His Dark Materials, Pt. 2

I said in the earlier post on the His Dark Materials series that there were two main reasons I loved these books, the central protagonist and the fact that they’re critical of organized religion.  That’s true, but in fact there’s a third reason which is connected to both and overrides everything else.  While the fantasy and adventure aspects drew me into Lyra Belacqua’s world initially, what really cemented the greatness of the books for me was the way Pullman treated his child characters with respect and honesty.  In fact, the books wouldn’t have worked otherwise.  I despise badly written child characters.  You know what I’m talking about: kids who are little more than one-dimensional foils or MacGuffins for the advancement of the plot.  There is a lot of that in television series, especially cop shows, and the books of writers like Dean Koontz, and almost invariably shows or novels about child abuse are guilty of using kids this way.

I digress. Perhaps the main theme of the series is that the Church (called the Magisterium in Lyra’s world) destroys the spirit of children, almost quite literally, but in reality the Magisterium could be substituted with anyone or anything–whatever they identify as politically–that tries to suppress human nature by relabeling it and making it taboo or illicit. Of course, the Magisterium, like the Church on our world, calls it sin.

More of Lyra with Iorek Byrnison:


CookieCherry – The Golden Compass

DeviantArt: CookieCherry

klorel03 - The Golden Compass

klorel03 – The Golden Compass

DeviantArt: klorel03

zirofax - The North - The Golden Compass

zirofax – The North – The Golden Compass

DeviantArt: zirofax

Andrew Olsen - Golden Compass / Northern lights

Andrew Olsen – Golden Compass / Northern lights

Andrew Olsen Illustration (Official Site)

The hardened sap from a particular tree, arranged in a certain away, allows those who look through it to see Dust, particles that settle around intelligent beings, particularly daemons which have stopped their shapeshifting capacity and settled into their final form (this occurs at the onset of adolescence in humans which possess daemons.) The Magisterium mistakenly attributes this tendency of Dust to be attracted to fixed-form daemons as the tainting of the daemon—and thereby the person the daemon belongs to—by sin once the child reaches puberty; hence the Magisterium’s desire to sever daemons from children before they can become contaminated by Dust (sin). Of course, what they wind up doing is destroying the daemon—a daemon on Lyra’s world being a kind of physical manifestation of their soul—leaving children essentially soulless zombies who die not long afterward. Here we see Lyra peering through a piece of the amber, watching Dust as it drifts about the world:

Cal Erstein - Amber

Cal Erstein – Amber

Lyra and her daemon, Pantalaimon:

farewellrani - Lyra Belacqua

farewellrani – Lyra Belacqua

DeviantArt: farewellrani

One of the most beautiful—and ultimately most tragic—scenes in the final book is the scene in which Will and Lyra fall in love. These two kids, having just entered puberty, discover the joys and pleasures of each other’s bodies (or so the book strongly hints), but are destined to be separated forever not long after. Thus, they do what comes naturally to human beings . . . yes, even kids. It’s a sweet and romantic scene, which stands in stark contrast to the dirty, sinful picture of sex painted by the Church in our world, and presumably the Magisterium in Lyra’s.

Irene Flores - Separate Worlds

Irene Flores – Separate Worlds

Irene Flores – Illustrator & Mangaka (Official Site)

Carlos Lerma - Will and Lyra

Carlos Lerma – Will and Lyra

Lerms (Official Site)

Christian Canave - The Loss of Innocence

Christian Canave – The Loss of Innocence

CG Society: Christian Canave

Finally, to round out this series, perhaps my favorite piece relating to His Dark Materials is this one by Adam Hunter Peck:

Adam Hunter Peck - The Golden Compass

Adam Hunter Peck – The Golden Compass

Adam Hunter Peck (Official Site)


From rodstar1019 on December 25, 2011
“The Golden Compass,” one of my all time favorite books and I enjoyed the movie as well. The artwork is incredible. There is some real talent present here.

From pipstarr72 on December 25,2011
I count the His Dark Materials trilogy in my top five books & book series of all time. The movie was good–I have it in my DVD collection, but it just doesn’t compare to the books, in my estimation.

