Monday, June 16, 2008

The Importance of Being Ruthless/Lewis vs. Pullman

Over the last three days I've spent a lot of time on a work of "young adult fiction" that I started writing about eight years ago. The process has been rather like dumping out a huge pile of pebbles, among which are scattered a few precious stones. Most of what I have written is dross, and needs to be discarded.

My main problem with The Amber Spyglass (the final volume of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, which begins with The Golden Compass) and with the third Harry Potter book (which I started but never finished) is that it seems like Pullman and Rowling just dumped and didn't bother with the much more difficult work of sorting, culling and paring down.

Of course it's been said many, many times, but I just want to join my voice to the choir: good writing is not so much good writing as it is good editing! A really good author is willing to drop extraneous details, avoids harping on pet philosophical ideas, and deletes unnecessary scenes or characters in spite of personal emotional attachments to them.

It's been a long time since I read the Chronicles of Narnia, but as I recall, C. S. Lewis did an excellent job in this regard. So while I may admire Philip Pullman's vivid imagination and narrative powers, I do cringe when I hear his trilogy compared with the (well edited!) Chronicles of Narnia.


Patrick Lewis said...

I found Pullman's explanations about why he wanted to write a Narnia-esque series enlightening. You can read some of his comments here:

I have always felt that what stories like Pullman's or Rowling needed in editing, the Narnia series needed in fleshing out. I recently reread the Narnia series and was very surprised by some of the language and imagery used there, particularly by the death of the characters at the end of the last battle, the "crucifiction" of Aslan in TLWW, and the mysterious disappearance of Susan into maturity.

Pullman in his essay cited some very notable critiques of Lewis' work that are worth reading in their own right.

Fortunately for me i don't like any of them Rowling, Lewis, or Pullman as much as I do Tolkein

jenzai studio said...

I haven't read Pullman yet, but I couldn't agree more with you about the lack of editing in Rowling's HP series!

There are things about the Chronicles of Narnia that bother me now, though, reading them as an adult. I have difficulty with the savior imagery, which I suppose is to be expected from a church-goer who doesn't really get the whole Jesus thing, but I can at least respect that aspect of the series. His characterization of the East as dark and evil, his unapologetic colonialism (here come the good, white Anglo-Saxons to save the day!), and his hierarchy of beings as determined by their intelligence (talking animals vs "dumb" animals) I have a real problem with. (Actually the talking animals vs non-talking animals bugged me as a child, too, but I never really allowed myself to think about it, as that would have been tantamount to blasphemy in our Lewis-loving house!)

I do still love CS Lewis and the Chronicles - I think that they are wonderful stories and brilliant in their own right. I owe so many of my really beautiful and useful ideas about God to CS Lewis and for that I am ever grateful. It's nice to finally allow myself the freedom to think about the stories critically, though. : )