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The Dark Materials Trilogy
by Philip Pullman
Sam North reviews the first of the great apocalyptic trilogy
Is it all coming on us now, Will? We cant rely on anyone
else now, can we...Were too young...If poor Mr Scoresbys dead
and Iroeks old...Its all coming on to us, whats got
to be done.
From the Amber Spyglass
It isnt a secret, for last time I looked millions of copies of Northern
Lights have been sold in paperback and I am sure there are similar figures
for The Subtle Knife in paperback and if The Amber Spyglass isnt
selling by the boat load, then the world is truly upside down
and the devil is winning.
Philip Pullman is without doubt one of the finest authors working anywhere
in the world today. This is no exaggeration, no hyperbole. If you havent
heard of him or his books, or that he won the Guardian Childrens
Fiction Award , the Smarties Award of the Carnegie Medal, where have you been?
J.K. Rowling may have become the worlds favourite author and read
by children and adults in every language in the world, but for some reason,
the work of Philip Pullman has not been catapulted into the worlds
consciousness outside of the UK. We know of Harry Potter and his cute friends,
but of Lyra Silvertongue, Will Parry, King Iorek Byrnison, the cruel Mrs
Coulter and ambitious Lord Asriel they apparently know little.
When you begin a journey by reading the first of the trilogy, you are
alarmed, then in rapture, finally you have a copy of all three at home. I sincerely believe that every child
of ten or more should be so exposed to these fantastic tales and absolute
truths. Every adult would benefit from reading about Lyra, every hypocrisy
we hold so dear to our hearts, every religious belief we would question
and the realisation that we are all living a lie would be the only conclusion.
More than anything Id like to see the pope read it just before he
gets apoplexy from its conclusions.
Northern Lights is not just a challenge to the average reader (Quite how
anyone thought these were for children is beyond me). The very text is
controversial. Explain a world where the truth can be devined with the
use of the alethiometer, where everyone has a daemon - a visible soul
that takes the shape of an animal at will, where bears can speak, and
some, secretly, can travel between parallel worlds. A world where a vindictive
Church with a dedication that mirrors the worst of the Spanish Inquisition
seeks to slice the souls out of their own children, turn a whole generation
into zombies who will never challenge their authority.
Northern Lights is number one in the Dark Materials trilogy. It is obsessed
with truth, above all with Dust, an invisible enemy to the Church, a source
of enlightenment to others.
These books are so riveting, so necessary, so much about darkness, goodness
and evil, so not cute. The principal heroine Lyra is famous
for being a liar, her eventual friend Will, abandons his half crazed mother
to search for his explorer father who disapeared mysteriously. Lyras
own mother is a torturer, her father a disgraced grandee who seems bent
on challenging the very authority of God. Allies switch sides, trust is
freely traded, and it as normal to meet a witch as it is to meet an Angel
and in the skies fly Zeppelins and gyrocopters. It is one moment a late 18th
century England and the next our world, or another, populated by frightened
children afraid to grow up because when they come of age the ghosts will
suck out their souls.
If you say... well there is no way I am giving such a book to a child,
it will terrify them, you are right. But say, unlike letting them watch
videos of Hannibal Lecter or read Stephen King, which are petty
loveless exploitations of the worst of humanity, Northern Lights and the
sequels are a celebration of the richness of life, a fantastic illumination
on prejudice that is the heart of every religion, a harsh judgment on
humanity and the most uplifting, harrowing, inspiring literature that
has been written in decades. You dont have to sneer at talking armoured
bears, these are the most noble creatures you could hope to meet. You
will know they are right to shun the venal plans and plots of the human
race. You will recognise that if Philip Pullman had not written bear
but substitute Native American Indian and you would see that Pullman is
a deeply spiritual writer who has set out to inform, educate, elaborate.
He does not shy away from making the material a challenge, he does not
seek to substitute difficult words for easy ones, there is absolutely
nothing easy about this books, except this, once you start, you physically
cannot do anything else, you have to read it through, you have to continue,
you simply must buy the Subtle Knife and then the Amber Spyglass. Lyra
Silvertongue will enter your psyche, the characters will become part of
your dreams and your will pray that someone can afford to make them into
movies. *Since writing this is was made into a movie that had a spectacular look and feel but under the name The Golden Compass. It made around 180 million bucks but wasn't considered successful enough to continue the series. A real shame.
Buy Northern Lights now and
begin a journey that will stay with you a lifetime.
© Sam North 2001
about Amber Spyglass and Subtle Knife:
The idea of cutting from one world into the next with the world's sharpest
knife is quite unique. But this isn't as far fetched as you would think.
Imagine disappearing down a hole in a street in Birmingham and popping
up in a street in Kabul two years ago. A country where there was no singing,
no women allowed to be educated, working was frowned upon and the soccer
stadium used for weekly executions of people who didn't agree with an
oppressive system of government that was crushing the life out of a whole
people. The people who were cheering the murder of their fellow citizens
are still there.
This is one world, but you don't need a knife to peer into the horror
of the next. A jet or TV will do.
Pullman, through his
books, pulls us through these holes into other worlds, but he's also saying
that this world where we read his books in is full of parallel worlds,
if we care to look. And Lyra's father isn't crazy to want to argue with
God himself, because so much mayhem is loosed in the world in his name,
or the name of other gods. The madness that will soon engulf Iraq is entirely
stoppable, but the slaughter will begin, right about the time George Bush
needs votes in November. Cynical. I think not.
