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:
- 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;
- The Subtle Knife (1997), possibly the worst name for both a book and a magical knife in said book; and
- The Amber Spyglass (2000).
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.
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.