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His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman
A true classic - darker and more complex than Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter
ARTICLE INFOFor the past two and a half days, I've read the 1200+ page long trilogy of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy; a trilogy aimed at children, although you'd hardly be able to tell it. In an interview, Pullman describes the trilogy most accurately, I think - it's not your typical orcs and elves fantasy, but stark realism.
His Dark Materials - A Second Opinion.
added 2001 august 21 by Rik
His Dark Materials is a story set in three parallel universes out of an infinite number, and tells the tale of a boy and a girl who ultimately are fighting to destroy religion (although they don't know it). Pullman is perhaps the first children's author with the guts to be anti-Christian, and it's startling that he hasn't received the full force of fury from the countless tabloids in the UK - but it's only a matter of time. The Christian Herald has already proclaimed that the trilogy is "truly the stuff of nightmares. Huzzah for Pullman!
Yes, I can hear you thinking that, 'If it's a children's book, that's very nice but I have some perfectly good grown up books to read, so I'll be shutting off my brain now.'
Pullman's trilogy might be aimed at adults, but I certainly don't pretend to understand all of it. The first novel, Northern Lights, is fairly straightforward with only one point of view. That's not saying it's a simple book; readers will be able to appreciate the little references to quantum mechanics, probability theory, the many-worlds hypothesis and high energy physics that he manages to weave in (I certainly did) - naturally they're not essential to understand the novel, but they do make it more appealing to older readers.
The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass explode into an orgy of complex theological debate while introducing more interesting facts such as the nature of consciousness and entangled particles, as well as a short section on evolution. I'm told that there are countless referencess to Blake, Paradise Lost and more - not that I would know.
To be balanced, Pullman does paint a rather dark view of Christianity, which has attracted the attention of several critics, but frankly I don't see anyone complaining about the tens of thousands of children's books that continually extol the virtue of being a Good Christian. Pullman earns my respect for writing this trilogy, even if he is as an evangelical atheist as Dawkins. And of course he's not entirely critical of Christianity (although you'll have to wait to get to the last book to pick up on that).
Naturally, comparisons are going to be made with the Harry Potter novels. Since I haven't read them, I'm not prepared to judge but I probably will pick them up from a library or a friend sooner or later, although I'm worried that I'll be extremely biased against them. It's very hard for me to take Harry Potter seriously, what with all the cuddly-sounding names like Mugwumps or nonsense like that. Of course they're good novels, or else they wouldn't sell so well, but I sorely doubt that they're as ground-breaking or thought-provoking as His Dark Materials (perhaps I will be proved wrong - and if I am, that's good, because it means there are four more excellent novels for me to read). At a Salon Table Talk discussion on Harry Potter, someone remarked:
"...It's sort of the difference between a gourmet meal (Pullman) and a good hamburger and fries (Potter). I guess lately I haven't been in the mood for hamburger.
My sentiments exactly.
I mentioned on the Culture discussion list that His Dark Materials has been sadly overlooked not only because it's a 'kids book' but also because many would think that it simply isn't suitable for kids. Leaving apart all criticisms of the anti-religion stance taken in the trilogy, there are some particularly bloody scenes and mature events going on (but no sex, if that's what you're worried about). I would have been overjoyed to read this trilogy when I was younger, when it might have made more of an impact on me, and I would have no qualms in recommending to any interested 11+ year old. They might be kids, but they're human beings, for god's sake, and they have to grow up sometime and learn about the world. Better they do it with a good book rather than from the television or their equally mis-informed peer-group.
(I'm not excluding films because the rights to His Dark Materials have already been bought. Let's hope they do a good job. I wonder what rating it'll get...)
Finally, I have to include this wonderful (and luckily very atypical) quote I read at Amazon's reader reviews of the final book (The Amber Spyglass):
"Sad to say, The Amber Spyglass is spoiled by its didacticism, which seeks to convince the audience that Christianity is evil. Those looking for confimation of a nihilistic and narcissistic approach to life will find much to revel in, but those who have experienced the ineffable joy of God's love will find nothing here except an ego in spiritual arrest.
People who know me will be in no doubt as to my reaction to that sort of opinion.