Philip Pullman’s Oxford Honorary Degree Citation

Quas res melius aliis gentibus gesserunt Britanni? Neque in sphaeristica, ut puto, neque in coquina neque in fabulis musicis fingendis omnibus antecellunt. Sed si fabulas ad puerorum delectationem inventas examinaverimus, adfirmare fortasse audebimus nullum esse populum quem ea in arte non superaverimus. Praeterea, magna pars eorum qui libros pueris optime scripserunt Oxoniam nostram habitavit; plerique in hac universitate studuerunt atque docuerunt. Tamesis prope ripam Grahameius ventum inter salices susurrantem audivit; qui etiam hac in urbe est sepultus. Oxoniae Alicia terram mirabilium intravit; Oxoniae gens hobbitorum nata est; Oxoniae porta ad Narniam est aperta. At hic quem nunc produco hunc ipsum locum vel maioribus laudibus ornavit, quippe qui in suis fabulis Oxoniam lepide descripserit et, ut ita dicam, dramatis sui personam fecerit.

Primus Carolus Kingsley, ut videtur, cum de infantibus aquaticis scriberet, id genus fabulae invenit quod puerum vel pueros in alium mundum transfert et aliquando in nostrum rursus reducit. Quem secutus est Ludovicus Carolus, ubi Aliciam ad terram mirabilium et per speculum misit, postea etiam is qui de Petro Pane scripsit, mox Clivus Lewis, denique hic quem hodie videmus. Hoc tamen modo ab aliis differt, quod mundo illo ficto ad naturam animi humani scrutandam usus est. Socrates quidem daemonis se monitu saepe corrigi credidit; hic daemona unumquemque hominem, sive iuvenis sit sive senex, manifeste comitari fingens, arcana indolis et ingenii nostri in apertum protrahit. Itaque cum puerulos delectat innumerabiles, tum lectores adultos alicit atque arrigit. Quare ut Horatius Romanae se lyrae fidicinem vocavit, ita nos Lyrae Oxoniensis cantorem salutemus.

Praesento textorem fabularum sollertissimum, Philippum Nicolaum Outram Pullman, Excellentissimi Ordinis Britannici Commendatorem, Collegii Exoniensis et alumnum et socium honoris causa adscriptum, ut admittatur honoris causa ad gradum Doctoris in Litteris.

[over the fold for the translation]

What have the British done better than anybody else? They do not surpass all other peoples in tennis, I think, or cookery or opera. But if we turn our attention to books written for the pleasure of children, we may perhaps venture the thought that this is a genre in which we have outclassed every other nation. Moreover, a remarkable number of the best children’s writers have lived in Oxford, and a good many of these have taught or studied in this University. It was on the banks of the Thames that Kenneth Grahame (who is buried in the Holywell Cemetery) heard the wind rustling in the willows; it was from Oxford that Alice entered Wonderland; it was in Oxford that the hobbits came to birth; it was in Oxford that the door opened to Narnia. But the man whom I now introduce has paid this place a greater tribute, for he has evoked Oxford charmingly in his books and made it, one might perhaps say, one of the characters in the story.

Charles Kingsley, in The Water Babies, seems to have been the man who created the story pattern which takes a child or children into another world and sometimes brings them back to the real world at the end. It was followed by Lewis Carroll in both Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and subsequently in Barrie’s Peter Pan, by C. S. Lewis, and lastly by the man whom we see today. Our honorand differs from his predecessors, however, in using his fictive universe as a means of probing the human spirit. Socrates believed that he was often put straight by the guidance of a daemon; our honorand, for his part, imagines every human being, young or old, being visibly accompanied by a daemon, and uses this conception as a means of drawing the character of our inner being into open view. Accordingly, while delighting countless children he has also attracted and challenged adult readers. And so as Horace called himself master of the Roman Lyre, let us salute the celebrant of Oxonian Lyra.

I present a most skilful weaver of tales, Philip Nicholas Outram Pullman, CBE, former undergraduate and now Honorary Fellow of Exeter College, to be admitted to the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters.

4 Comments


  1. Vix satis. Line 5 for ‘habitavis’ read ‘habitavit.’ And, more obviously, for ‘Nania’ read ‘Narnia’. Sorry to strike a ” for ‘pheasant’ read ‘peasant’ throughout” note; as the Public Orator wrote it this is a fine piece of continuous Latin prose composition of the kind no longer much produced in our schools. I well recall, taking Higher Latin in 1966, being given reports on the Vietnam War from ‘The Scotsman’ to be turned into Latin. Ho Chi Minh became Vercingetorix.

    Quote | Posted 27 June, 2009, 6:44 pm

  2. Yup – sorry about the typos. Corrected.

    Quote | Posted 27 June, 2009, 6:50 pm

  3. “Ho Chi Minh became Vercingetorix.”

    Indeed? If you were translating from The Scotsman, I’d have thought Calgacus would have been more appropriate.

    Quote | Posted 30 June, 2009, 5:04 pm

  4. Chris Y estimates too highly my ability as a Latinist in those days. Caesar I could just about handle but the clipped style of Tacitus was beyond me. I was told off by my tutor a few years later for writing Ancient History essays [in English] in the manner of Sir Ronald Syme so I had probably acquired a Tacitean turn, at a remove, by then.

    Quote | Posted 7 July, 2009, 10:28 pm

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