From dewimorgan on December 27, 2011
I loved the series, and having lived in Oxford, I loved the places they explored. It was like seeing my old haunt through new eyes. But somehow I think the series sort of lost its appeal for me after the first book.
It’s natural that as the story progressed, their concerns would become so much vaster, but I felt that I cared less about them because of the sense of scale, than when their concerns were just whether they’d get told off by the nursemaid in Oxford.
They became (as you’d expect from a coming of age story) less “children done right” and more “young adults”, and that was just a less magical thing, despite the great affairs around them.
If you like animé, another creator that I’ve always loved for his Children Done Right is Miyazaki: Totoro was the first one I noticed it in – it really made me go “crikey, that’s SO much better a depiction of kids than I’ve seen in animation before!” – though Grave of Fireflies, Spirited Away, and several others are well worth a look.

From pipstarr72 on December 27, 2011
We are definitely different then, because personally I’m a huge fan of epic fiction. The scale of the story in fact gave the reader a deeper sense of the vulnerability of the characters, I think, similar to the semiotic effect in film of pulling far away and hovering above the characters. And all the new exotic worlds and characters just increased my awe and keyed into my imagination. The bildungsroman aspect of the books was an essential part of what Pullman was going for, as you yourself point out, which makes sense because any child that went through what Lyra and Will go through are bound to mature emotionally. That’s just good writing. Characters in well-written stories are dynamic, and that this story coincides with Will and Lyra being on the cusp of adolescence means that they were bound to grow up as the story progressed. I really don’t understand your complaint there, as it would’ve defied realism if they hadn’t taken on aspects of adulthood along the way. I also disagree that this was less magical. For myself I see the onset of adolescence as perhaps the most magical time of our lives because we are changing very quickly. It’s not always pretty, I’ll grant, but it is certainly fascinating.
I’m definitely a fan of Hayao Miyazaki’s work and have most of his films, including Grave of the Fireflies, a relentlessly sad film but one that everyone should certainly see. I would also love to see the live-action version if I can ever get my hands on a copy with subtitles.

From dewimorgan on December 27, 2011
…there’s a *live action* version? Crikey. I don’t know whether to be delighted, or sad. Live action versions are usually a very pale imitation.
I completely agree with you about the character development in the stories. It was exceptionally well done. But for me at least, one of the things about coming of age is the sense of loss.
Combine that with the “mentors must die” and “last level is an alien world” tropes (my two personal least favorites), and the inevitable problem with every sequel that the content is no longer new to the reader… and I suppose it’s natural that I don’t find the later books as magically delightful as the first.
But yeah – they’re still great books, and I suspect Lyra’s Oxford will be aimed right at my mind’s delight-spot.

From pipstarr72 on December 27, 2011
Yes, apparently there was a live-action version of Grave of the Fireflies, though I don’t know if it made it into the English-speaking world. I just recall reading about it somewhere. Both versions were supposedly based on a famous novel, and, if I recall correctly, the live-action version preceded the Studio Ghibli version. By the way, I’m not hugely into anime and manga the way some people are, but I do tend to seek out the quality stuff. I’m much more into European comics, particularly the works of people like Moebius (whose short piece “The Apple Pie” I have put up here, along with a pretty solid critique, I think), Jacque Tardi and the like, and a lot of American indie comics. The central problem I have with anime is that there’s just not enough aesthetic variation in it for me. I know the Japanese are big on tradition, but you can take that too far. I love that their culture embraces comics so thoroughly, but they need to expand their aesthetic horizons.
I don’t recall Lyra’s mentor(s) dying in the story. Her parents died (sort of) but her mom was one of the villains and her dad was fairly emotionally distant and was never really a father to her. I think you’d be hard-pressed to call either of them mentors, even though both assist the kids at certain points in the story, though usually towards their own ends which just happened to be beneficial to Lyra. I mean, Lyra basically raised herself at Oxford, and all the other adults whom Will and Lyra encounter along the way and who help them in various capacities live, as I remember it. But it has been quite awhile since I’ve read them, so don’t quote me on that. The alien worlds . . . well, the whole series is mostly set on alien worlds, or more accurately, alternate versions of Earth, excluding the segment set in the Land of the Dead.

Yep, definitely a great series. Lyra’s Oxford I have not read, but whenThe Book of Dust comes out I’ll probably pick up both.

His Dark Materials, Pt. 1

As I mentioned in the post on Madeleine L’Engle, one of my favorite juvenile fiction series is Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass,The Subtle KnifeThe Amber Spyglass).  I like these books for a number of reasons, but two in particular: the challenge they present to organized religion and the strong and plucky central character, Lyra Belacqua.  While I enjoyed the film based on the first book in the series well enough, it toned down a lot of the anti-religious stuff present in the books.  Moreover, a series of bad decisions and problems even before it was made pretty much guaranteed any film adaptations of the trilogy wouldn’t get beyond the first film.  Nevertheless, I think it was good enough to hook a substantial number of new fans for the series.  While the books are ostensibly for teens and preteens, they are so well-written that they transcend such categorizations, as all good kids’ books do.

