The Imagination Chamber:
cosmic rays from Lyra’s universe
by Philip Pullman.
Scholastic / David Fickling Books, 2022.
Picture a mood board for interior design, or an evidence board for a police investigation: its images, press clippings and suggestions of cross-links are there to explore relationships, build a bigger picture and perhaps lead to conclusions.
Philip Pullman likes the metaphor of a cloud chamber, in which “the passage of charged particles, or cosmic rays” are made visible; he believes his mind “has become accustomed to working like a cloud chamber, in which minute particles charged with story can find something to condense around them and make them visible for a fleeting moment.”
Mood board, evidence board or cloud chamber – The Imagination Chamber is a collection of those very particles charged with story which throws light on Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials and The Book of Dust. Since 2007 some have been published in various editions under the heading Lantern Slides (the 2011 one-volume compendium in Everyman’s Library contains nine of these); a total of forty-two are included here, many apparently for the first time.
For anyone who’s a fan of His Dark Materials and The Book of Dust this may be a wonderful reminder of incidents, scenes and characters, or glimpses of niches or corners in the otherwise familiar narratives which would repay investigation: Lyra’s scowling face for the annual photogram, the endless steppes of Central Asia, the cause of Jordan College’s Master’s food poisoning, the softer side of Mrs Lonsdale, Will’s subtle surgeon-like skills a hint of the future, the contradictory stories told to Lyra about the fate of her mother…
Some of the entries are short, almost epigrammatic, for example: On the beach, the alethiometer suddenly inert in Lyra’s hands, as if it had abandoned her. Some are longer – though never longer than a page – enigmatic vignettes that give glimpses of infinite perspectives, as when Mary Malone gradually comprehends how the mulefa understand their history, although never discovering whether they had a concept of fiction.
One entry is a self-referential consideration of the storyteller’s art, namely drawing out a tale from notional scraps of paper with writing divorced from a context, watching “a story growing out in every direction like frost on a window pane.” Whether they’re used consciously or not, each is a potential seed which can develop in unpredictable ways; and The Imagination Chamber is full of such examples.
Published while the author still works on the final volume of The Book of Dust* this could be seen as a stopgap offering consisting of a collection of aphorisms and vignettes, or an expensive publication cynically cashing in on readers’ desire for more on Pullman’s multiverse. Pages intentionally left blank opposite each entry and the lack of images other than Pullman’s raven dæmon (designed by John Lawrence) may suggest the latter. Personally I’m in the former camp, appreciating the mood board and watching out for the trails created by those charged particles.
My last read for Wyrd and Wonder
* Volume 3 of The Book of Dust may not be ready any time soon:
5 thoughts on “Charged with story”
Sounds a wonderful stopgap even if it is one. I’ve read His Dark Materials but none of the Book of Dust volumes yet.
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Thanks, Mallika. But before you get to ‘The Book of Dust’ (and certainly the second volume in that series) can I suggest you read the two intervening novellas, Lyra’s Oxford and Serpentine? They give a hint of the aftermath of Lyra’s separation from Pantalaiman in The Amber Spyglass and prepare you for the shock of The Secret Commonwealth.
Yes, thanks. I haven’t read those either. Will track down copies of those first then 🙂
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They’re short and rather slight, but they’re crucial in filling out aspects of Lyra’s and Pan’s characters before they go globetrotting in part 2 of ‘The Book of Dust’. Lyra’s Oxford is in paperback but the other not yet.
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