Biography

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Last Updated on May 13, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 973

Philip Pullman was born October 19,1946, in Norwich, Norfolk, England. The son of Alfred Outram and Audrey Evelyn (Merrifield), he has one brother. Before age eleven, he traveled extensively with his family. "A lot of my life before I was ten was spent on board a ship. My father and then my stepfather were both in the Royal Air Force, and my mother and my brother and I seemed to constantly following them around the world by sea." His journeys included trips to South Africa and Australia, through the Suez Canal, Bombay, Aden, Columbo, and Las Palmas. He attended schools in Southern Rhodesia, South Australia, and England until age eleven. Then, when the family returned to England, he was educated at Ysgol Ardudwy, Harlech, in North Wales. These many exotic locations appear in some form, especially in The Golden Compass, but also in his "Sally Lockhart" books. The unregulated childhood and early travels of his own experiences are obvious in the habits and attitudes of Lyra Belacqua, the main character of the aforementioned novel.

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After primary school, Pullman attended Exeter College and read English, receiving a B.A. from Oxford University in 1968. He still lives in Oxfordshire. He married Judith (Jude) Speller on August 15,1970, and they have two sons, James (Jamie) and Thomas (Tom). He has described his wife and children as his first audience and repeatedly suggests that one should tell stories and read stories to children if one is to be a children's writer. His grandfather was the storyteller in his life. "My grandfather died before I published my first children's book, but I still measure what I write against his judgment." Pullman is also interested in music and drawing and describes visiting art and historical museums, either to sit and look or to drink a favorite cup of coffee as a way of getting re-inspired for when he is writing.

As well as writing sixteen children's books, and one adult novel, Galatea, he has also worked as a teacher for the Oxfordshire Education Authority (1972-1988) and as a part-time lecturer for Westminster College, Oxford (1988-96). His familiarity with middle- grade children is aptly demonstrated in the detailed portrait of Lyra and her few friends, but also in the institutional setting in Bolvangar. Children's tendencies to gang up on each other, to follow the crowd and to obey orders in the face of uncertainty are realistic elements of his plot. At the same time, Pullman's books are partly famous because both his male and female characters show creativity, intelligence, and courage beyond their years, but also a willingness, almost a passion, to question conventions of behavior and thought. The contrast between Lyra, a leader with a few loyal friends, and the masses of children she tries to rescue, is carefully drawn.

Pullman is often in the public eye, lecturing at bookstores, schools and conferences. While he accepts a number of speaking engagements, he tries to limit them, especially speaking to children's or school groups only when they have read his books. He works in more than one medium, having rewritten Dumas, Mary Shelly, and Conan Doyle, as well as some of his own fiction, for play and television production. Thus there are many sources for ascertaining his opinions on his work and on literature in general. He often contrasts himself with C. S. Lewis and the Narnia books, and brings up authors such as Milton, Kleist, and a host of contemporary popular writers such as Gary Paulsen, Jan Mark, Peter Dickinson, Henrietta Bradford, and Brian Moore. Lewis is one writer he reacts against, especially with regard to portrayals of children and of institutionalized religion.

He has well-developed writing habits to which he attributes his success as an author. In a shed which has been set aside for that purpose, twelve feet by eight feet, with electricity, heating, insulation, a carpet and a table, computer, books, and musical instruments, he writes a minimum of three pages per day on narrow lined paper, by hand, with a ballpoint pen. Sunday is his day for answering letters, which seems to 164 The Golden Compass be a big task. Pullman, like many British writers of fantasy, past and present, lives in Oxford, his home since the 1960s. He acknowledges its influence on his work in creating settings and in providing a useful setting for a writer. Oxford appears in transmuted forms in The Golden Compass. The many medieval buildings, the narrow cobblestone streets, Oxford colleges, and the many excellent libraries figure in both his fiction and his writing habits. "But the experience of sitting in a medieval building, holding in your hand a book that is three or four hundred years old, has a special quality that you can't get from the Internet." Perhaps this is why many of his books are set in the Victorian period, which he considers to be a major transition point in British culture. The "Sally Lockhart" series, which clinched his fame as a writer, was set in Victorian London, but with a teenaged female character who defied all conventions and grew up, through his stories, to start her own detective agency.

Pullman began receiving awards for his children's fiction in 1987 and continues to receive local, regional, national and international awards. He has received the most, to date, for The Golden Compass, including a Best Book for Young Adults citation from American Library Association, a Carnegie Medal, the Guardian Children's Fiction Award, and the Publishing News British Children's Book of the Year Award. Earlier honors include the Lancashire County Libraries/ National and Provincial Children's Book Award, 1987, and the Children's Book Award for Older Readers from The International Reading Association, 1988, to name a few. Ruby and the Smoke, a mystery-thriller set in Victorian England and the first of four books with characters in common, first established his career as a young adult writer.

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