Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is quite deservedly the stuff of legends, and with his long-awaited follow-up The Book of Dust primed for release in October, this short and snappy biography + His Dark Materials overview should have been essential reading for fans. But, despite author Nicholas Tucker’s tantalising credentials which imply this book will be a fascinating insight into Pullman’s world and his methodology as a writer (according to the back cover, Tucker is not only a leading authority on children’s literature, he is also Pullman’s friend), Darkness Visible is a crushing disappointment that seems like nothing more than a cynical attempt to jump on the His Dark Materials /The Book of Dust bandwagon.
The book starts with a ridiculously swift bio (less than forty pages) covering Pullman’s childhood and writing career, and the influences and experiences that led him to forge His Dark Materials. With much more detail, this could have been fascinating. Unfortunately, there’s very little here that Pullman devotees won’t already know, and – frustratingly - Tucker barely even mentions 2007’s The Golden Compass movie or the National Theatre’s tremendous His Dark Materials stage adaptation, both of which surely deserve their own chapters? In fact, Pullman was so heavily involved in The Golden Compass’ production, it seems a wasted opportunity not to try and find out ‘from the horse’s mouth’ why such a beautiful-looking slice of cinema went so calamitously wrong.
The rest of Darkness Visible is devoted to a precis of the three His Dark Materials novels (so if you haven’t read them yet – and you should – give this section a swerve), an exploration of the relationship between Lyra and Will, a discussion about the function of science and religion in the trilogy, ‘Pullman’s Philosophy’ and his influences and comparisons. There is also, in the appendix, an overview of the two short stories Pullman wrote based on the His Dark Materials universe, and a brief interview with Pullman that is easily the highlight of the book.
In short, if you’re new to His Dark Materials, have no wish to read the actual novels (shame on you) but are vaguely wondering what all the fuss is about, you’ll find this an unchallenging read with a smattering of useful information. But if you’re hoping for some genuine pre-The Book of Dust revelations, a comprehensive behind-the-scenes look into the His Dark Materials phenomena, and a detailed understanding of what makes Pullman tick as an author, you will be sorely dissatisfied.
DARKNESS VISIBLE: PHILIP PULLMAN AND HIS DARK MATERIALS / AUTHOR: NICHOLAS TUCKER / PUBLISHER: ICON BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW