English writer Philip Pullman kicked off the Particles of Narrative children’s literature symposium on Friday by speaking to an audience of about 400 in the University of Toronto’s Earth Sciences auditorium. The audience was a lively cross-section of all ages, including children’s authors, teachers, librarians, university students and professors, Trinity alumni, and a few keen teens. After his talk on the symposium’s theme of examining the elemental particles of story, Pullman patiently signed books for a long line of fans that stretched out of the auditorium and seemed to include half the audience.
The next day, about 175 people gathered in the George Ignatieff Theatre to hear six speakers, among them Kenneth Oppel, Sarah Ellis, Tim Wynne-Jones, and American author Megan Whalen Turner. At the day’s end, Pullman joined the six on a panel that took thoughtful questions from both the audience and from one another. In response to a question from an audience member, Pullman said he’d always thought Lord of the Rings was “trivial” because “no one changes,” but that C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series was, on the other hand, a “serious work” because “it grapples with moral issues” but in a narrow Christian way that he dislikes intensely – a view that drew applause from some in the crowd.
U of T children’s literature professor and frequent Q&Q reviewer Deirdre Baker, herself the author of the YA novel Becca at Sea, organized the conference.