What Order Should I Read Them In?
Whatever order you like, of course. There's a nice simple answer. Off you go!
But yes, perhaps there's a little more to it than that.
There are some writers - there must be, because there are so many of them in the world - who, when they decide to write a multi-volume series, plan the whole thing meticulously from the outset. I don't know who they are, though. Anthony Powell (A Dance to the Music of Time) and Marcel Proust (A la Recherche de Temps Perdu) may well have done so, for all I know.
Note that I am distinguishing a series from a multi-volume novel. There's little doubt that The Lord of the Rings was planned and plotted throughout, making it far more like a classic Victorian three-decker novel such as David Copperfield or Middlemarch than a series, or even the "trilogy" of which publishers are so fond. I consider a series, or sequence, to be a set of works of possibly varying length which contain unifying elements, such as characters, locations or ideas.
So, for example, The Chronicles of Narnia or Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea books make up a series, rather than a multi-volume novel. There is an overarching story just as there is in a single, through-plotted novel (of whatever length), but it does not dominate. There is a single leading character - Aslan for Narnia, Ged for Earthsea - but other characters also take part in roles that are more significant than mere support for the main protagonist. Narnia is not Aslan's story in the same way that, for example, Lord of the Rings is Frodo Baggins'.
What about His Dark Materials? I consider it to be a long novel of the traditional variety. Lyra Belacqua is indeed the protagonist and there is no doubt that the main thrust of the story, for all its subplots, is to tell the reader about her adventures and her growing into maturity. Other characters appear and disappear (and are significant) but the story begins and end with her. But... it's a bit loose in places. I think it's not so much that Philip Pullman made it up as he went along, more that he knew where his destination - the Botanic Garden - was, but he wasn't altogether sure when he started work on Northern Lights / The Golden Compass how he was going to get there.
A similar case is Charles Dickens, who famously wrote his novels a month at a time (along with all the other things this extraordinarily energetic man got up to). Careful analysis of the texts of his novels, even his later, more carefully thought-out ones, reveals the existence of many plot- and character-stubs. In other words, he was struck by a good idea in the course of writing and put it into the story just in case it might turn out to be useful further on. One example is the early mention of Betsy Trotwood's no-good husband in David Copperfield. Where a stub leads to a later revelation of plot or character the writer hopes that critical readers will applaud his craft and call it "foreshadowing". Where it doesn't, the writer prays that nobody will notice. I think Philip Pullman wrote His Dark Materials in much the same way, although he had the advantage over Dickens that his long novel was published in only three revisable chunks rather than 24 or more.
To look at another variation on this theme, there is a kind of series which is sometimes called a "Future History" where a number of characters' stories take place against a wider background. Some of the characters meet and interact with each other, others don't, but the common background unites them all. Two examples from the world of Science Fiction would be Larry Niven's Known Space and Cordwainer Smith's Instrumentality of Mankind. A feature of such a series is that there are a number of significant characters who reappear in many of the stories. For instance, Beowulf Shaeffer and Louis Wu feature frequently in Known Space, and C'mell and the Lord Jestocost are recurring characters in the Instrumentality.
If they follow any example or have to be assigned to any category, I think my HDM fics belong in this one.
Back to the original question. There cannot be much useful discussion about the right order in which you should read the Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King. But what about The Hobbit? Might not its juvenile style put off the potential reader of The Lord of the Rings? Or, alternatively, would it not come as a terrible disappointment if you read it afterwards? And what of The Silmarillion? Then there is the Chronologist versus Publicationist argument which splits readers of The Chronicles of Narnia. I do not intend to discuss that issue here as the question has already been argued over (indeed fought over) for many years. Instead, I will point you to the excellent article by Andrew Rilstone which can be found here: What Order Should I Read the Narnia Books in (And Does It Matter?).
So - what order should you read my fics in (and does it matter?)
To help you, here's a list of the series stories in internal chronological order, together with the characters who take part in each one (secondary or cameo characters in parentheses):
|The Reliquary||Arthur, Mrs Coulter|
|Arthur and Maggie||Arthur, Maggie, Mrs Coulter, Adèle, (Lyra)|
|Intentions||Will, Lizzie, Giancarlo, Mary, (Miss Morley & Mr Greaves), (Lyra)|
|Threads||Will, Lyra, Lizzie, Giancarlo, Mary, Miss Morley & Mr Greaves|
|An Ever Rolling Stream||Arthur, Adèle|
|The King's Councillor||Lyra, Arthur, Alfred, (Giancarlo, Judy)|
|The Clockmaker's Boy||Peter, Lyra, Arthur, Will, Mary, Miss Morley|
|The Queen of the Night||Lizzie, Peter, Lyra, Arthur, Mary, (Maggie)|
|A Gift of Love||Lizzie, Arthur, Peter, Lyra, Will, (Alfred, Judy)|
|Time and Peter Joyce||Peter, Lyra, Martin, (Lizzie)|
|The Clockmaker's Girl||Sunny, Peter, Arthur, Martin, (Lyra)|
|His Day's Work||Chris, Arthur|
|A Night of a Thousand Stars||Chris, Arthur, Sunny|
|Jopari's Choice||John, (Will)|
|Dearer Than Eyesight||(Peter)|
|On The Ramparts||Sunny|
|The Lady of Jekyll Park||Sunny|
I have excluded from the list such stories as The History Tutor, The Raid, The Adventure of the Lost Alethiometer and After the Fall which, although they are not incompatible with the series in the same way as The Last Temptation is, are not essential to its structure. The Adventure of the Lost Alethiometer is a marginal case, I know, as are Jopari's Choice and Dearer than Eyesight. Two made the list, one didn't.
I tend to write primarily in the first person. Eleven out of the eighteen stories listed above are third-person narratives; a fact which seems to suggest that the split is more even than that, but in terms of word-count the first-person stuff very much predominates. So each of those stories is clearly centred on an individual's narrative.
There are three main narrators in the series: Arthur Shire, Peter Joyce and Sunny Moon, and they are the key to the question of reading order. There is no reason on earth why you should not, if you have the stamina, start with Arthur in The Reliquary and machete your way though the forest of words, words, words, until you reach the end of The Lady of Jekyll Park but that sounds like a lot of hard work to me. You see, just as to read the Chronicles of Narnia in Narnian chronological order is to impose a particular structure and ideology on CS Lewis' creation, so it is here. Arthur Shire appears more often in my stories than any other character, but that does not make the whole thing Arthur's story. The same goes for Peter Joyce and his adventures. One story, The Clockmaker's Girl, features all of Peter, Arthur and Sunny but it is not the best place to start, being too late in the sequence.
There is one story, however, which lies at the hub of the series. One in which a set of previous narratives combine and from which a number of subsequent plotlines radiate. I wrote it before one of the stories which occurs before it in internal chronology and after several tales which post-date it. It introduced a brand-new character, but also brought back a familiar one. In particular, it featured both of Philip Pullman's main protagonists.
That story is The Clockmaker's Boy, and it's where I think you should start. It's the gateway to all the other stories. Once you've read it you might want to carry on forward in time until the moment when Peter Joyce meets Sunny Moon by the canal side in Frankland. Or you might want to go back and find out more about Arthur Shire, in which case you could check out The Reliquary and Arthur and Maggie. Or you might wonder what happened to the Subtle Knife and go to Intentions to find out.
The choice is yours - my order, your order, no order at all. You might choose to throw your computer at the wall in disgust or send me an annoyed email for wasting your time. But I rather hope you won't. Everything will, I'm sure, work out for the best in the end.
Ceres, June 2005 (revised November 2006)