on November 16, 2007
My three girls and I all love to read, I mean LOVE it! We also like to discuss books we read together. As such, it is always a joy to come across a book or series that engages all of us and ends with long conversations we all learn from. While I do not feel these books are age appropriate for my 8 year old, even with an advanced reading level, it IS for my 13 and 17 year olds. After The Golden Compass, they both fought over who would get to read The Subtle Knife first.
Based on some of the reviews here, much of this series seems to personally offend anyone that is christian. It seems like anything that is threatening to their beliefs is deemed dangerous and negative. However, I think it is a good thing to have your beliefs challenged; it makes you use your mind, question things, and creates thought!
I would much rather have my girls read something they didn't agree with and found distasteful than have their right to read what they want denied. I am grateful for the freedom they experience in our country and the opportunities they are afforded because of it--opportunities to read something like these books that will make them use their minds, for example!
It comes down to this: If you are someone who likes to read, likes to be entertained, likes to use your imagination, and likes to think for yourself rather than allowing someone else to think for you, you will find value in this series!
Philip Pullman's dark fantasy trilogy, His Dark Materials, ostensibly written for children, is actually literature of a much higher order. The title of the trilogy comes from a particularly powerful passage of Milton's Paradise Lost, the great religious epic poem whose central story is the thematic basis for this trilogy. Another important influence on these three novels is the Christian Parsifal or Sir Percival story, which dates back to the early middle-ages as part of both the King Arthur and the Holy Grail cycle of tales. From its very first page, Pullman's crisp, evocative writing creates a world not quite like ours but just similar enough to be uncomfortable and strangely familiar. As readers of the trilogy know, most of the events in these books do not occur on our world or even in our universe. Of course, because this is post Tolkien fantasy, Mr. Pullman has absorbed all of the usual fantasy tropes and has no desire to repeat them. So what he writes is new, deeper, with fully rounded characters that come alive on the page. His courageous young heroine, Lyra Belacqua with her daemon familiar, Pantalaimon, always by her side, is one of the great creations in "children's literature". Lyra and Pan make an especially entertaining, often very amusing, pair. Her fearsome Uncle, Lord Asriel, is one of those rich, ambiguous creations that keep you guessing as to their motives, reminiscent of Professor Snape in J. K. Rowling's Potter novels. Pullman's writing is lean and well crafted and exciting to read. Once started, it is very difficult to set aside.
This three volume boxed set contains the books in hardcover with their original dustcovers. Their artwork is lovely. It also contains a map: a necessity in today's complex world of fantasy. The first volume, The Golden Compass, has been filmed and was recently released on DVD. The two succeeding books, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, will presumably follow thereafter. This set makes a lovely gift for an older and mature reading child or an adult who still retains memories of childhood and all of its dark mysteries. Strongly recommended.
on October 17, 2007
There are enough (I dare say much more than enough) reviews out there that pertain to the actual contents of the book, whether it be good or bad, so I shall not express how awesome I think the trilogy is. I, instead, want to comment on the various editions of the book/trilogy available out there. I personally bought the Dark Materials Omnibus, which is absolutely gorgeous, and has very sturdy binding. The cover has a nice texture to it, and is much lighter than one would expect for its size (it is quite large). However, I have seen other versions of the trilogy, and I found that the paperback versions, printed by Knopf, are also wonderful and pleasing to the eye, which are printed with heftier paper than the Omnibus. The "standard" versions (the ones that cost 7.50 or so) are also great, though not as pretty as the other ones; they are, however, lightweight and tightly bound (I got those for my brother, who enjoyed the series). However, if you are in search of a copy to give as a gift, then I suggest the Omnibus or paperback versions, simply because of its aesthetic value.
on December 3, 2007
This is by far the most engaging, intelligently-wrtten works of children's literature I have ever read. (And for anyone getting hyped up about the religious factor, please read this before you judge!) The prose is sophisticated (I would say this is for kids with a very good vocabulary, maybe a 9+), and the characters are engaging. And talk about action packed! Pullman always keeps the reader guessing, and the action always is intriguing. The books do have violence in them (nothing too gory, but there are some battle scenes with blood, and some characters die), so keep that in mind if you want to read it to kids younger than 9.
