Philip Pullman and The Wretched Fad


Philip Pullman and the Wretched Fad

Pullman, the best-selling children's author, was scathing over its use. He said: "This wretched fad has been spreading more and more widely. I can't see the appeal at all. To my mind it drastically narrows the options available to the writer. When a language has a range of tenses such as the perfect, the imperfect, the pluperfect, each of which makes other kinds of statement possible, why on earth not use them?" He added: "I just don't read present-tense novels any more. It's a silly affectation, in my view, and it does nothing but annoy."


I disagree, Joe. From what he said in this and, even more so, in his Guardian piece, I think he is very openly criticising other authors for "not having the guts" (to paraphrase his line of argument) to take a stand and write in the third person past tense. He's basically trying to bully others to write stories the way HE thinks they should be written. And I'm not having it!! Everyone is entitled to their view, and if he and you don't like first-person narrative, you have the choice not to read books written that way. But to claim, as he does, that NO books should be written in the first person is arrogance of the highest order. I also think it's ignorance -- his quoting of ancient texts to back up his arguments is, in my view, evidence of just how far out of touch with the modern world he has fallen. To be blunt -- it's been 10 years since he rounded off His Dark Materials, which for my money stands as a high-water mark for children's literature -- I'm in awe of what he achieved with those books. But what's he produced of any worth since then? Not a lot. I think his golden age has come and passed. He's out of date, out of earth-shaking ideas, out of touch. And rather than just fade quietly into the background as all authors should when their voice is no longer relevant (as I hope I have the good grace to when my time comes, as I'm sure it most probably will) he's started moaning about the supposed flaws of younger authors, in my opinion solely in order to be heard and to feel important.

I think every form of story-telling is valid and entitled to its existence. And I believe passionately that every story-teller has the right to choose how to present their stories to the world. And I will always stand up to anyone who tries to chip away at those freedoms and make other authors feel insignificant. In my eyes, people like that are bullies, and it will be a cold day in the furthest corner of hell before I slink away from the challenge of a literary bully!!!

Heh heh -- I don't think I'm going to be invited for lunch at the Pullman household any time soon... :-)

Darren, though I might agree with your first sentence, I feel like I have to defend the man on this one. From the direct quotations I've read, it doesn't look like he's trying to lay down the law to other novelists. He's just saying he doesn't like novels written in the present tense and explaining, quite eloquently, why.
As it happens, I agree with him.
I've been whining about writing in the present tense (far less eloquently than Mr Pullman) for a long time; I put it at number one in my list of 'Writing That Really Annoys Me' back in October '09:

And there were only two things on the list.

Joe Craig

Take everything Darren Shan just said, add a lot of swearing, some personal remarks and a torrent of spiteful abuse, inserting the word 'Pullman' where appropriate.

That's all.


I love Philip Pullman's books, but as a pontificating public figure he's a boring, stuffy, snobbish old fart!!! And if I ever get to the stage where I start trying to dictate the terms that others should follow when writing, I hope that my fellow authors are just as swift to stick the boot into me as I am into him! I still think Mr Pullman is our leading children's author (or was back in the halcyon days of His Dark Materials when he was vibrant and relevant) but a touch of humility and respect for the freedom of choice of other authors wouldn't go amiss. Or is it a case of "The Authority is dead -- long live his replacement, Philip Pullman!!"

Darren Shan.

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This page contains a single entry by achuka published on September 13, 2010 9:25 PM.

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