Published 2017 by David Fickling Books
Author: Philip Pullman
Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“Richard Dawkins’s book, The Magic of Reality, is a tour de force in which he tells a number of myths (about, for instance, the creation of the earth, or rainbows, or where animals came from) and then gives a scientific account of the phenomenon in question, showing how thrilling knowledge and scientific inquiry can be and what a profound sense of wonder they can give us.”
‘Imaginary friends’, an essay on stories and the childhood imagination, is taken from Philip Pullman’s forthcoming collection, Dæmon Voices.
As a fiction writer, particularly magic realism, I’m automatically drawn to publications like this due to my interest in exploring the imagination and the power of characters in fiction on real life.
I didn’t know about the full book Dæmon Voices at the time of finding this extract, but now I’m really keen on reading the whole book, which is a collection of essays on storytelling. I’ve never read Philip Pullman, despite owning the boxset of the His Dark Materials trilogy. He is one of those writers (like Terry Pratchett) who I know is brilliant, but I’ve still not got round to reading their work.
So this extract from the book seemed like the ideal introduction to at least a bit of his writing, and how he feels about storytelling.
Being only 32 pages long, I read the whole essay in one sitting. It was written in response to the assertion by Richard Dawkins that ‘fairy tales may have a pernicious effect on children’. This is an interesting statement to begin with, and automatically I began taking myself back to my childhood and how my imagination worked, which is essentially what Pullman does here.
He explores what Dawkins meant by a ‘pernicious effect’, which is that fairy tales would lead children to have a less scientific mind, where they would grow up to believe in made-up notions of fancy, rather than the facts of science. To me, this is a strange area of thought because it sets clear limits to what children are capable of believing.
My childhood was a mixture of fiction and fact, and I remain that way today. I used to read fairy tales, and have them read to me before bedtime. Another night, I’d cuddle up with a book about animal facts, and be blown away by how truly awesome the natural world is, in particular sharks. A few years later, I’d be caught up in The Beano and Garfield the cat. But did I still find the world around me fascinating? Yes. I found a love of outer space, too.
These are the kind of ideas explored by Pullman in this essay, and he draws on his childhood, and puts his points across about how there is no ethical way to know what a child deprived of fairy tales would be like or what they’d believe in. It would mean having a childhood stripped of storytelling altogether. This would never be done, “It would amount to child abuse” states Pullman. And I agree.
This short extract is packed with big ideas, and the exploration is a joy to read. It takes the reader back to their own childhood experiences, and makes us fall in love with storytelling, but also has that quality which gets our brains racing about the world around us, both factual and fictional.
I will be finding a copy of Dæmon Voices and reading it, with the kind of wonder and excitement about storytelling that this extract gave me.
Dæmon Voices was published in hardback in October 2017.
Link to the extract on Goodreads: Imaginary Friends