George V. Reilly

Review: His Dark Materials Trilogy

The Golden Compass
Title: The Golden Compass
Author: Philip Pullman
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Publisher: Del Rey
Copyright: 1995
Pages: 351
Keywords: fantasy
Reading period: 28 February-2 March, 2007
The Subtle Knife
Title: The Subtle Knife
Author: Philip Pullman
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Publisher: Del Rey
Copyright: 1997
Pages: 288
Keywords: fantasy
Reading period: 3 March, 2007
The Amber Spyglass
Title: The Amber Spyglass
Author: Philip Pullman
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½
Publisher: Del Rey
Copyright: 2000
Pages: 465
Keywords: fantasy
Reading period: 4-8 March, 2007

In The Golden Compass, Lyra Belacqua is a young girl living at Jordan College, Oxford. A ward of her distant uncle, Lord Asriel, she is rather absently looked after by the staff and scholars, but prefers to spend her time rough­hous­ing with the local urchins. This is not our Oxford, but one in a parallel world, which seems to be a cross between steampunk and Gor­meng­hast. One where everyone has a personal daemon, a shape-shifting spirit who never strays more than a few feet from its human.

Boys and girls are dis­ap­pear­ing all around Britain, taken by the Gobblers, a shadowy Church-affiliated or­ga­ni­za­tion run by the evil Mrs. Coulter. The Church is obsessed with the mysterious Dust, which they believe to be the cause of Original Sin. When her best friend is snatched, Lyra goes on a quest to the Arctic in the company of the gyptians, where she finds armored bears and witches. The book ends when Lord Asriel tears a rift into another world, and Lyra stumbles through with her daemon, Pan­ta­lai­mon.

The second book, The Subtle Knife, introduces a second lead character, Will Parry, a twelve-year-old boy from our world. He stumbles through a portal into the world of Cittàgazze, where he meets Lyra and becomes the bearer of a knife, which can cut through the barriers between worlds. Lord Asriel has launched a crusade to bring down the Authority, the ruler of Heaven. Renegade angels and other forces are trying to get Will and Lyra to bring the knife to Asriel.

The Amber Spyglass brings in a third major character, Dr. Mary Malone, a scientist from our Oxford who has fallen into another world, where she studies Dust. Lyra and Will travel to the land of the Dead to release ghosts from their captivity, and they fall in love. Asriel and his allies launch their attack on the Authority.

I got the first book from the library and I loved it so much that I went out and bought the entire trilogy. The series is marketed towards young adults, but is also popular among adults.

The Golden Compass is a first-rate story that was hard to put down. I was thorougly caught up in it. Lyra is not par­tic­u­lar­ly bright, but she is brave, stubborn, and lucky, and you wish her well. Pullman builds fas­ci­nat­ing worlds: the daemons are a novel invention.

I thought the second book was a little weaker. Pullman started telling the story from a number of viewpoints, a practice he ex­ac­er­bat­ed in the third book, which weakened his control of the story. Even so, he brings the trilogy to a powerful, bit­ter­sweet ending.

It’s not apparent in the first book, but Pullman is retelling Milton’s Paradise Lost and he’s not on the side of God. Asriel is as proud as Lucifer, and the ruler of Heaven is unworthy. This is a theme sure to enrage many Christians and I’m surprised that I’ve heard so little about it, as the books have sold very well.

The Golden Compass has been made into a movie, which is to be released at Christmas.

More background material: His Dark Materials (Wikipedia), Srafopedia (HDM en­cy­clo­pe­dia), and Bridge to the Stars (fan site).

blog comments powered by Disqus
Of Bags, Bugattis, and Birthdays » « Review: 1635: The Cannon Law