His Dark Materials (spoilers)

I just finished the His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman. (The books are: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass - at least in America. I believe they have different titles in England.)

I’m curious as to other peoples views on it. I don’t really want to taint the OP by immediately getting into my thoughts, but I will say that I found it very interesting that it’s being marketed as a series for children, a la Harry Potter. I felt that many of the themes in it were very mature, and the strong anti-religion tone to it would infuriate parents even more than Potter did.

Overall I enjoyed the series, although I felt the third book was pretty weak and the ending had some real problems, for me. I thought Lyra and Will were great characters, and I loved Iorek Byrnnson and Lee Scoresby. Mrs. Coulter was also a great villian. I wasn’t too impressed with Mary Malone as a character.

But before I get into any specifics, I’d like to hear other opinions on it.

I loved it, couldn’t put it down.

I think there is a lot that would go over children’s (and most adults’ including mine) heads, but that doesn’t necessarily prevent or even lessen enjoyment.

The anti-religion tone is just stunning compared to Rowling. The book basically rewrites God in a biblical way. The book openly denies the Christian god, making him almost the equivalent of Lucifer or something. I guess the only reason the extremist elements haven’t been burning this one is because it probably went over their heads! :wink:

More likely because it just hasn’t caught the hype of Harry, so less youngsters are reading it.

I agree that Mary Malone was a strange character. She seemed to shift - I think that I may be missing something that she was supposed to represent.

The first two books are stunning. The third book is pretty much ruined by Pullman’s decision to turn it into a screed against organized religion. All of the wonderful characterization of the first two books just evaporates in the third as Pullman treats Lyra and crew as pawns to be moved around on his cosmic chessboard. One of the most disappointing experiences I’ve had as a reader in a long time.

I was turned on to His Dark Materials when I was going through Harry Potter withdrawal. I couldn’t put them down. I enjoyed the darker aspect after Potter. His take on religion was very interesting and somewhat courageous considering his target audience.
Subsequently, I read his Sally Lockhart trilogy. An interesting series with a rare independent female protagonist in Victorian London. Enjoyable, but not as gripping as His Dark Materials.
Then, when I was going through Pullman withdrawal, I discovered Alan Dean Foster’s Journeys Of The Catechist trilogy.
An amazing odyssey. You constantly marvel at the author’s imagination.
Any suggestions now for Foster withdrawal?

You ran out of Alan Dean Foster books? Is that even possible?

I agree mostly with your assessment, Legomancer. First book was very good; the ending of the third was disappointing.

The cosmic chessboard comment from Pochacco is good too. If Pullman had stuck to dissing organized religion, or had stuck to physically-explainable worlds (I mean physically-explainable under the physical rules he establishes for his worlds–don’t mean that he has to limit him self to reality or anything) with no god, that would have worked. Instead we get this inversion of good and evil which is merely muddled instead of profound.

Also, the way the protagonists mature into a physical relationship is handled very unrealistically–it’s not how any teenager I know has ever behaved.

OKay, here goes.

  1. I felt that the defeat of Metatron was pretty weak. When it came down to it, I felt that angels got the shaft - they were only ever as powerful as they needed to be for a certain scene, and no more. When Coulter was in front of him we heard about how powerful and amazing he was, and then at the end he’s overpowered by two people in a wrestling match? This just didn’t jibe with me. We were told what a threat he was, and yet this takes him down?

  2. The whole war I felt was shaky. I never fully understood what Asriel was trying to do (other than kill the Authority) and how he planned to do it, and what (if anything) he accomplished. We built up to the war for some time, and then when we finally got to it, not much was happening that made any sense, and once Will and Lyra leave it, no one talks about it at all.

  3. The thing with only leaving one door open at the end was silly, I thought. Why the exact number one? I don’t see why you could leave one open and not two, assuming you could leave one open.

  4. I don’t understand the big temptation that Mary Malone represented. I guess it was her story of love and lost love, but they didn’t even talk or think about that when they were together, their relationship hinged on what they’d been through together, with or without Mary. So I didn’t see why she was important. Course I’m biased because I thought she was a really dull character.

  5. I hated the part at the end where Pullman realized there were some unanswered questions, so he had the daemons just know them. “Okay, here’s what’s going on, and here’s what the shadows are, and here’s what this is.” “How do you know this?” “Oh, the angels told us.” Yeah okay, whatever.