One of the problems I had with the film was the casting of Dakota Blue Richards in the role of Lyra.  I didn’t take issue with her acting; for a newcomer to film she did a stand-up job.  The problem I had with her was two-fold: first, she was too old for the role, because the entire series takes place within a few months’ time and there was no way Dakota was going to remain young enough by the time the third film was completed for verisimilitude, and second, she was not at all how Lyra was described in the book.  Pullman sets up his character as a scrappy tomboyish child who prefers the company of boys to girls, whereas Dakota is obviously a girly girl.  This is important because by the finale of the series she has undergone a transformation, becoming more feminine as she hits puberty and falls in love with her companion, Will Parry.


Still of Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards) from the film ‘The Golden Compass,’ New Line Cinema, 2007

One of the key relationships in these books, especially the first one, is the growing bond between Lyra and the Panserbjørne, Iorek Byrnison.  Iorek is the muscle to Lyra’s brains, a fearsome armored fighting bear who carries her to Bolvangar Station, the scene of the book’s (and film’s) resolution.  It is little wonder that many artists have chosen to portray a scene involving Lyra and Iorek together.  There is some interesting research I read somewhere on girls and horses which suggested that prepubertal girls have a particular affinity for horses because they are, in essence, learning to bond with a larger, more powerful being, thus readying them for a relationship with men.  I’ll see if I can find it.  At any rate, Lyra’s relationship with Iorek models that quite well.  She rides on his back and she is the right age for it.  Iorek, for his part, becomes protective of Lyra.

Aimee Major - Lyra and Iorek

Aimee Major – Lyra and Iorek

Aimee Major (Official Site)

Chuck Wadey - Iorek Byrnison

Chuck Wadey – Iorek Byrnison

Chuck Wadey (Official Site)

Dabull04 - The Golden Compass

Dabull04 – The Golden Compass

DeviantArt: Dabull04

Mo Moussa created concept art for the film:

Mo Moussa - Concept Sketches

Mo Moussa – Concept Sketches

Mo Moussa - 'Golden Compass' Stuff

Mo Moussa – ‘Golden Compass’ Stuff

Mo Moussa - Iorek

Mo Moussa – Iorek

Diddlyspot (Moussa’s Blog)

This is more true to Lyra at the beginning of the series:

Katrina Young - Lyra Escapes

Katrina Young – Lyra Escapes

Katrina Young - Love for the Panserbjorn

Katrina Young – Love for the Panserbjorn

DeviantArt: RohanElf

Here’s an interesting fact: artist Billy Martin is actually a member of the popular rock band Good Charlotte.

Billy Martin - His Dark Materials

Billy Martin – His Dark Materials

Bloodzilla: The Art and Music of Billy Martin (Official Site)

Jenny Dolfen - Lyra and Iorek Byrnison

Jenny Dolfen – Lyra and Iorek Byrnison

Leon Laroque

Let’s do a sculpture today.  I haven’t posted one of those in awhile.  This is a beautiful piece, but unfortunately I’ve been unable to identify either the artist or the title of the piece.  All I’ve been able to glean from the internet about this is its location: the garden of the town hall in Tulle, Limousin, France.  Any help identifying who sculpted this would be greatly appreciated.

Edit: I have since learned the sculptor and title of this piece.  The artist is Leon Laroque and the piece is called La Leçon de Musique.  Many thanks to the diligent Pigtails in Paint reader who did the research and came up with this information!


Leon Laroque – La Leçon de Musique (1880s) (1)

Leon Laroque - La Leçon de Musique (1880s) (2)

Leon Laroque – La Leçon de Musique (1880s) (2)


From raymond-stempowska valerie on August 13, 2012
it was the my grand mother ‘father he started to sculpt late in his life because it was a military and he makes many portrait of actresse of his time and of course his family he likes to sculpt marble( the originale marble of la leçon de musique is also a Tulle in the city hall.Regards

From Pip Starr on August 13, 2012
Nice! Thank you for sharing. It’s a beautiful piece. You can certainly be proud!

Madeleine L’Engle and A Wrinkle in Time

(Note: All the rest of this month and next will be partly devoted to my favorite girls from juvenile fiction, excepting Alice, who already has a monthly series devoted to her; I’d planned for this to begin in January but because of the computer problems I experienced and losing everything on my hard drive, I’m bumping it up to now. Sorry for the short notice.)

