Philip Pullman was nearly 50 when the first volume of the epic His Dark Materials trilogy was published. In the saga, the newly knighted Sir Philip takes up William Blake’s reflection on Paradise Lost – that Milton was “of the Devil’s party without knowing it” – by creating a world in which God is a dying tyrant, the afterlife is a prison camp, and true happiness comes from being reabsorbed into the fabric of the universe. The trilogy is spell-binding, thought-provoking and stylishly written, and has deservedly become a critical and commercial success.
The honours system has frequently been degraded by the quality of its recipients (and it is hard to see, this year, why the right wing Conservative MP John Redwood merits special recognition). A knighthood for Philip Pullman, however, is richly deserved. Before achieving success as a writer he was a teacher, and continues to campaign for literacy today, opposing cuts to library services. Market fundamentalism, he warned in a speech in 2011, will “kill off every humane, life-enhancing, generous, imaginative and decent corner of our public life”. It is a point that our “Crumbling Britain” series has also made. Some things cannot be measured on balance sheets; books, and the magic inside them, are always worth defending.
This article appears in the 02 Jan 2019 issue of the New Statesman, 2019: The big questions