Book Review: His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman

His Dark MaterialsTitle: His Dark Materials trilogy
Author: Philip Pullman
Published: 1995, 1997, 2000
Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 432, 352, 544
From: Barnes and Noble
Rating: 9/10

Controversial books are always good reads. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, containing The Golden Compass (Northern Lights in the UK) (1995), The Subtle Knife (1997) and The Amber Spyglass (2000), uses different magical things to relate to religion in an unconventional way which leads to the epic battle.

The Golden Compass begins with a girl, Lyra, and her daemon spending time playing at Jordan College in Oxford, but not the Oxford of our world. Rumors start spreading among her friends that Gobblers are stealing children, but before she can discover what is really happening, Lyra befriends a guest of the college, Mrs. Coulter, and goes to stay with her in London. Before leaving, the Master of Jordan gives her a magical device that tells her the truth called an alethiometer. She must keep it hidden from Mrs. Coulter.

Eventually Lyra and her daemon, Pan, escape from Mrs. Coulter and travel with the Gyptians northward. There she and Pan encounter talking bears with armor, meet the evil king of the ice bears and watch a battle, and they are kidnapped and taken to where the Gobblers keep the other children and their daemons. She knows little of what’s going on, but what she does know has to do with something called Dust.

Pullman immediately grasps the reader’s attention in this first novel through his fluid metaphors and language even an adult will take to. Nothing seems out of place in this fantasy novel. The world Pullman has created fits together like a glove, from Svalbard and Bolvangar to the witches and talking ice bears in armor.

Pullman takes it to the next, fantastic level when he begins the second novel in the trilogy, The Subtle Knife. Lyra meets a boy named Will, who is on the run for accidentally killing a man. The two discover another world parallel to their own separate worlds. They discover this world is inhabited by children and things called Specters, dangerous creatures that suck the life from adults. It’s in this world that Will becomes the owner of a weapon known as the subtle knife, a knife that allows him to cut through any material and into any world. They begin a journey together: Will searches for his missing father and Lyra, halting her search for Dust, helps him.

In the second installment to the His Dark Materials trilogy, Pullman expands on the idea of good versus evil, angels versus daemons, and an oppressive religion versus a free-will life. While many consider this more religious book to be offensive and anti-Christian, I find it refreshing. Pullman uses oppression in the form of religion to depict how morals are important to a person’s life. Lyra and Will grow from unsophisticated 12-year-olds into young adults, where things become more constant and reality is more important than their imagined games. Pullman shows the slow progression of the children’s growth well, through their actions and their speech, and the progression of their coming-of-age takes an even greater turn in the third novel, The Amber Spyglass.

Mary Malone, a scientist, has befriended Lyra and discovered another world where things are completely different than her own. In this world she makes friends with the inhabitants while a man tracks her down to kill her. She follows her intuition and lives in this world, learning about the ways of the land. Mary then discovers a way to see Dust: by building a spyglass.

Meanwhile, Lord Asriel, Lyra’s father, has built an army of beings from across the universe. There are angels fighting against the Authority and there are witches on the side of Metatron, an angel trying to usurp the Authority’s throne. While battle rages, Lyra and Will travel across the universe into the world of the dead and into the world Mary Malone discovered. And soon the battle ends.

The third installment truly encapsulates the meaning of “epic battle.” Pullman plots the story evenly, his writing flowing like water in a smooth river. The major points of conflict have rhyme and reason to the story and fit well with the characters and their development throughout the series. Scenes are paced nicely, always making the reader want more from the characters, and nothing is overdone or under written. The similes and metaphors Pullman uses throughout the entire story add imagination to an already colorful and brilliant idea. I hope to soon be able to read the continuation of the story of Lyra.

The three novels of the His Dark Materials trilogy are available for purchase at Barnes and Noble. The film The Golden Compass is also available and is a great way to review the imagination in the first installment of the series. For another take on Pullman’s novels, check out a review by Jules’ Book Reviews,

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