Jump to content

Dogpatch Press

  • entries
    476
  • comments
    12
  • views
    111879

The Book of Dust. Volume 1, La Belle Sauvage, by Philip Pullman – review by Fred Patten.

Sign in to follow this  
patch

642 views

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

61QvM84EGmL.jpg?resize=341%2C500The Book of Dust. Volume 1, La Belle Sauvage, by Philip Pullman. Illustrated by Chris Wormell.
NYC, Alfred A. Knopf, October 2017, hardcover, $22.99 (449 [+ 1] pages), Kindle $11.99.

The Book of Dust. Volume 1, La Belle Sauvage, by Philip Pullman. Illustrated by Chris Wormell.
London, Penguin Random House Children’s/David Fickling, October 2017, hardcover, £20.00 (560 pages), Kindle £9.99.

This is Pullman’s long-awaited followup to his multiple award-winning His Dark Materials trilogy. Its volume 1 is known as Northern Lights in Britain and was published in July 1995. It was retitled The Golden Compass in the U.S. and not published until March 1996. A little over twenty years later, both the American and British editions of The Book of Dust are published simultaneously and with the same title. Yet they are not physically identical. The two editions are typeset separately, with American and British spellings and terminology as appropriate, and the British edition is over a hundred pages longer. The American edition has almost none of the interior illustrations by Wormell, which are just chapter-heading drawings that are frankly not worth missing.

It is not a sequel. The main character in His Dark Materials is the young woman Lyra Belacqua and her dæmon Pantalaimon. Lyra is 11 and 12 years old, not yet an adolescent, and her dæmon can still take any male animal, bird, or insect form, which he does. At the conclusion of the trilogy Lyra becomes an adolescent, and Pan’s form is fixed as a talking pine marten. But The Book of Dust is Lyra’s story before His Dark Materials. In La Belle Sauvage she is only a baby.

They aren’t really talking-animal novels. The Book of Dust is set in that alternate Earth where everybody has a dæmon, a talking animal personification of their soul, accompanying them. The dæmon cannot stray too far from its person.

The protagonist of La Belle Sauvage is Malcolm Polstead, the potboy at his father’s inn on the shore of the River Thames at Oxford:

“Malcolm was the landlord’s son, an only child. He was eleven years old, with an inquisitive, kindly disposition, a stocky build, and ginger hair. He went to Ulvercote Elementary School a mile away, and he had friends enough, but he was happiest on his own, playing with his dæmon, Asta, in their canoe, on which Malcolm had painted the name LA BELLE SAUVAGE. […]

Like every child of an innkeeper, Malcolm had to work around the tavern, washing dishes and glasses, carrying plates of food or tankards of beer, retrieving them when they were empty. He took the work for granted. The only annoyance in his life was a girl called Alice, who helped with washing the dishes. Se was about sixteen, tall and skinny, with lank dark hair that she scraped back into an unflattering ponytail. […] He ignored that for a long time, but finally rat-formed Asta leapt at Alice’s scrawny jackdaw dæmon, knocking him into the washing-up water and then biting and biting the sodden creature till Alice screamed for pity. She complained bitterly to Malcolm’s mother, who said, ‘Serves you right. I got no sympathy for you. Keep your nasty mind to yourself.’” (p. 2)

When he isn’t helping out at the inn, Malcolm does odd jobs for the nuns at the Priory of St. Rosamund on the opposite bank of the Thames.

Something unusual begins to happen when Malcolm is eleven. Three strangers come into the inn one evening. Malcolm’s father recognizes one of them as the former Chancellor of England, now out of office. While Malcolm is serving their dinner, they ask him seemingly casual questions about the priory across the river. Does it ever have any guests? Have any of them ever brought an infant with them?

Screen-Shot-2017-12-13-at-12.11.09-AM.pn

The next day, Malcolm with Asta goes paddling down the Thames in La Belle Sauvage.

“The reeds [along the riverbank] were taller than he was as he sat in the canoe, and if he kept very still, he thought he probably couldn’t be seen. He heard voices behind him, a man’s and a woman’s, and sat like a statue as they walked past, absorbed in each other. He’d passed them further back: two lovers strolling hand in hand, their dæmons, two small birds, flying ahead a little way, pausing to whisper together, and flying on again.

