Friday, February 16, 2007

Like a wave

Among the three books to which Philip Pullman makes acknowledgement for inspiring His Dark Materials is Paradise Lost, the source of the title of the trilogy. He reserves a special thanks for the teacher who introduced him to Milton's epic. It is not really until the third book, The Amber Spyglass, that his Romantic take on Milton's world comes to the fore, but there is one moment in the first, Northern Lights, where he makes explicit use of the rhetorical device that Milton had borrowed from Virgil, who'd had it from Homer: the epic simile.

Such a device would have little use in this book, which is, for the most part, seen through the eyes of a young girl. But in the battle for the throne of Svalbard between the usurper, Iofur Raknison, and the rightful king, Iorek Byrnison, Pullman adopts the heroic tone and it is completely fitting. He signals the importance of the fight by beginning it with one Homeric simile and ends it with another.

Iorek Byrnison looks beaten; he's badly wounded and limping. Iofur Raknison closes in for the kill unaware that for the second time in 24 hours he has been deceived.

Like a wave that has been building its strength over a thousand miles of ocean, and which makes little stir in the deep water, but which when it reaches the shallows rears high into the sky, terrifying the shore-dwellers, before crashing down on the land with irresistible power - so Iorek Byrnison rose up against Iofur exploding upwards from his firm footing on the dry rock and slashing with a ferocious left hand at the exposed jaw of Iofur Raknison.
Northern Lights, p 353

No comments: