Often in these sorts of collections repetition (unavoidable, it seems) of certain themes, references, examples, points, etc, tend to bog things down more than they should. This is especially true when it’s a repeated citation that I have no particular interest in. I found this in Neil Gaiman’s recent collection, The View from the Cheap Seats, which, while having no shortage of good essays, could have benefited from being shorn of a few which retread ground without adding much of value.
When it comes to repeated themes, citations, etc, Daemon Voices is no different, but this is one of the few collections of essays I’ve read where I’ve not found this to be a problem – a tribute more to the editor, I think. I read this in page order, and the way in which previously-covered ground was returned to in ways that examined it in closer detail, or from different angles, made such a difference to the reading experience.
Pullman’s methodically thorough voice is loud and clear in each of his essays (most of which originated as lectures or talks) – although sometimes I feel he dallies a lot around points which could be made either more subtly or more sharply, to greater effect, but there we go. His arguments are, for the most part, clear and articulate. A few I disagreed with, a few washed over me. I find his embarrassment with writing fantastical fiction and his dismissiveness of the genre quite irritating, and somewhat at odds with his message of generosity and inclusiveness trumpeted elsewhere. But then, as this collection makes abundantly clear, Pullman is a classicist through and through (see his sustained dislike of the first-person present tense narrator) and appears quite set in his ways.
There were plenty of standout essays – especially ‘Talents and Virtues’, ‘I Must Create a System…’ and ‘The Cat, the Chisel, and the Grave’ – which put in print some of my own thoughts that have been circulating recently, and there were plenty of quotables and notables throughout that will ensure I return to this book many times in the future.
I always think a sign of good collection like this is that it should always leave the reader with full pockets, as it were, of other books, authors, and lines of inquiry, and Daemon Voices certainly achieved that.