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19 October 2017

Philip Pullman: Jeremy Corbyn didn’t “lift a finger” to keep us in the EU

The author of His Dark Materials speaks to the New Statesman on the publication of his new novel.

By New Statesman

The award-winning children’s author Philip Pullman has said that he feels “very angry” with Jeremy Corbyn, who “could have saved the referendum for the Remain campaign” but “didn’t seem to lift a finger”. Speaking to New Statesman culture editor Tom Gatti for The Back Half podcast, he said:

“He would have been the best placed to raise this, but he didn’t make the big point about Europe. It’s not about money, it’s about belonging to an organisation that has kept the peace in Europe for 70 years, an extraordinary achievement, a vastly important project, one which we should have been proud and delighted to be part of, and we left it, just like that, because nobody made the argument. Corbyn didn’t make it. I’ve got no time for Corbyn at all.” Comparing our current political figures to mythical creatures, Pullman described the Labour leader as “a sort of, vaguely benevolent nature spirit who can’t actually do very much.”

Pullman’s new book, La Belle Sauvage – the first volume in a new trilogy to accompany the His Dark Materials series, which concluded 17 years ago with The Amber Spyglass – is published today on his 70th birthday (October 19). Set in Oxford in the same alternative universe as His Dark Materials, but 10 years before the events of those books, La Belle Sauvage tells the story of a plucky 11-year-old inn-keeper’s son, Malcolm, and a 15-year-old girl, Alice, and their involvement in a covert war being waged between the totalitarian Church and a group of scholars and spies devoted to resisting it. Malcolm and Alice find themselves having to protect the six-month-old baby Lyra (the protagonist of the earlier trilogy) from sinister forces, as Britain experiences an apocalyptic flood.

Writing in the New Statesman, Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, praised Pullman as a storyteller who wants us “to start attending to the connections that we have lost the ability to see”. Central to the book is William Blake’s idea of twofold vision, described by Pullman as “when you can see something not just as it is, but surrounded by a sort of penumbra of one’s own imagination”, and single vision, which the author says can be found in today’s politics:

“We see single vision in the work of people who have The Answer: “We know what the answer is. The answer is the works of Marx, the answer is the Catholic Church, the answer is Brexit! Once we leave the European Union, everything will be alright! That’s single vision. And, of course, all those things are wrong. Inevitably, invariably, completely wrong. Because they leave no room for the things that make us truly human: for the imagination, for emotion, for a true understanding of things. Single vision is very deadly.”

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In a wide-ranging conversation, Pullman also discussed his love of The Sopranos, the “disgrace” of the decline in public libraries, and the forthcoming television adaptation of His Dark Materials, which offers the chance to tell the stories “at the length they need in order to flourish in all their complexity”.

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La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One by Philip Pullman is out now, published by David Fickling Books in association with Penguin Random House. He launches the new book at Southbank Centre’s London Literature Festival on Friday October 20.