The Firework-Maker’s Daughter


Author: Philip Pullman

Finished on: 1 September 2016

Where did I get this book: Bought for my daughter from the dangerous Hatchards in St Pancras

My favourite moment in Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland is when Beyard the dog tells Alice that she is not following the path appointed to her. She refuses to do as she’s told, tells him “I make the path,” and goes on to slay the Jabberwocky and save the day. It is a brilliant line in a brilliant film (I have never understood why it isn’t more critically acclaimed). It seems an important message to me. We all, children and adults alike, find ourselves moving through life on a tide of conventionality and expectation on occasion. But often the best things happen when we stop and remember “I make the path.” I can do what I want to do.

That is the message of The Firework-Maker’s Daughter. It’s a compact 132 page lesson in forging your own destiny. Like Yann Martel’s The Life Of Pi, but for children.

Fire burns away all our illusions. The world itself is an illusion. Everything that exists flickers like a flame for a moment, and then vanishes.

It is also a spectacularly good adventure story, with delights from incompetent pirates on a ship called The Bloody Murderer, to a talking elephant, to an epic journey to a magic mountain.

Our hero Lila wants to become a firework-maker like her father, but he assumes he will have to send her away to learn dancing and find a husband. Lila is horrified by the very idea, and runs away to find the secret of ‘Royal Sulphur’, the ultimate knowledge that will complete her initiation into the world of firework-making.

Every page brings a new twist; Pullman’s impressively efficient writing packs a huge amount of adventure into this short book.

By the time Lila, and we, reach the end of the story, we’re all feeling pretty inspired, and may even have found fulfilment.

Basically, this review a much more long-winded way of conveying the same assessment that my daughter reached after reading The Firework-Maker’s Daughter in a couple of hours on a train journey. As she handed it over to me, she said, “This book is completely awesome. You should read it.”


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