it never had one.

Steve Dickinson
Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria

This article first appeared in the 13 November 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - The fall of civic culture