I would not have read this book were it not for my friend Pat E who told me several years ago that it was one of the best books she had ever read, and also said it was the first children s book to have won England s prestigious Whitbread Prize for Literature So I read the whole series over the next couple years, and in this process discovered that one of my English department s medievalists said it was one of his favorite series Did I know, he asked, that Pullman was actually in conversation with John Milton s Paradise Lost as he wrote the series, which came to be called His Dark Materials the title from Milton , particularly in The Amber Spyglass Nope, I said, I had had no idea, so I paid some attention to that aspect of the book as I read it A little attention, I say, because I am no Milton scholar, and how many are who would be reading it Nor had I read than the sections of Paradise Lost I had read in the survey Brit lit course I had taken decades ago.
Now, many years later, I and my family have invested some 37 hours listening to the audio version CDs of His Dark Materials narrated by Pullman himself Last summer, the first book, The Golden Compass, last fall the second in the series, The Subtle Knife, and now the third, The Amber Spyglass Which I loved, and then I find that one of the Goodreads reviewers I much respect hated this series, and a little Goodreads argument through his highly critical review ensued So I at one point read his review and the subsequent hubbub, mostly pushback on him from Pullman fans I went back and looked at his review to see if I might, on reflection, change my mind I did review the book and disagree with him, as will happen here, obviously I learned from that review, but I still think it s a great book And reread this review in November 2017 as I wait for my family copy of Pullman s fall 2017 release, The Book of Dust, that is part of this world.
One place to start in thinking of this book is that Pullman, unlike C.
S Lewis, another prominent fantasy writer, is as he refers to himself, an atheist, or agnostic atheist Lewis, a Christian, once an outspoken atheist, recounts his sudden epiphany of faith in Surprised by Joy This review is being written by an agnostic once raised in the Calvinist Dutch Christian Reformed Church I not only know that tradition, but actually taught in Christian schools, even taught classes on the Bible in them for a couple years I say that not to establish credibility on theological religious issues Pullman explores here, but because sometimes you read a book through your life, subjectively, than you might read other books I am pretty familiar with some of the territory Pullman treads Theological issues, in a children s book Well, this children s book thing, that s marketing, according to Pullman He intended to have adults all ages read this trilogy, too And we should, and we do Since in many ways he is commenting on Christian spiritual traditions as they are evident in literature, Pullman wants to be in conversation with people who have read John Milton s Paradise Lost and or C S Lewis s Narnia Chronicles, two of the best known epics in the history of English literature His Dark Materials is also an epic novel series, but it is, like much literature, talking in various ways to the authors whose literature that it is built on You don t need to have read those works, for real, but it doesn t hurt, either.
In this case, Pullman has written a version of Paradise Lost, an inversion of the central arc of that tale Milton seemed to claim, in keeping with the Calvinist tradition, that the single terrible shaping moment in human history was the invention of the myth of original sin a sexual sin of Adam and Eve Satan, an angel who fell from Heaven, engineers this act In Amber Spyglass, Pullman has Mary tempt Lyra through her story of falling in love Lyra gives in to this temptation as she realizes she loves Will though the American publisher amazingly cut some of the details of Lyra s physical responses to being with Will.
Pullman thinks the Church got it wrong from the beginning and throughout history in obsessively focusing on sexuality as sinful To split the body from the soul as he suggests Christianity does is for Pullman a horrible, horrible mistake Materiality is a good thing, Pullman says the Earth should not be seen as a temporary place to wait until you get to the really good place, Heaven, but a place where we should fully, existentially, engage D mons are a cool aspect of this story, sort of spirit companions, usually in the shape of animals or birds, and all humans have them, like souls, and when you are young they can shift It s a kind of identity conceit, as identity in youth is in flux, in construction As Pullman sees it, The Church wants to separate you from your individualized think of it as a personal relationship to the spiritual realm, or God d mon, metaphorically, and this is a horrible thing, in Pullman s view Pullman also thinks the Church and specifically the Roman Catholic Church, though almost all Christian theology is pretty consistent in deciding their binary view of good and evil is the right one, is narrow and simplistic His view in part supported by contemporary physics is that there are multiple spiritual worlds and traditions, all of which should be supported and celebrated Pullman favors diversity of all kinds spiritual, cultural, biological We are different and interdependent or we expire as a human race His key central concept for a deeper relationship to the universe is dust which would seem to be a synonym for consciousness, or wisdom, though it is potentially also visible in the natural world with the right attitude and or a Steam Punkish instrument, such as is The Amber Spyglass Instead of Christianity s idea of One All Powerful God, Pullman flips that script to show us the limitation of that view through the specter of The Authority, who is frail, weak, sniveling, small minded, associated with a bad group from the Church called The Magisterium who wants to control your minds and souls and bodies Ultimately the series is about growing up in the face of an oppressive adult religious soul killing authority We need connection to the natural world than Christianity seems to have fostered, Pullman insists And we need joy and a spirit of adventure and discovery and imagination than the Church would seem to have given us We need to stop thinking our bodies and the material world are somehow just merely bad.