A lot of people say this book is anti-religious, anti-God, atheistic, etc. Most of these reviews have obviously not read the series. I actually found The Golden Compass in the book closet of the Catholic school where I taught English Lit! This book for certain is NOT anti-Christian. It does not preach evil values, & it does not encourage children to kill God. The book has a lot of religious aspects: souls, angels, and spirits. This book IS anti-religious corruption, and it IS against using religion to justify evil. One review mentioned the book encourages female circumcision: so wrong!...what the book said was that religions have used faith in God to cause harm to many, including the cutting of genitalia! And if Pullman is an atheist, so what? C.S. Lewis was a Christian. Does that mean Jews, Muslims and Buddhists can't enjoy the Narnia series, even though its messages aren't parallell to their own religious values?
One thing that I do like is that Pullman creates very strong-minded children for his main characters, especially Lyra. Despite having horrible parents, Lyra finds strength within to overcome seemingly impossible tasks with the aid of her daemon Pan. I like that Pullman talks a lot about how fear can destroy people and societies, and also on a subtle level, how technology gone too far can wreak havoc on the world. I also like that Lyra both respects and questions authority. She has a mind and a sense of adventure, and I love that she breaks so many female sterotypes.
I'm re-reading the series now and am giving it to my 10 year-old cousin for Christmas. I know he'll love it as much as I do!
on November 30, 2007
This trilogy is what reading is all about. It creates a world where you can lose yourself and reflect upon the "real world" that we live in. I found it moving and important.
I picked up a copy of "The Golden Compass" as a houseguest at a friend's house. I confess I wasn't much company, as I could not put the book down for my visit. Before I left my host's house, I went online to buy the entire Trilogy which was waiting for me when I got home. I unpacked, and started reading again.
It truly is thought-provoking and brilliant. Unfortunately, it is also dangerous to those beliefs which we simply assume to be true. Questioning and analyzing are basic intellectual activities, and these books are marvelous opportunities to use fiction to really make you think. Perhaps that's why we are seeing so many negative ratings from those who are very "faith-based". They seem to assume if Faith is questioned (which this series does), then it is anti-Christian. I don't quite get that, as I think Faith without questioning is dangerous itself.
I would agree that the youngest readers may not be equipped for the explorations these books present, but after reading them themselves, perhaps parents will be able to make an informed decision.
Read for yourself, think for yourself, allow the mysteries to absorb you. But don't expect to get a lot done outside of your reading time!!
on October 28, 2000
I'd have to say that after reading all the ambigouosly worded quotations on the back of the book, I was apprehensive when picking up The Golden Compass, the first book in the trilogy. As with every book, it was adorned with advance praise, which is a nice way of saying "we think you'll like it and I have to go spend the money I got for recomending it to you." Still, Pullman was a good author, and so I bought it, and I very much enjoyed it. I was young (9 or 10, I believe) when I read the first book, and I enjoyed it simply for what was on the surface. I did the same with The Subtle Knife, and after going to the publisher's site this summer (Randomhouse), I noticed that the third book was coming soon. I went back and reread the other two books (in two days, no less), and I thouroughly enjoyed them, and moreso, considering that I'd read Paradise Lost on my own time. After reading The Amber Spyglass, I must say, it is a worthy conclusion to this trilogy, deftly avoiding predictability at every turn, and finishing with a profound truth about life and sacrifice. Pullamn has kept me enthralled all the way through, and I cannot think of a better, deeper, and more epic story.
At the end of "The Subtle Knife", things were dire. Lyra had been kidnapped by her mother Mrs Coulter, whilst Will was left in the company of two angels with the subtle knife (which can create windows between worlds) and the altheiometer (that communicates with the mystery substance known as `Dust'). Refusing to accompany them to Lord Asriel, who is on the verge of war with Heaven itself, Will enlists the angels help in tracking down Lyra, and is soon joined by Iorek Byrnison, the king of the polar bears. Meanwhile, Lyra herself is forced into an enchanted sleep by her mother, whilst the powers of the Church and the Authority close in to end her life and thus the terrible threat she poses against them. When the two children are reunited, they hatch a plan to go right to the end of where the subtle knife can take them; right into death itself.