Malcolm’s dæmon, Asta, was a kingfisher just then, perching on the gunwale of the canoe. When the lovers had passed, she flew up to his shoulder and whispered, ‘The man just along there – watch….’

Malcolm hadn’t seen him. A few yards ahead on the towpath, just visible through the reed stems, a man in a gray raincoat and trilby hat was standing under an oak tree. He looked as if he was sheltering from the rain, except that it wasn’t raining. His coat and hat were almost exactly the color of the late afternoon: he was almost as hard to see as the grebes – harder, in fact, thought Malcolm, because he didn’t have a crest of feathers.

‘What’s he doing?’ whispered Malcolm.

Asta became a fly and flew as far as she could from Malcolm, stopping when it began to hurt, and settled at the very tip of a bulrush so she could watch the man clearly. He was trying to remain inconspicuous, but being so awkward and unhappy about it that he might as well have been waving a flag.

Asta saw his dæmon – a cat – moving among the lowest branches of the oak tree while he stood below and looked up and down the towpath. Then the cat made a quiet noise, the man looked up, and she jumped down to his shoulder – but in doing so, she dropped something out of her mouth.” (pgs. 20-21)

The humans and their dæmons in La Belle Sauvage engage in a complex game of spying on each other, with young Malcolm and Asta at first as a neutral third party spying on both. After he learns what is going on, Malcolm joins what he considers the right side. Malcolm has an advantage in that his dæmon doesn’t have a fixed form yet. Asta can become anything small – a mouse, a squirrel, a ferret, a swallow, a goldfinch, a robin, a moth.

Or more:

cover.jpg.rendition.460.707.png?resize=3

British cover

“It was raining even harder now, and Malcolm found it difficult to see ahead. Asta became an owl and perched on the prow, her feathers shedding the water in a way she’d discovered when she was trying to become an animal that didn’t yet exist. The best she could do so far was to take one animal and add an aspect of another, so now she was an owl with duck’s feathers; but she only did it when no one but Malcolm was looking. Guided by her big eyes, he paddled as fast as he could, stopping to bail out the canoe when the rain had filled it to his ankles. When they got home, he was soaked, but all she had to do was shake herself and she was dry again.” (p. 38)

Adult characters have larger dæmons:

“Coram turned, careful and slow, and saw in silhouette against the lighted embankment the small head and hulking shoulders of a hyena. She was looking directly at them. She was a brute such as Coram had never seen: malice in every line of her, jaws that could crack bones as if they were made of pastry. She and her man were clearly trained at the business of following: because Coram was trained at the business of spotting it, and admired their skill; but as Sophie remarked, it wasn’t easy for such a dæmon to remain inconspicuous. As for what they wanted, Coram had no idea; if they wanted a fight, they’d get one.

He tightened his grip on the fighting stick; Sophie [Sophonax, a cat dæmon] readied herself to spring. The hyena dæmon came forward a little, emerging into a full silhouette, and the man stepped silently forward after her. Coram and Sophie both spotted the pistol in his hand the moment before he flattened himself against the wall of the alley and disappeared into shadow.” (pgs. 58-59)

The Book of Dust. Volume 1, La Belle Sauvage (cover by Chris Wormell) may not be a furry novel, but there are plenty of fully-intelligent furry secondary characters, with those who are pre-adolescent being shape-shifters as well. And the story is gripping. This is volume 1 of 3, so you know there will be a cliffhanger ending.

– Fred Patten

Like the article? It takes a lot of effort to share these. Please consider supporting Dogpatch Press on Patreon.  You can access exclusive stuff for just $1, or get Con*Tact Caffeine Soap as a reward.  They’re a popular furry business seen in dealer dens. Be an extra-perky patron – or just order direct from Con*Tact.


View the full article

Sign in to follow this  


0 Comments


Recommended Comments

There are no comments to display.

Guest
Add a comment...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

×
×
  • Create New...