“Tell them stories.”
His Dark Materials consists of The Golden Compass,The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, a trilogy of epic proportions. The bulk of the trilogies takes place in worlds that are not our own. Worlds where your soul is right there next to you taking the shape of an animal ( known as your dæmon in the series) and being your constant companion, or where your death follows you around like a constant reminder of our fragility.
I had heard many things about The Materials, mostly that Pullman completely bashes the Catholic religion. True, there is a lot of talk of religion and different views on the religion; he goes so far as to have a nun who has since denounced the religion.
“Will anyone be better off if I go straight back to the hotel and say my prayers and confess to the priest and promise never to fall into temptation again? Will anyone be the better for making me miserable? And the answer came back–no. No one will. There’s no one to fret, no one to condemn, no one to bless me for being a good girl, no one to punish me for being wicked. Heaven was empty. I didn’t know whether God had died, or whether there never had been a God at all.”
Aside from the obvious religious aspects of the story, at it’s heart it is about love and family. Lyra Belacqua is your average precocious preteen living at Jordan College in Oxford, having been put there by her wealthy uncle, she lives and learns like any girl her age would left to her own devices. She and her dæmon, Pantalaimon (known throughout the series simply as Pan), get into plenty of trouble on the grounds of the College. One such instance will change the course of her life, or was it fate? She hides in a wardrobe in a room that she is forbidden to be in and witnesses a meeting between her Uncle and the scholars of the college. Such beings the journey of Lyra and Pan.
It is a high adventure tale with the under lying objective finding the root of all good and evil and either preserving or destroying the source of original sin. The characters that Lyra meet along the way are completely unforgettable. An armored bear, a high-flying hot air balloonist, clans of witches, but most of all the two people she meets from a world that is similar and yet so different from her own.
Ultimately this is a story of love and Pullman delivers in spades. In The Subtle Knife Lyra meets Will who, unlike her, can not see his dæmon even though she knows he has one. They form a quick friendship and you root for them the entire way of their journey. Even when it looks bleak for them you know that if they are together that things will turn out alright for the pair.
With love comes heartbreak and there is also much of that in the series as well. I won’t say that it is a sad read, even though there were times when I teared up a bit. I’ll say that it’s heartwarming and thought provoking. For with all the talk of religion and all of the different worlds and emotions you are bound to have thoughts about your own mortality and the way your life is being lived.
I enjoyed reding this trilogy, probably more than I thought I was going to. Since it is billed as “young adult” novel it is pretty easy to read, especially The Amber Spyglass with most of the chapters being only ten pages long it flies. A word of caution that if you are looking for these books in your local bookstore they MAY NOT be in the young adult section, some people feel differently about that billing because of the situations and themes that arise.
Do yourself a favor and pick this series up, you won’t regret it.