So is Pullman s view anti Christian, or anti spiritual I don t think so, not really He s about expanding spiritual horizons rather than getting rid of them And he knows how to have fun, in this rollicking adventure And he loves Milton, too, though he disagrees with him He just prefers William Blake s complex cosmology The epigraphs before every chapter are wonderful, perfect, a guide to the argument that is coiled deeply in his story The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, endorsed the series, calling the books instructive, saying they are in fact about the death of a false God and the upholding of true Christian values Williams even went so far as to say that Pullman s series should be taught in schools Fundamentalists, needless to say, do not agree But the imagination is key to spiritual health for Pullman He does not think most religions value imagination.
In this final volume Lyra and Will travel to the World of the Dead to visit Roger, and Will s father, which is maybe the single most powerful sequence of the whole series Along the way, assumptions about the good or evil of individual characters of the book are questioned Is Mrs Coulter, Lyra s mother, evil Is Lord Asriel good What are the limitations of such categories Lyra is a liar, which is a good thing in some situations fiction is a wonderful and useful adaptive strategy in the world, but lies, or false stories, can also be hurtful Will is a good guy, but he also kills people The Magisterium has sent Father Gomez to kill Lyra and Will he seems closer to a completely bad guy than almost anyone in this tale, but even he claims to want the best for kids The former nun and physicist Mary Malone is a pretty good person, a guide for Will and Lyra in the absence of The Magisterum Iorok Byrnison, the flying ard bear who has special capabilities with metal working, once a captive drunk, is a great and mostly good character I prefer the sheer imaginative joy of the first volume, The Golden Compass, with its strong girl character Lyra she shares the stage with boy Will in the later two books The last book is less a children s book than the first, and it s serious, a little less fun But the last book is powerful, and often moving Who wouldn t want to have one final talk with those we love who have died The plot in this last book sort of rambles slowly along, contemplative and reflective as it intends to be After being primarily an adventure story, The Amber Spyglass slows down and helps resolve all the central issues But I still truly loved it I maybe especially loved it because I heard Pullman s sweet and loving and gentle voice on tape shape the narration, as well as all the wonderful characters read by great actors, so well acted.
Pullman also has a bone to pick with C S Lewis, whose fantasy children s series The Narnia Chronicles I grew up loving Pullman told The New York Times in 2000 When you look at what C.
S Lewis is saying, his message is so anti life, so cruel, so unjust The view that the Narnia books have for the material world is one of almost undisguised contempt At one point, the old professor says, It s all in Plato meaning that the physical world we see around us is the crude, shabby, imperfect, second rate copy of something much better I want to emphasize the simple physical truth of things, the absolute primacy of the material life, rather than the spiritual or the afterlife I loved growing up in the bosom of a Calvinist church reading The Narnia Chronicles, and I don t recall all the harshness to which Pullman refers, but I read it when I was steeped in that theology So he may have a point there.
Pullman argues finally, for embracing a republic of heaven here on Earth This is Blake and not Milton talking through Pullman, advocating a pluralistic way of life and not a monotheistic religion Be God where you are, Pullman says Pullman s view is closer to Buddhism, and the I Ching and existentialist Christianity think Kierkegaard Renounce the One or False God, he says, and instead Be God, which as I see it is one interpretation of what Christianity is saying a Christian ought to become No guru, no teacher, as Van Morrison sings In the end, Lyra, having lost her ability to read the alethiometer intuitively, decides to return to Oxford to study alethiometry, which might just be another word for how Pullman sees fantasy, as the narrative exploration of multiple worlds and dimensions and truths In the end, Lyra and her d mon Pantalaimon, who has taken the permanent form of a pine marten, resolve to build the republic of Heaven on Earth In the light of the ongoing destruction of the planet, this is a hopeful vision of how we should be living the spiritual life, honoring the environment.
