My Rating: 4 stars
I love reading what authors have to say about the process of writing. I’ve only read Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, but it’s such an impressive series that I figured he would have so excellent things to say about writing. And I wasn’t disappointed. This collection of essays covers far more than just writing and literature; Pullman also discusses art, religion, science, and how all of them tie into storytelling. His intelligence comes through strongly, and he remains articulate and, most importantly, interesting no matter the subject. I didn’t always agree with him, but I enjoyed reading his opinions.
As with any collection, whether it’s essays, short stories, or poems, I liked some better than others. None of them were bad; I just wasn’t interested in the all of the subjects. This was the case for several of the critical essays, particularly Pullman’s introduction to Milton’s Paradise Lost. I still read them, but it was more skimming. His essays on the writing process were, of course, the ones that engaged me the most. My favorite was “The Path Through the Wood,” which discussed world building and his process of creating the mulefa in His Dark Materials. He uses the metaphor of a path in the woods. The wood is the world the story takes place in, and the path is the story. He makes great points about why it’s important to stay on the path and not get lost in the woods while writing. I also enjoyed his discussions of various fairy tales and his introduction to Oliver Twist.
Simon Mason edited the collection, and he has done a wonderful job. He includes a brief introduction explain his process and some of his choices. The majority of the essays come from speeches Pullman gave, and the introduction gives insight into how they were edited to remove redundant information. There are still several things that are repeated in multiple essays, but I think it helps highlight what Pullman finds most important. There is also a topic finder that breaks the contents down by theme, which I found quite handy. If someone just wants to read the essays discussing His Dark Materials, they can easily locate them thanks to the topic finder.
Overall, Daemon Voices is a lovely collection of essays on stories, writing, and literature. Some may be more interesting to certain readers than others, but they are each a fascinating look into the mind of one of the century’s best children’s authors.