This is the paper I will submit in January to my adviser at Antioch University.
The Daemon Voices in Your Head
Novel: Daemon Voices: On Stories and Storytelling
Author: Philip Pullman
Rarely does a novel on stories and storytelling reflect the trials and tribulations within the process of writing fiction, all while being vastly entertaining. Philip Pullman’s Daemon Voices does just that. With 32 chapters consisting of essays, articles, and lectures, each chapter feels like leaving a lecture that not only taught the craft of writing, but gifted me something to think about for hours, days. Finishing the entire novel is like completing a master class, where the reader learns that great writers are first and foremost great readers, the various responsibilities a writer must fulfill, and most importantly, the principles of storytelling. One of his last chapters involves good and evil, and Pullman’s thoughts on the existence of God, which is an enlightening read for atheist writers and atheist readers alike.
I had a long thought on whether I should dissect a few individual chapters to discuss Pullman’s views, since I never believed a reader could pick up on literary devices in a nonfiction novel. I also assumed it would be difficult to discuss craft on a novel that was specifically about craft. As I scanned through my post-it notes in Daemon Voices, I realized that each essay did, in fact, have a pattern--a craft to it. Most of them started with the introduction to his opinions or arguments, extended to his first point and analysis of that point, which at times Pullman would take quotes from his own novels or other novels he felt executed his point or argument, and finally repeats this system until all his points are given to the reader. He then ends with where and when the essay or conference took place.
There is a consistent use of humor in Daemon Voices that keeps the reader enveloped in Pullman’s teaching of craft. My favorite, is how Pullman simplifies answers that are otherwise known to be complex:
“The commonest question writers get asked is: where do you get your ideas from? The truthful answer is: I dunno. They just turn up (101).”
Novels on craft usually reads like rule books, but Daemon Voices feels like multiple lectures that are simple in structure, engaging, vivid in detail, and without excessive rules that intimidates the writer.
One particular essay in Daemon Voices resonated with the goals I have for my work, and that is to be confident in my personal beliefs and be willing to convey it in my works of fiction if applicable. The essay is called God and Dust, where Pullman puts forth his opinion in a simple and confident manner:
“Another word I have difficulty in using sensibly--to put it no more bluntly than that--is the word God. I don’t believe there is such a thing, and I don’t think you can say anything true or useful about a being who doesn't exist, and I don’t think it makes any sense to say, for example,
“God loves each one of us as though we were the only person in the world.”
This strikes me as being an assertion entirely unsupported by anything verifiable (397).”
There are several reasons why this statement shook me to the core and made me even more motivated to write what I find necessary without thinking of opinions from outside audiences. The first is my main protagonist in Shakespeare’s Promenade, Roxana, is an atheist. Although I, myself, am an atheist, the topic is something I am occasionally wary to share. I make sure to always say “I am an atheist, but I respect all religions” or “I am an atheist, but I have many friends who are this or that”. It feels (and I most definitely have a confidence issue), that I must further explain my respect towards religion after saying I’m an atheist. It I read Pullman’s thoughts on God in Daemon Voices as my own. Not only did he convey his thoughts in his work of nonfiction, but he placed thematic elements of religion being detrimental in The Golden Compass. I would like to apply more confidence in my work--in my prose, in my beliefs conveyed through my characters, and in being able to blatantly state a character’s opinion on topics otherwise known as controversial.
I’ve learned, as I read and reread the essays in Daemon Voices, that if a piece of work is your own, fiction or nonfiction, disagreeable opinions are necessary to make a reader re-read, argue, and most importantly, think on his or her own.
Pullman, Philip, and Simon Mason. Daemon Voices: on Stories and Storytelling. Alfred A. Knopf, 2018.