Please excuse the familiarity of my addressing you by your first name, but I feel as if I know you quite well, even if you donít know me. Youíve written some books, you see, and Iíve read them.
Iím writing this letter because Iíve just heard about Lyraís Oxford and the short story Lyra and the Birds. My! This is exciting news! The whole His Dark Materials fan community is absolutely delighted to hear it. Itís the most wonderful thing weíve heard for ages. Of course, we already knew about The Book of Dust, but that was something that we hadnít been expecting to see for several years yet. And now Ė more about Lyraís world! More about Lyra! Soon!
It sounds as if Lyraís Oxford is going to be a lovely artefact; nicely illustrated, beautifully presented, maybe a collectorís item some day. But what will it actually amount to? One short story, some maps and a postcard? For £9.99?
Itís going to look as if Iím an ungrateful grouch, but I want to sound a word of caution. Itís often said that we in Britain resent success Ė that we like struggling losers, but canít wait to put them down when their struggles lead to ultimate success and the wealth that goes with it. Iím a Brit, true, but all the same I think that nobody deserves their success more than you do, and I would be the last to say that you shouldnít reap the financial rewards that go with creating a massively popular work of art.
Itís just that, for the first time, Iím detecting a whiff of cash-in; as if the bean-counters had come on board, done their sums and worked out how to get the most return from the least material. Itís funny, isnít it, how this deluxe edition is due to be published in October, just in time for the Christmas market. What a great gift idea for all those aunts and uncles, grandmas and granddads!
Donít get me wrong. Iíll be buying my copy in October, along with the rest of us. But Iíll be a little more wary from now on. The shops are already full of chocolate frogs and Aragorn action figures. I know that, the world being the way it is, once the Hollywood publicity machine swings into operation we wonít be able to go anywhere without someone trying to sell us Pantalaimon Happy Meals and battery-powered alethiometers. My fear is that, welcome though it is, Lyraís Oxford may be the first step down the slippery slope of exploitation that will lead us to such horrors in the future.
Youíre in your fifties, Philip, so youíll remember this song from the late Sixties, when it looked Ė just for a while Ė as if we might be able to start the work of building the Republic of Heaven right here and now. Itís Joni Mitchellís Woodstock, and the words of the chorus are:
We are stardust,
We are golden.
And weíve got to get ourselves,
Back to the garden.
Please can we stay in the Garden just a little longer?