Will Is The Bearer Of The Knife Now, Accompanied By Angels, His Task Is To Deliver That Powerful, Dangerous Weapon To Lord Asriel By The Command Of His Dying FatherBut How Can He Go Looking For Lord Asriel When Lyra Is Gone Only With Her Help Can He Fathom The Myriad Plots And Intrigues That Beset Him The Two Great Powers Of The Many Worlds Are Lining Up For War, And Will Must Find Lyra, For Together They Are On Their Way To Battle, An Inevitable Journey That Will Even Take Them To The World Of The Dead My entire review could be this Phillip Pullman s The Amber Spyglass is one of the poorest closing books of a trilogy ever written But I feel compelled to continue At one point, I actually stopped reading The Amber Spyglass, put it down and vowed not to finish, but I wanted to be able to slag off the book with authority, so finishing became a must And I even had a slight hope that Pullman could save his seriesI did finish, but it never got any better Mulefa Gallivespians Iorek Byrnison fixing the incredibly fragile subtle knife The knife breaking at all Mrs Coulter continuing to live The incredible coincidence of everyone meeting the same Citt gazze kids It was all too much, and it only got worse as the book went on Thematically it was equally frustrating There has been so much talk about Pullman s anti religiosity, but the most offensive part of The Amber Spyglass is Pullman s portrayal of women I wouldn t go so far as to say that Pullman is a misogynist , but he does seem to have a poor understanding of women.
The five main women in His Dark Materials are a catalogue of feminine stereotypes Lyra, as her name so clumsily suggests, is a consummate liar, who eventually becomes a moony eyed, love sick teen, subordinating herself to her lover Will Mrs Coulter is a manipulative femme fatale whose only hint of goodness is her inexplicable maternal instinct Mary Malone is the pure ex nun full of kindness and curiosity, blessedly open to all new things Seraphina Pekkala, the loyal witch, is the classic heart of gold character usually she d be a whore with a heart of gold, but in a kids book witch with a heart of gold will do Then there is Mrs Parry, Will s mom, and her madness other women appear in the story , but they re not as important as Will s mom There are few if any shades of gray in these women, and as the book drew ever nearer the close I found myself hoping desperately for the women to do something unexpected My wish went unfulfilled.
Maddening, frustrating, and a great disappointment because of what it promised, China Mieville got it right when he made his list of 50 books every good Marxist should read and said, in book three, The Amber Spyglass, something goes wrong It has excellent bits, it is streets ahead of its competition but there s sentimentality, a hesitation, a formalism, which lets us down On second thought, Mieville was too nice The Amber Spyglass should be avoided like a plate of raw chicken meat on a hot African day read The Golden Compass and skip the rest Period.
George, wake up Ungh what time is it I think about four am You were having a nightmare Mmmn Hey, you re shaking Come over here It s alright Do you want to tell me about it Ann Coulter and Satan jump into the void and pull him down with them The evil archangel I m sorry Ah, it doesn t make much sense, does it But it did in the dream It was even noble and tragic I think What else happened Well, I know I shouldn t have stayed up reading that physics book There was something about dark matter and angels I think angels were dark matter But they weren t dark when you looked at them in the right way I built a sort of telescope and I could see them You should have come to bed with me Remember that next time I will And, ah, let me see, God lived in a Calabi Yau manifold A what One of those twisty six dimensional shapes that string theorists like I showed you a picture, right Oh yes, now I know what you mean So God s in his whatever and all is well with the world No, he s tired and he has some kind of accident That was a good thing though You re still not making any sense I know, I know And they can t ever see each other again They re in different branes That was so sad Different brains Branes B R A N E S You know, parallel universes floating in multi dimensional space Anyway, he has to return to his brane and he s lost her forever George, try to go back to sleep We ll be so tired tomorrow I just want to write this down before I forget it It was really good I think I could turn it into a book Tomorrow, George Okay, it ll wait until the morning And you know what What I m so glad we re in the same space time continuum Oh George, that s the most romantic thing anyone s ever said to me Heh I thought you d like it Goodnight sweetheart Goodnight George Mm Mm.