Mary Malone, who has been told that she must "play the serpent", has reached a world where elephantine creatures wheel along on giant seedpods, and may just have the final key to unravelling the mystery of Dust. Pullman brings out all of his previous creations: witches, Spectres, angels, gyptains, daemons and cliff-ghasts are all here in full force, each with a part to play in one of the most exciting, controversial, imaginative and thought-provoking books in recent history. Yet unlike the previous books, "The Golden Compass" and "The Subtle Knife", "The Amber Spyglass" has a few faults that does not make it quite the awe-inspiring finale I had hoped it would be.
Out of all three books, this one is the most blatantly anti-religious; in particular anti-Christian. Now, I have my own religious convictions (though what they are irrelevant to this review), and a critique of faith is hardly going to endanger them. It was easy enough for me to thoroughly enjoy a book without agreeing to its message. After all, religion is a human construct, and I'm sure I'm not the only religious person to recognise atrocities that have occurred by self-righteous fanatics in the name of `religion'. But Pullman takes this one step further and is anti-God. In his literary creation, God was not the creator, but simply the first intelligent being to come into existence. Again, I wasn't that disgruntled: I had to admire the sheer nerve Pullman displays in taking on the concept of God, and anyone who has read "Paradise Lost" (on which these books are based) know that Satan comes across as an epic hero, whilst God is somewhat of a bore.
No, what bothered me about this book was the general attitude held toward all religious people: at all times there is no good that can come from having faith in a deity of any kind, and no chance of a coexistence between those that have faith and those that don't. In my opinion, the key to peace on earth is not religion, nor atheism, but *tolerance*. Pullman displays none of this, and seems to be saying that only way to deal with religious people is with scorn and mockery. Any impressionable young reader will most likely be inspired and enlightened by Pullman's books, but on taking his standpoint, they may also adopt a negative attitude toward anyone that does not conform to atheist beliefs. Just as the stereotype of a Christian is an uptight, Bible-bashing bigot, atheists are steadily coming across as smug, arrogant dictators. Neither is particularly becoming, and the differences between the two extremes aren't really that different. I say again, tolerance is what the world needs, and Pullman shows none of this.
As well as this, there are some very basic mistakes, which come across as sloppy writing - something I thought I'd never, ever accuse Pullman of doing. Serafina is practically forgotten, and the plot thread concerning the arrow she prepares for Mrs Coulter comes to an empty conclusion. Huge amounts of time are given to preparing Asriel's army and the forces he controls, and yet we never hear the outcome of this physical battle. Lord Asriel's statement in book 1 about how he plans to destroy Dust now makes no sense, and Pullman is forced to pull a 360 and claim that Asriel was lying. Lyra claims that she overheard the witch-consul Lanselius comments on her role in the witch-prophesy. But in book 1 Pullman specifically states: "She must fulfil this destiny in ignorance of what she is doing." If she'd overheard this, then she wouldn't be in ignorance, and the prophecy negates itself. As well as this, Pullman tells us that the prophecy concerning Lyra's betrayal occurs when she leaves Pan behind when she crosses into the land of the dead. Not only do I fail to see how this was a betrayal (she had no choice!), but I thought the betrayal had occurred in book 1 when Lyra led Roger to his death. Because I thought it had already happened, my anticipation hadn't been building up for this `real' betrayal.
Then there's the matter of the Gallivespians. Although they are wonderful creations (miniature people with poisonous spurs on their heels) the two that accompany Will and Lyra have no real purpose. The altheiometer insists that they are needed, but on close inspection all they do is convince the harpies of a deal, and get Lyra angry enough to see her Death. In other words, they do squat, at least not enough that justifies their presence, and do nothing that Will and Lyra couldn't do themselves.
