Philip Pullman, the well-known author of The Golden Compass and a forthcoming collection of Grimm fairy tales, has received many honors, perhaps none quite as unusual as his latest from the King of Redonda.
If you've never heard of Redonda or its king you are not alone. Pullman was similarly unaware when writer Javier Marías contacted him this past spring to inform him that as the current ruler of Redonda, King Xavier I, he was awarding Pullman a literary prize, one that included a chunk of money and a dukedom.
A spoof? Well, you decide. For while there is indeed a tiny uninhabited Caribbean island called Redonda things get a bit dicier with the purported kingdom. The story begins with the writer Matthew Dowdy Shiell who claimed that he became King of Redonda in 1880 when he was fifteen. Whether he truly was the king or simply was exaggerating his personal history for publicity is not known, but upon his death the kingdom went to his literary executor, John Gawsworth. While Shiel was originally from the Caribbean so may have actually stepped foot on Redonda, Gawsworth was resolutely British and there is nothing to suggest he ever went to the island.
Subsequent successions are murky and today there are a number of claimants to the Redonda throne. Historically it seems that a popular pastime among them has been to award titles. Gawsworth as King Juan I evidently honored Dorothy Sayers, John A Knopf, Dylan Thomas, and J B Priestley. As for Marías, in addition to Pullman, he has made Pedro Almodóvar the Duke of Trémula, Francis Ford Coppola the Duke of Megalópolis, and the writer J M Coetzee the Duke of Deshonra.
An Exeter College news item indicates that Mr. Pullman's response to the award was highly enthusiastic.
On receiving the prize Mr Pullman said, "I'm delighted to be 'enduked'. The prize was a rare and wonderful surprise, and I intend to live up to the proper splendour and dignity of a Duke of the imaginary kingdom of Redonda.
"I have always felt that I was one of nature's aristocrats, and now I have the title to prove it. Coronet, regalia, robes, etc, will soon find a place in my wardrobe."
Mr Pullman added that he chose the title of Duke of Cittàgazze principally for reasons of euphony, but also "in acknowledgement of the thefts that all writers commit every day, we being creatures of the jackdaw or magpie class."