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Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman has become one of the most popular and controversial authors of the 21st century appealing to children and adults alike.

Early last year The Amber Spyglass, the third installment of his epic trilogy collectively entitled His Dark Materials, won the Whitbread Book of the Year.

By mid 2002, more than a million copies had been sold in the UK alone. To date, it has been translated into 27 different languages and is set to become his masterwork.

Pullman has been described as 'the most dangerous author in Britain' by Peter Hitchens of the Mail on Sunday, while The Catholic Herald claim his work is 'the stuff of nightmares.'

This South Bank Show looks at the very powerful ideas that permeate Philip Pullman's work - particularly his controversial ideas about the evils of organised religion. Pullman says 'for good people to do evil things takes religion.' On this point, he openly criticises C S Lewis describing the 'profoundly world hating emotion behind these [Narnia] books.' Both Pullman and Lewis have a worldview that influences their writing - Lewis as a Christian, Pullman as a non-believer.

To Pullman however, his greatest duty as a writer is to tell a strong story. Educated at Oxford, Pullman worked as a librarian before retraining as a teacher for nine to 13-year-olds. Whilst teaching, he penned plays for his pupils which set him on the road to writing books that could be enjoyed by all generations.

Pullman's audience is to become even greater as Tom Stoppard has started work on a film script and later this year the National Theatre will be staging His Dark Materials adapted for the stage by Nicholas Hytner, in his first season as artistic director at the National Theatre.

Says Pullman: 'I think what I would say to the people who criticise me for besmirching their religion and telling their children they should all go out and be Satanists is simply this: What qualities in human beings does the story celebrate and what qualities does it condemn? An honest reading of the story would have to admit that the qualities the story celebrates and praises are love, kindness, tolerance, courage and open-heartedness. The qualities that the story condemns are cruelty, intolerance, zealotry and fanaticism. Who can quarrel with that?'

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