The children's author Philip Pullman was Michael Rosen's guest on Radio 4's Word of Mouth this week (listen here). Michael Rosen also writes for children and he asked Pullman whether he tailored his language to suit young readers. He noted that Pullman uses words that would most likely not be known by children - evanescence, nimbus and sanguine, for example. Not that there is anything particularly new about such a strategy - Beatrix Potter wrote that eating lettuce was 'soporific' in her story about the Flopsy Bunnies. Pullman drew on classic texts, notably Milton's Paradise Lost, when writing His Dark Materials, which his readers are probably not familiar with. Pullman also invents words when writing, eg ambaric for 'electric'. He said he felt that children should have experience of grand and stately language that is above their heads, and said he felt that the meaning was clear from the text. He referred to works that had influenced him as a child, which were also often over his head - the King James Bible and Book of Common Prayer, for instance (his father was a vicar), and Kipling's Just So Stories (and such descriptions as the camel who was 'scruciating idle'). In fact, Pullman admitted to having got the idea for the name of his heroine, Lyra, from the phrase Lyra Davidica in a hymn book he used frequently. It means 'from the lyre of David', but Pullman didn't realise that at the time - he thought it was a person.
You can listen to the programme here.