At the end of the day, "His Dark Materials" is essential reading, and I don't think any book has stimulated my mind as much as these. Despite some faults in this final book, and an infuriating sense of superiority in the narrator's voice, I have read the trilogy numerous times and enjoy it more each time. Thanks Philip Pullman for an unforgettable, intoxicating, extraordinary read - but I'm still not an atheist.
on November 20, 2000
His Dark Materials are wonderful. They have so much suspense, action, thrills, and adventure, you will never put them down. By the way, you have to buy the whole set or else they won't make any sense to you. The characters are great. The objects are great. The BOOKS are great! There are so many amazing ideas. There are fantasy creatures and fantasy places that are very cool. You will love them as much as I did.
on October 27, 2001
After finishing the 4th Harry Potter book I moped around for a few days lamenting the fact that the next installment isn't due for publication for quite some time. Luckily, a friend of mine suggested the Dark Materials series by Phillip Pullman. Five pages in to The Golden Compass I was hooked. With a "Potter like" fervor I ripped through the first book in two very long nights. After which I was useless at work, but just as satisfied as when I first discovered the work of J.K. Rowlings. A great read!
A note to parents: The world that Pullman conjurs is a bit darker than Harry Potter's. There is more violence and some very frightening situations. I'd say 11 and up would be a good age for these books.
on November 21, 2000
I loved "The Golden Compass." I was intrigued by "The Subtle Knife." And I tried to prepare myself to be a little disappointed by "The Amber Spyglass"-- trilogy conclusions are rarely as good as the first book. But I had hopes. The first two were so good....
This was nowhere near as good.
The various plot threads are all wrapped up, more or less. But the ending is forced. Other reviewers have pointed out the flat and inconsistent characterizations, the scattered plot, the valueless sub-threads (like Father Gomez). The useless spyglass. And even those who loved the book found the ending of the romance disappointing.
Ultimately, the book fails to deliver on the themes that were begun in "The Golden Compass," including one of the most important. Am I simply not getting it? How was Lyra's position anything comparable to Eve's? She finds love (with almost no character build up), she gives it up for the sake of the world(s). As other readers have noted, she's arguably a Christ character. But not much like Eve. Unless you count the temptation to sex (in a world with giant apple trees that contain the essence of sentience), and frankly, I don't think that was especially plausable. Eve, according to Judeo-Christian theology, succumbs to temptation (for knowledge, not sex) and gets everyone kicked out of Eden. I suppose Lyra resists temptation (to continue a relationship) to help everyone build a new Eden. But it's a tenuous connection at best, because the "only one window, not two" argument is so weak and last-minute, and she and Will can only affect one world each at best, with no way to travel between them. (And if Pullman wanted to redefine Eve to mean something else, a lot more work was needed.)
Aother of the great disappointments was the hesitant flirting with Wisdom. Evidently Pullman has come across feminist spirituality interpretations of gnostic gospels and eastern church references to a female Wisdom character (Sophia) who predates Yaweh (in some traditions). I kept waiting for him to develop this theme. Instead she (Xaphania, the only female angel) merely appears as a "Deus ex machina" and answers the kids' questions before sending them on home. I suppose Pullman realized he was getting too close to replacing a God with a Goddess, and backed down rather than give up his anti-theistic theme. I suppose that's forgivable, if all he wanted to do was write entertaining fiction. But if he wanted to actually make a point about theism, it's an act of cowardice.
Unlike most other reviewers who panned this book, I don't mind the anti-organized-religion slant. As a Quaker, I'm not much on organized religion myself. I didn't think the book is as inherently anti-Christian as some of the reviewers seemed to think, either. To my mind, Lucretia Mott had it right when she encouraged us to "doubt more, in order that we might believe more." Looking at other possible theologies can help us get at the root of what we really believe. But I think Pullman ran out of steam --or maybe even courage-- before he finished developing his ideas. This book needed at least one more major rewrite before publishing, to shake out the loose pieces and add the richness to the characters and themes that was so evident in his earlier books. Maybe Pullman was just too tired to do the necessary work. Or maybe the publisher was impatient. Or maybe Pullman himself started to lose faith in his anti-theism, and didn't have the courage to write details that would force him to acknowledge his dependency on divine powers in the story (Xaphenia, the angels, and most of all, Dust).
I gave it three stars, because it's worth reading, if you liked the first two, just to tie up the loose threads. But it's not on par with them.