i just decided to copy and paste a response i wrote regarding this book in one of the GR groups that is inexcusably lazy so sue me also, it is full of SPOILERS i think one of the most unique things about this book is the fact that one protagonist is a liar and the other is a murderer not only is that uncommon, particularly in YA lit, it is transgressive i like how the tools that help these two in their amazing adventures are ones that are normally displayed by villains and without their ruthless abilities to lie and to kill, they wouldn t have survived to put these abilities in the hands of the protagonists is one way of showing that despite having negative attributes, a person can still be good and still be heroic the characters are as complex as real people in that they are not all good and in many ways, both the ability to lie and the ability to kill come back to haunt both children particularly the latter they don t just get a free pass by the author but nor are their flaws portrayed in a black and white way many children lie many people in the world have killed but doing either does not make them automatically villains i like that as well as far as the author s atheism goes, it doesn t bother me and i think the series is quite separate from his point of view the God that is destroyed is not actually God, he is a despot angel gone to seed, an imposter i actually found the book to be exceedingly spiritual and very much connected to the ideas of love for humanity, love for nature, even love for spirituality in its own way now obviously pullman is a curmudgeonly atheistbut i don t see those views shoved down readers throats during the series what i see is an ability to use ideas of angels and heaven without sentiment and to even subvert Christian paradigms.
without actually saying There Is No God or Heaven that may be implied, but i think it can be argued that the opposite is also implied.
that there may be a God and a Heaven that is above all of these angel hierarchies, all of the warfare as a God lover myself i would hesitate to call myself Christian , i am always on the look out for sneaky, nihilistic, anti spirituality tracts those kinds of things annoy me just as much as the display of judgmental religious rhetoric despite the author s personal perspective, i didn t notice that in this series, and i was looking for it angels warring and a False God Angel to me do not amount to a renunciation of faith if anything, it illustrates a critical stance towards current organized religion i can deal with that it is not all or nothing or black white, it is a grey scale and as i ve mentioned, overall i found the novel to be deeply spiritual pullman may be a curmudgeonly atheist the morality of the book itself is not personally, i thought the Chronicles of Narnia one of my favorite series was far overt in its religious teachings than Golden Compass was in its question what you have been taught lessons Chronicles was a wonderful adventure AND a clear religious allegory Golden Compass is a wonderful adventure AND a lesson in not blindly following faith with the ultimate lesson that a person can still find their own personal way to faith spirituality i think that is a good lesson for kids for everyone If you haven t read the ENTIRE three books, please don t read any further I wouldn t want to spoil it for you because the ending is so endearing and.
lasting, that I would HATE to take it away from you I absolutely fell in love with Lyra Didn t you She was the sister I wish I would have had growing up She was myself as I played with all of my brothers in the mudfields, she was the daughter I m sure every woman would yearn to have In my opinion, Philip Pullman was brilliant in his creation of this little girl Her flaws were her strength just as much as her strengths were her salvation And when you take her inquisitive innocence and throw in Will s brave maturity.
together, the two of them are almost too much to bear I was heady with adoration for the two of them combined I m sure some would say they were too perfect together, too sappy, too trite But my cynicism runs deep and my heart was still touched Maybe it s because I m a girl or because my heart still remembers the depth of that first love The absoluteness of it My heart remembers Going to China , haa haa and it longs to visit again Will was the boy every girl wants to fall in love with Loyal, strong, clever, honest, sweet and faithful I hated him for agreeing to close every single window except one, but loved him for his dedication to do what s right I wanted to shake him and tell him that when he gets older he will realize that one window wouldn t have mattered that what he was at Lyra s side was worth one silly little window in the fabric of the worlds But of course, he wouldn t listen to me, because he is young and doesn t know how rare True Love is So I sighed and cried and watched them felt them split forever And I agonized over whether they would ever figure out how to Astral Project into eachother s lives And if the one would wait for the other when they died, so that they could walk out the window they created hand in hand I could literally picture them sitting there on that bench for an hour each year, aching for eachother once again Sigh.
I liked how Mrs Coulter was deep enough to be both intrinsically evil and love Lyra with a blindly, maternal love in the end I liked how the Master at Jordon and John Faa were father figures in their own ways I liked little Roger s complete faith and how Iorek s devotion was tempered with a knowledge that was higher than either of the children s I did find Mary Malone unbearably boring and found myself wishing away any chapter having to deal with her and her mulefa Get back to the real story of Lyra and Will I could have done without her entire story line.
