How Rough Is It? Or, Philip Nicholas Pullman Has Always Been Philip Nicholas Pullman.

I understand the concept of the Rough Guides’ travel series. It is intended for those whose desire to travel is greater than their disposable income.  Rough then is used as an antonym for Luxury. Fine.

But why would anyone want their reference book rough? Rough as opposed to what? Fact-checked?

I haven’t ever used a Rough Guides travel book, and I never will. If the same fact-checking standards apply to the travel and reference series, I wouldn’t trust one to help me find my way out of a paper bag.

I’ve been blogging about Paul Simpson’s The Rough Guide to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials this week. Simpson is identified as the author and he owns the copyright (in my American edition). But he had help, so to speak. There’s a masthead on the copyright page. Let’s look at this:

  • Text Editor: Paul Simpson
  • [designers]
  • Proofreading: Lesley Turner, Martin Rosser, Ian Cranna
  • Writing: Paul Simpson, Tom Bullough

First of all, I  know from painful experience that a writer should not be his or her own editor.  We’ll leave that for now and look at the other list: 

  • Series Editor: Mark Ellingham [not any longer: Andrew Lockett is the Man] 
  • Editors: Peter Buckley, Duncan Clark, Tracy Hopkins, Sean Mahoney, Matt Milton, Joe Staines, Ruth Tidball
  • Director: Andrew Lockett

Now I know we all make mistakes. But couldn’t one of these 13 people have checked the name of the author of their book’s subject? Is that expecting too much?

From page 14 of The Rough Guide:

On his website ( [sic]), Philip Nicholas Outram (as he was born–he became Pullman later in honour of his stepfather) sums up his early life with the dry observation that “I was born in Norwich…”

In pages 14 to 17, Pullman’s father is identified four times as Alfred Outram.

Boy, do we need to have a little talk.  Philip Pullman is Philip Pullman. He was never Philip Outram.His father’s name was Alfred Outram Pullman. The story about Philip abandoning his father’s name to honor his step-father is balderdash, poppycock, or whatever you want to call it. It just plain isn’t true.

How do I know I’m right?  Philip told me so:“My surname, like that of my father Alfred Outram Pullman, is – Pullman.”

What is really annoying, or rather one of the most annoying things, is that all this talk about the Outram family is couched in material that is otherwise verifiable or documented almost correctly. The parenthetical aside about Philip changing his name is not documented, of course, but if you look at the sentence quoted above, you might easily assume that it is based on material from Pullman’s website, as is the rest of that sentence.

You’d have a bit of a problem finding Pullman’s “dry observation,” however. Pullman’s website is, not Thirteen people and not one could check this out…

But despair not: Andrew Lockett has assured me:

Thank you …  for pointing out the error in relation to Pullman’s parentage too which will be addressed in any subsequent reprint.

Oh, I also have this to look forward to from friend Lockett:

If the chance arises though we’d like to take the opportunity in the event of a reprint or new edition to add an acknowledgment at the bottom of the current acknowledgements section along the following lines:

‘The author would also like to thank Laurie Frost whose The Elements of His Dark Materials (Fell Press, 2006) whose comprehensive reference study is recommended as the first port of call for anybody who is keen to pursue their interest in the trilogy further.’

Do you think one of the 13 will proofread this first?

Toss me another bone.

1 thought on “How Rough Is It? Or, Philip Nicholas Pullman Has Always Been Philip Nicholas Pullman.”

  1. I have looked at a Rough Guide to Sweden, and that told me what you are saying here. Suggestions are made to look as if they are the one and only truth, whereas they are very subjective facts put together quickly by someone who’s not an expert. Reading about your own geographical area tells you more than reading about somewhere on the opposite side of the world.

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