9. His Dark Materials: my favourite bit was the two gay angels.

First of all, where on earth have I been?

Truthfully, I’m not entirely sure, but I seem to recall The Worst Flight of My Life, the reappropriation of a bottle of whisky, a spontaneous rainforest trek for which I was decidedly underprepared, a Tim Burton exhibition, and a huge snake with a strange liking for boobs …

But that is neither here nor there; The Friande is all about further literarialising me (I can invent words too, just like Shakespeare and Sarah Palin), so if you are curious about my life beyond books, the answer is stalking.

Therefore, I am proud to announce that I have also finished the entire His Dark Materials trilogy.

Philip Pullman’s series consists of:

  1. Northern Lights (1995), known as The Golden Compass in America, though I’m unsure as to why American publishers always seem to think they’re special enough to warrant book name changes;
  2. The Subtle Knife (1997), possibly the worst name for both a book and a magical knife in said book; and
  3. The Amber Spyglass (2000).

Philip Pullman & lemur

Lyra is a young brat (she gets less annoying as the series progresses, I promise) who sets off on an adventure through parallel worlds, at first to find missing children, but then, just because. It’s all pretty typical young adult fantasy fare that promises to allay your escapism addiction – witches, armoured bears etc. Which is, of course, around the time when the book does an abrupt about-turn; you see, the reason children are disappearing is because the Church has stolen them for experiments. Ostentatiously a way to save kids from the terrors of committing original sin, these agonising experiments nevertheless worked: the children all died.

Surprise! Have a diatribe on the evils of religion!

From then on, there’s still gypsies and shamans, but also prophesies about the new Adam and Eve, metaphorical serpents, illogical martyrs, hypocritical priests, and, for your entertainment, a quest to destroy the tyranny of Heaven.

(If you were wondering, there’s nary a devil in sight and, yes, this is a retelling of John Milton‘s Paradise Lost).

Not sure if kids would understand the allegory (unless they went to Bible study, but then I doubt their mommies and daddies would let their little darlings read much of, well, anything), but I think that Pullman’s main message – that oppression sucks – would have gotten through quite easily.

Don't watch it.

My favourite bit was the two gay angels.

Clearly, the man has imagination, but it’s also clear that Pullman isn’t exactly the best writer on the block.

Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by J.K. Rowling (whose series, you might recall, addressed intolerance in its many forms), but Pullman’s descriptions fell flat, his omnipresent narrator was far too omnipresent for his own good, the bastard, and it was definitely a mistake to move away from Lyra’s perspective in the final two books.

A few bits niggled at me. Why would people of other races and beliefs (witches, Inuits, Afrikans – no, not a spelling error) suddenly join a war to kill the Christian god? Wouldn’t that invalidate their religion? Doesn’t the plot hole liken Pullman, in essence, to an evangelist who preaches Christianity as the one, true, religion?

What of the prophesy of a second Adam and Eve being a prerequisite for a new phase of life without, ironically enough, religion; or that God, out of all the multitude of worlds in the book, ended up being Christian and not, say, Buddhist?

I feel like, in trying to subvert a dominant ideology, Pullman ended up, at the very least, influenced by it. No wonder the Canterbury Archbishop called for His Dark Materials to be used in religious education – even in trying to escape the ideology, one manages to validate it.

Thinky thoughts aside (can you tell I miss academia?), I thought the series was inspired, though, unfortunately, nowhere near as fabulous as Harry Potter was.

I’m going to finish on a positive note – because I liked the books, I did – so a round of applause, please, for the creativity behind dæmons. In certain worlds, humans’ souls, or dæmons, were on the outside of their bodies, shaped like the animal that most represents the person’s nature. Which brings on the thought: what would my dæmon be? I’d be pretty angry if it were an ant. Imagine the stress of ensuring it was never accidentally squashed.

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14 responses to “9. His Dark Materials: my favourite bit was the two gay angels.

  1. Pingback: 100 Books To Read … Or die trying | The Friande

  2. This post was so thoroughly entertaining, I think I might read it again.

  3. Never read Pullman, don’t get Rowling, but the reappropriation of whisky, now that had my interest, that & paradise lost. As the for the positive review from his holiness, all I have to say is The Cathedrals nice,but needs a bit of work.
    as usual, love your words, even if the books not for me.

    • Well thank you for reading anyway! Ah, the whisky – I admit that I had a bit of said whisky before I was goaded into reappropriating it. Haven’t read Paradise Lost – apparently it’s some epic battle between heaven and someone? Pullman used what Milton considered humans’ greatest weakness as their greatest strength, which allowed them to fight (& win) against the forces of heaven. I’ve been wanting to read Paradise Lost for a while now, but it’s always loaned out at my library.

  4. ROFL! I love reading your book reviews, so this is where you been? Buried in a Pullman fantasy? Don’t watch ‘The Golden Compass?’ I wished you had warned me sooner. I did not enjoy the movie. I was trying to understand why the Polar Bear’s conflict had anything to do with the story. Anyway, never an ant would you be, maybe an eagle or something more empowering! Myself, would probable be a mole.

    That sounds about right.

    • I admit I wasn’t buried in Pullman the whole time. In fact, probably only for less than a week. Ugh I watched The Golden Compass when it was first out in cinemas, & hated it! Apparently, the original script was way better, but the original director or something similar had to quit, and the studio execs censored a lot of things.
      Haha I was thinking maybe a dolphin, but then I’d have to live right on the beach. Ooh, moles are cute. You could be an owl? I’m having a thing for owls at the moment, they’re so adorable (have you seen the hungover owls tumblr? hilarious).

      • Well I am glad to see you back all the same. I have missed your words. An owl? Well what an extraordinarily awesome choice–no, not a dolphin for you, you need to soar my friend, watch all from above then fly back down to tell us about it all!

        Take care now!

  5. Welcome back. You were asking why U.S. publishers would change the name of the first book to The Golden Compass from Northern Lights. My guess is because they realized that U.S. readers would think a book called Northern Lights is about Canada (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

  6. I had so much trouble getting into these books. My friend who’s a Childrens Librarian LOVED them, so I tried to read them -but I didn’t finish the 3rd one.

    Always good to find another 100lister! thanks for the visit to my blog.

    I look forward to reading more of your reviews!

  7. *clappity-clap!* welcome back! Yes, where have you been? Thoroughly entertaining review, you summed the whole thing up nicely. Yes, the two gay angels was a nice touch actually. They’re the only characters that truly stood out from the rest of the cast. Actually, come to think of it, it’s a bit like when we found out Dumbledore was gay. It just sort of made sense. Oh, but I liked the title ‘Subtle Knife’. I would never think of using a word like subtle to describe a knife.

    When I was reading through I blocked out the religious references, but by book three it was really in your face so I had to pay attention. It wasn’t a problem. Overall I enjoyed Milton, so reading a re-working of it here and there added to the fun. Though I do agree, some parts will go well over the heads of the little childers who read it (I make up words too!).

    Another good bit was the alternate world of the elephants on wheels. Weird Daliesque landscapes, brilliant!

    • I never read Milton, though I plan on it. It was a shame I didn’t know sooner that His Dark Materials was a re-telling of Milton, so that I could have got my hands on Paradise Lost first. What I liked about the gay angels was that their presence in the series was very tongue-in-cheek, but, also, that they were the only couple (other than Lyra and Will) who had a healthy and meaningful relationship.

      It was very Dumbledore, I agree. Actually, I was amazed that Harry Potter got so much flak whilst His Dark Materials flew under the radar.

  8. Pingback: 68. Bridget Jones’s… no! The Friande’s Diary | The Friande

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