And of course there was Pantalaimon How much do we all wish we had a d mon that we could see, touch, talk to, rely on How much fun would it be to have a morphing little partner in everything we do Ahhh, was a fun concept to explore and probably the very secret to HDM s success Pullman s descriptions of the different d mon s throughout each book were descriptive, imaginative and comical All in all, an excellent book I wish I would have read it slower so that I could have enjoyed Lyra and Will s company a little longer.
All the history of human life has been a struggle between wisdom and stupidity I stopped believing there was a power of good and a power of evil that were outside us And I came to believe that good and evil are names for what people do, not for what they are I will love you forever whatever happens Till I die and after I die, and when I find my way out of the land of the dead, I ll drift about forever, all my atoms, till I find you again I ll be looking for you, every moment, every single moment And when we do find each other again, we ll cling together so tight that nothing and no one ll ever tear us apart Every atom of me and every atom of you We ll live in birds and flowers and dragonflies and pine trees and in clouds and in those little specks of light you see floating in sunbeams And when they use our atoms to make new lives, they won t just be able to take one, they ll have to take two, one of you and one of me, we ll be joined so tight
A 83% Very Good NotesA sad but necessary ending its exceptional last chapters may have seemed unconvincing if penned by a lesser writer.
firstmake no mistake, this review contains spoilers Now, having read the first book 5 stars and the second book 3 stars I had some hope for this book But, this book was an excruciating head hammering look at an author making all the wrong moves 1 Lyra s sublimation to Will becomes utterly complete Hell, women are supposed to bend to men, aren t they Lyra quit taking a step without fearing it would cause Will to raise his eyebrow 2 Lyra s mother who had been SUCH a wonderfully evil character and father both find ultimate redemption in their love for Lyra Whoopee In fact, EVERYBODY finds redemption in this novel Everybody The evilest creatures in existence, the harpies in the lands of the dead, are transformed by Lyra s music in about 3 pages, and become her stalwart and forever allies Cripes 3 Lyra and Will gettin it on Yeah, hello We knew from point one that Lyra and Will would eventually get busydid it have to be Sex That Saves the Universe Cosmic Humping That Restores the Fabric of All Reality Wait, was I supposed to be taking LSD when I read that part Damn, dude, you should have packaged a tab with the book 4 More damn characters More damn MAIN characters Suddenly we ve got Important People on Bugs Pullman continues to pull in so many disparate characters and plot threads that EVERYTHING is diluted into a big stinky morass 5 Theology aspect One of the reasons I was attracted to this series was because of Pullman s strongly anti religious takethe man wrote a blurb for Dawkins God Delusion for freak s sake So, umm, why was this book sooooo religious The dust Well, the dust is all knowing, even of the future And there is indeed a land of the dead So, we have afterlife, and pre ordainment, in an anti religious book Sweet, how does that work Well, it doesn t Angels are flying around, and they re the good guys No, wait, they re the bad guys Well, no matter, I mean, there IS a god, but he didn t make all creation That was, apparently, maybe, the dust Seems to me that if you re praying to dust, rather than God, it doesn t make any difference Religion is religion, and this was a religious book 6 Easy ending OkayI saw most aspects of the ending coming from about 700 pages to go Couldn t Pullman throw me some surprises beyond How Damn Long He Took to Get Around To It 7 Easy ending, take 2 Let s see, Will and Lyra fight against God and All the Angels, against the pull of their own daemons, against not only all creation, but all of creation on multiple universes, they lose friends to bullets, explosions, souls ripped out, and a myriad other ways as legions of people die to either protect them personally, or what they stand for, the two of them travel to the freakin Lands of the Dead in order to remain together, and they eventually get it on in all sorts of transcendant garden of eden ways, restoring the entire multi verse with the Glory of Their Hot Sweaty Action, and then.
and thenand then an angel says, Oh, you guys can t stay together, cuz a some bad stuff would happen then And in ONE PAGE they say, Jeepers, that s too bad Any way around it Angel says Nope And they don t even try It s just ta ta, been good knowing you That s it Well, trilogy, it actually hasn t been so good knowing you.