If you’re a fantasy lover like me then you’ve likely read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time books—or the Kairos series if you prefer—at some point. They’re classics of both fantasy fiction and juvenile fiction. The central theme of these books, particularly the first one, was the ongoing war between individuality and independence on one side and conformity and subordination on the other. Needless to say, these books are much needed these days and everyone who has special children in his or her life should pick up this series for them. This and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series are in my estimation must-reads for everyone from about age 10 on. The main protagonists of the series are the Murry children: Meg, Charles Wallace—and later in the series, their twin brothers Sandy and Dennys—as well as Meg’s friend Calvin O’Keefe. But it is Meg we must focus on today. Meg is the very epitome of a shy, awkward Plain Jane 13-year-old girl whom no one ever expects to make anything of herself. No one, that is, except her family. She wears glasses and deals with the perennial issues of adolescent girls everywhere: insecurity about her looks and her intelligence, sibling jealousy and rivalry, the pangs of first love. As the book progresses we learn that Meg is one member of an eccentric and remarkable family, and her role in the events that unfold is significantly more important than she ever dreamed.

Anyway, as with a lot of art and fiction, I am as much interested in the lives of the creators as the works themselves, and L’Engle is no exception. While L’Engle considered herself a Christian (Episcopalian to be exact), her viewpoint was quite liberal and would hardly be recognizable as such to most of the believers I know. As a child—the oldest of two daughters—raised by smart and creative parents (both were painters; her father was Post-Impressionist and art deco painter William L’Engle Jr., who also dabbled a bit in abstract expressionism, and her mother, Lucy Brown L’Engle, was also a painter in the Art Deco style), great things were expected of Madeleine, but like her character Meg, she was awkward, quiet and stifled by school. As a result her teachers at several private boarding schools considered her dull-witted. She inevitably proved them all wrong, becoming more famous than both of her parents by writing one of the most successful and original juvenile fiction series of all time. And no doubt the themes of these books stemmed directly from her experiences in the oppressive atmosphere of those private schools. God, I love an ironic happy ending.


William L’Engle – Portait of Madeleine (1924)

William L'Engle - L'Engle Family (1924)

William L’Engle – L’Engle Family (1924)

The L’Engles were interested in Isadora Duncan’s modern free-form style of dance and both of their girls were enrolled in Duncan’s studio. Below you see the girls wearing the customary short white dresses that were typical of Duncan’s dancers. I will be doing a post on Isadora Duncan and her dance school soon.

Photographer Unknown – Family Photo of Madeleine (left) and Camille L’Engle, Truro, Massachusetts (1924)

Artist Unknown - 'A Wrinkle in Time' (cover)

Artist Unknown – ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ (cover)

Artist Unknown - Meg Murry

Artist Unknown – Meg Murry

Emila Yusof - Madeleine L'Engle's 'A Wrinkle in Time'

Emila Yusof – Madeleine L’Engle’s ‘A Wrinkle in Time’

Meg being carried by Aunt Beast—many of the most empowered characters in the story are female or feminine in nature:

mc-the-lane - A Wrinkle in Time

mc-the-lane – A Wrinkle in Time

Wikipedia: Madeleine L’Engle

L’Engle Fine Arts: William and Lucy L’Engle Biographies

DeviantArt: mc-the-lane

Emila Yusof (Official Site)

Daniel Dos Santos

Firestarter redux?  This is the main character from Christopher Pike’s Alosha Trilogy,  and this image was used for the cover of The Shaktra.  This was not the first book in the series, but this is my favorite of all the covers.  Alosha is definitely one bad-ass lass.


Daniel Dos Santos – Alosha

The Art of Dan Dos Santos (Official Site)


From Rev. Benjamin M. Root IV on December 9, 2011
Glad you’re back up.
I’ve dragged-down several images from your previous posts, I can send them back to you if you are trying to rebuild your archives.

From pipstarr72 on December 9, 2011
Thank you. I’m experiencing mixed emotions over having to reset my computer to factory original. On the one hand I’m happy my laptop wasn’t a total loss; on the other I’m bummed about losing everything saved on it. I appreciate the offer but it won’t be necessary. Everything I’ve posted to date (and much more) is on a flash drive. The stuff I had on the hard drive of the laptop was primarily stuff I was getting ready to post here, most importantly the Jugend stuff and the essay. The images can be replaced (though it will take awhile); I’m much more sick over the loss of the essay, as it was about a month’s work and was quite detailed. I think I might write a shorter one now, just to get the main points across. I don’t know if I’m ready to put that much effort into it again. I also lost a lot of stuff not related to my blog, including, most heartbreakingly, about 50 gig of music, pretty much all the CDs I’d bought over the years. I got rid of the actual CDs last year to make some space in my house but saved all the music on my computer. Sigh. Well, at least there’s Spotify, but I had a lot of obscure stuff on here.

