20 January 2008

Bear with me, as Lyra Belacqua would say

I know, I stole that from the Brother. It was bound to happen, wasn't it?

So, as you probably know, while I think Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy loses the plot altogether by the end, with characters and story being sacrificed to his muddled message, I love the first book. Northern Lights really is about as good as fantasy for children gets, being a heady mix of Michael Moorcock -- something reviewers somehow never pick up on -- and C.S. Lewis. And in Northern Lights what I love most are the armoured bears or the panserbjørne if you prefer. They're a dazzling idea, aren't they? Take nature's most ferocious animal, and then put it in armour. Everyone's a winner.

It seems Pullman's a big fan of the majestic creatures even in their unarmoured form, at least going by an interview in yeterday's Telegraph. All well and good, but you have to wonder about his priorities:
It was in Edinburgh Zoo that I first became emotionally affected by polar bears. It was a hot day and the bear was just stretched out on the concrete, in a little pen no bigger than this room.

I thought: "This is absolutely monstrous!" An animal like that wants the ice and 50,000 square miles to roam about in. It's worse than slavery, absolutely appalling, to keep an animal in those conditions. This one was lying there looking as though it wished it were dead.

Now, they're all going to be extinct if there's no ice left, unless they put them all in zoos or round them up and put a fence round them and throw them a seal or two from time to time. But that's no life.

If the polar bears leapt from the pages of my fiction into reality and saw what was happening, they'd eat us. Eat as many of us as quickly as they possibly could. And good luck to them.

To be fair, I don't think I know anyone in Dublin who wasn't appalled at the cramped conditions in which our polar bears used to be kept, because as we know they should have been lounging about in the Arctic, drinking coke and chatting to seals, rather than bored senseless in a cramped enclosure, but even so, this seems an extravagant response.

Keeping bears in concrete enclosures is worse than slavery? Really? Depriving animals of their freedom is worse than depriving people of their freedom? It's worse than owning people and compelling them to work for you? Hmmm. I'm not sure about that. I'm pretty sure there are a few people in -- say -- Mauretania or Niger that might disagree.

Perhaps he was exaggerating for rhetorical effect.

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