Sadly we lack talking
bears and angels to gather forces to stop tyrants and evil. But we have
words, and good words can connect with readers' eyes the world over. The
forces that gather for the final battle in Amber Spyglass are dramatic
and victory is by no means assured. What wins in the end is enough people
coming together with a common will and determination to beat back evil.
The Dark Materials are a window into our world, a knife that reveals
the stupidy of crass ambitions of many 'leaders'. His books speak to us
because aside from how beautifully they are crafted, they speak to our
subconcious. He opens up our hearts and minds and precious few books are
capable of that anymore.
Although many say, how sad it is we don't have daemons of our own, we
do. Children feel it stronger. You can get back your daemon, but it requires
strength, purity of thought and an admission that maybe you are not alone.
(Of course start talking to yourself on the Tube and people will lock
you up.) One of the reasons we look for a partner in life is because instinctively
we know we are not complete without another soul beside us. Not all of
us find the right daemon, some of just find demons, but if you are lucky
and choose well, that partner will be the one who understands your thoughts,
encourages you to be brave when you need to be and cautious too.
When Will and Lyra part, a little of yourself goes with them. You pray
they can find a way to meet again - somehow.
From a reader
Lyra and her Books Date : 16 Aug
I totally agree with your article on Lyra Silvertongue.I was always quite
an advanced reader, searching out hard adults books instead of the soppy
thin childrens books. I would read the old classics, then I discovered Harry
Potter. I loved the idea of children being heroes or heroines and mixed
with fantasy and adventure they were perfect. As I waited impatiently for
Harry Book number four I egan to read more books abbout fantasy. Then I
bought Northan Lights and was hooked. I was only ten but I understood it
all, the murder and evil didn't scare me just made me desperate for more.
Quizzing people at my school I found I was the only one to have read any
of the His Dark Materials series, however nearly seventy five percent of
the class had read Harry Potter the others had heard of him. I just want
to say that I found your article riveting and I loved the way you tackled
Bazzeria (my daemon)
Ed: Thanks Lisa. Good to hear from you and here's to hoping that Phillip
Pullman can find the strength to wrote more about Will and Lyra. I hope
so, it's all quite addictive.
From Tony: Jul 25 2002
People everywhere should raise their glasses in a toast to Phillip Pullman.
The books are sinisterly enjoyable, the different themes give it a certain
edge that makes it a imperative to complete. I am fourteen and began to
read them when I was about twelve, and I loved every part of it. Since after
the Subtle Knife, I always search for a strange portal in the air, or a
cat that disappears into thin air. The entire stories are about a battle
between good and evil, truth and lies, bravery and fear. Also since they
came out, I've been hoping there would be a movie about the books (let us
pray that it is never Disney who make it, and that it's George Lucas). Lyra
, Will Parr, Mrs Coulter and Lord Asriel are the some of the greatest characters
I've read about, and when supported by Iorek Byrnison and Serafina Pekkala
become even better. The only thing I have left to say is... Children, beware
Adults, beware the Spectres...! From, Tony Kelly, Glasgow
I have literally just read your article and am currently reading 'The Amber
Spyglass' and am on chapter 8. I am obsessed with the books. They are so
much better than Harry Potter although I really like them. I donšt understand
how so many people haven't heard of this trilogy by Philip Pullman. You
just simply can't get better than this! Phillip has so much depth and imagination
for these books. I found myself crying in The Subtle Knifeš when Mr. Scorsby
died. Pullman actually gets you imagining you're there in all the action
and how he does that is beyond my knowledge. Once you pick up the book you
just can't put it down. It's unbelievable. You end up feeling so much for
the characters themselves such as the unique Lyra Silvertongue and Will.Iorek
Byrnison and Mr. Scorsby. Serifina Pekkala and Roger. I don't understand
why this trilogy has not been made into a film. It would be amazing and
if it isn't done by the time I'm older I will do it myself. This is no childrenšs
book. Although I feel a mature 12 and over. The third book is confusing
at times I can imagine for younger readers but that wonšt put them off a
bit. I encourage everyone to read this book and I can assure you without
a doubt you will fall in love with it in 5 minutes of reading time. By Amy
Romer. age: 13
August 9th 2002
Sam Morris- email@example.com
This is one of my favourite books of all time and will remain so untill
the end of my days. I could never imagine being without a copy. This book
to me - as with everyone else who has written in from what I have read -
is like the bible to the pope, wings to an angel or armour to King Iorek
Byrnison (though I'm sure he'd kick just as much ass without it). Phillip
Pullman is an extremely talented writer and I have read all of his books
I have discovered to date. Many of my friends have read this trilogy and
those who haven't I have strongly advised it for what is life without Dust
and Lyra. I also believe that if a film is made to the same standard as
that of the book (just like Lord of the Rings) it would leave an abyss so
deep in the world of film making it will never be forgoten. But for now
I'm overly content with just the books. From Sam Morris, 16. August 13th
Thanks readers for sending in your notes. It is truly amazing how much Pullman's
novels mean to people. I met two strangers in a restaurant in Salt Spring
island - (An island off Victoria Island, British Columbia yesterday). It
was the perfect place to meet Pullman addicts. A restaurant built around
an old plum tree, the branches forming the roof. A girl asked me my favourite
book and naturally I said Northern Lights and the others and immediately
her eyes lit up. She had just read them and was keen to discuss them. Better
yet, a boat designer was sat in the corner and he'd read them all too and
was deeply affected by them. Three people - all strangers, sat under a plum
tree in the corner of the world united by one triology.
Dust spreads everywhere.
Sam - editor at Hacks.
author of Mean Tide