Alice Neel

Like many of the best artists, Alice Neel’s work went largely unappreciated during her own lifetime, although she did live to see an interest in her paintings take off in the last twenty years of her life.  A socialist and feminist well before the liberalization of the 1960s, Neel was a true American iconoclast and paid the price for it, not just in the art world but also by her first husband, a traditional Cuban who ran off to Cuba with their second daughter, Isabetta (their first daughter died in infancy) when the girl was two, and thereafter Neel only saw her daughter a few times a year as she was growing up.  Neel had two more children, both sons, from two other men, but the emotional impact of the loss of her first two children was profound and affected the tone and themes of her work.  As with John Costigan, whom I featured yesterday, Neel’s work–which consists mostly of frank portraits of friends and family—is best described as Expressionist.  Motherhood and childhood were common themes in her work.


Alice Neel – Abe’s Grandchildren (1964)

Alice Neel - Carmen and Judy (1972)

Alice Neel – Carmen and Judy (1972)

Alice Neel - Girl in Pajama Suit (1945)

Alice Neel – Girl in Pajama Suit (1945)

Alice Neel’s daughter-in-law Nancy Neel, wife of her son Richard, and their daughters (Alice’s grandchildren) Olivia and twins Alexandra and Antonia were frequent subjects of her art. Note: one of Neel’s other grandchildren, Elizabeth Neel, became an artist in her own right, and a much respected one. If you’re interested in reading an interview with her, go to this page. I couldn’t find any portraits of Elizabeth as a child painted by Neel herself, but I did find a copy of one done by collage artist Elizabeth Bisbing:

Elizabeth Bisbing - Elizabeth (After Alice Neel)

Elizabeth Bisbing – Elizabeth (After Alice Neel)

Alice Neel - Nancy and Olivia (1967)

Alice Neel – Nancy and Olivia (1967)

Alice Neel - Nancy and the Twins (1971)

Alice Neel – Nancy and the Twins (1971)

Alice Neel - Olivia (1975)

Alice Neel – Olivia (1975)

Alice Neel - Olivia (1980)

Alice Neel – Olivia (1980)

Alice Neel - Phyllis Rubin (1952)

Alice Neel – Phyllis Rubin (1952)

Alice Neel - Portrait of Girl in Blue Chair (1970)

Alice Neel – Portrait of Girl in Blue Chair (1970)

Alice Neel - Portrait of Young Girl

Alice Neel – Portrait of Young Girl

Alice Neel - Swedish Girls (1968)

Alice Neel – Swedish Girls (1968)

Alice Neel - Two Girls, Spanish Harlem (1954)

Alice Neel – Two Girls, Spanish Harlem (1954)

Alice Neel - Victoria and the Cat

Alice Neel – Victoria and the Cat

Alice Neel - The De Vegh Twins (1975)

Alice Neel – The De Vegh Twins (1975)

Neel painted feminist author Linda Nochlin (with daughter Daisy) in 1973. Nochlin was known for challenging the prevailing view that artistic genius was inborn and primarily male.

Alice Neel - Linda Nochlin and Daisy (1973)

Alice Neel – Linda Nochlin and Daisy (1973)

One of my favorite paintings by Neel is this portrait of her daughter Isabetta. What I find most compelling about this work is that, far from being meek and squeamish about posing naked, Isabetta stands with a firm and defiant stance, staring straight at the viewer and daring him or her to see her as she is.

Alice Neel - Isabetta (1934)

Alice Neel – Isabetta (1934)

This is the cover of Patricia Hills’s book on Neel. I don’t know the title of the painting on the cover, but I felt it was worth sharing.

Alice Neel - Alice Neel (cover; painting title unknown)

Alice Neel – Alice Neel (cover; painting title unknown)

Alice Neel - The Family (John Gruen, Jane Wilson, and Julia) (1970)

Alice Neel – The Family (John Gruen, Jane Wilson, and Julia) (1970)

Alice Neel - (Title Unknown)

Alice Neel – (Title Unknown)

Alice Neel (Official Site)

Wikipedia: Alice Neel

Elizabeth Bisbing (Official Site – more to come from her later)