  6. I felt it was kind of cheap that we took the aleithiometer away from Lyra. After all she’d been through, she couldn’t even keep that, she just gets to go to boarding school? I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was kind of frowning at “Thanks for saving the universe and everything, now you can’t have the compass or Will or any kind of family. Go learn how to do what you already knew. Oh, and teach people how to be kind and good or else we’re taking away the other portal you made.”

  7. Finally, I found myself scratching my head as to what was accomplished. The big problem seemed to be Dust leaving the worlds, yet that was solved by closing the doors, which the angels apparently already KNEW needed to be done, they just didn’t know how to do it. I can’t tell what Asriel accomplished, what the defeat of Metatron accomplished, or anything. We’re told at the end that the church lost some power in Lyra’s world, but is that it?

I guess I was just expecting a tighter ending than I got. I didn’t think everything would turn out chocolate and roses, but I also wasn’t expecting it to all be crap as well for them. Honestly, if I were Lyra, going back to the world run by the evil church that wants to kill me wouldn’t be more appealing than dying young with Will, but I understand that she realizes she has work to do in that world, yadda yadda.

I admit that towards the end I wasn’t reading as carefully as I should have. To be honest, I found the last book to be kind of tedious and was ready to be done with it. I felt the first one was really intriguing, the second brought in some interesting elements, and the third one was just kind of eh.

It bugged me that the aleithiometer wasn’t used much more by Lyra. Particularly in the first book. I’d have been asking that thing questions constantly.

I liked the first book very much (and I can’t figure why/if they’re pitching this to kids-- Calvinism, anabaric currents and Muscovites? Seems like a steep learning curve). I got less and less interested as the second two books went on, though. The world he crafted in the first was fun because it was close and I thought about sort of alternate history possibilities. The religion slant, though (I didn’t see it as anti-religious but then again my beliefs are very free-form) was not only sort of shoehorned in but, um, a bit pat. “Oh, God”, I think, “Eve? Jesus, I see where this is going. Sigh.” And WAAY above kids’ heads. Is this series really marketed at kids or at loser 30 year olds who liked HP?
Greenland with armored polar bears, dirigibles and electric-powered lantern projectors? Cool. Angels, pubescent devotion and sacrifice, multiple universes and the Land of the Dead? Whatever. The best aspects of the first book just get thrown out the window, especialy before the third. It’s like the best parts of Caleb Carr get waylaid by the worst aspects of vague fantasy writing.

I’m only halfway through the second book, and to be honest, that’s as far as I’m ever going to get. The books bored the heck out of me. I tried to like them since so many people insisted that they’re wonderful, but the style of writing…ick. Some writers have a style of writing that annoys me but is worth reading the story anyway (I’m thinking of the Dune series and The Mayfair chronicles) but these stories…aren’t worth the effort of wading through. My apologies to people who like them, if I’ve offended.

I really enjoyed all three books. Pullman comes off a little like the anti-C.S. Lewis to me. I’m a big history geek and loved the way he would throw in off-hand references to Pope John Calvin or Skraelings or the Republic of Texas. And I want a daemon!

I have to agree with everyone who’s written that these are not kids’ books. However, it’s so rare to have a book for grown-ups in which the main characters are children that I’m guessing Pullman’s publishers didn’t know how else to market His Dark Materials.

I really dug the Sally Lockhart trilogy when I was in junior high, but I re-read them recently and found that Sally annoyed the hell out of me.

Lego briefly touched on one of my big objections: it’s not just that Lyra wasn’t allowed to use the aleithiometer very much, it’s that in the first book, she was a strong young female lead. She was a refreshing change from the Judy Blume snivelling whiners and could have easily stood alongside Lucy Penviese(sp, and boy! would Pullman would hate that comparison :D…he’s fairly psychotic about the Narnia books), Dorothy Gale, Laura Ingles Wilder (yeah, she was real…so?) but apparently she was such a strong character that he had to wimp her out for books two and three. The Lyra of the later books is nothing like the gutsy, exciting character of the first one. There’s a moment in book 2 where she tells Will “You just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it!” or words to that effect. I think Pullman was trying to show that she’d matured enough to listen to others, but it didn’t work. She just seemed to be a fairly dim sidekick.

By the middle of the third book, I uttered The Eight Deadly Words*, skimmed the ending and don’t intend to reread 'em.


*The Eight Deadly Words: “I don’t care what happens to these characters.”

And, like LOTR, the fate of the world{s} is ultimately resolved by a punch-up on the brink of a precipice: I began a thread on this earlier, but sorry, I have no idea how to link it.