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Review of the His Dark Materials trilogy

Originally published in June and July 2004, in 7 parts
Book 23 in my first 52 books challenge.

Entry 1:
Title: The Golden Compass
Alternative (British) title: Northern Lights
Author: Philip Pullman
Year published: 1995
Genre: Fantasy, children’s
Where got: Public library

I've wanted to read this book for a long time, but not enough to buy it (I may change my mind after reading it). Finally found a copy when I went exploring the suburban branches of the Reykjavik city library. I'm looking forward to start reading it.

Entry 2:
Reading progress:
I'm about halfway into The Golden Compass and it's great. A captivating story, and yet not so much that I feel I need to read it all in one sitting. Much better written and plotted than the last two Harry Potters, and although it is supposed to be a story for children/teenagers, it's still enjoyable for adults.

Entry 3:

Finished the book – what a great story. I was completely hooked once I got to part two.

The Story:
Lyra, a young girl, has grown up pretty much wild in Jordan College, Oxford. This Oxford is located in an alternate reality world that is in some ways like our own, and in some ways vastly different. Like people have dæmons, creatures that are like projections of their master’s soul, are inseperable from them and die with them. When “Gobblers” begin to steal children and take Lyra’s friend Roger, she desperately wants to do something about it. When a gang of “gyptians” (like gypsies in our world) decide they want to go and find the children and free them (having lost many of their own to the Gobblers), Lyra goes with them to the Arctic region to help out. After adventures involving Tartars, an armoured bear, witches and scientists, she ends up on another quest that will take her on to even greater adventures, for she has a Destiny she is unaware of.

Technique and plot:
I think I will wait to discuss this until I have read the whole story – two more books: The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.

This is quite a good book, wonderful storytelling, both for children and adults, but I will not give it any stars yet. I will rate all three books together as a whole.

Entry 4:

Title:The Subtle Knife
Author: Philip Pullman
Year published: 1997
Genre: Fantasy, children’s
Where got: Public library

Managed to get both parts two and three from the library. Have already finished this one, and I don’t think that once I start I’ll be able to stop reading part three until I’m finished.

The Story:
After tragically losing her best friend and walking from her world into another one that is full of children but no adults, Lyra has found another friend, Will, who comes from our world. He has a destiny of some sort waiting for him just as she has. The golden compass has told Lyra that she must help Will find his father. A man steals the compass and sends Lyra out to find the Subtle Knife, which he says he will exchange the compass for. The two children set out to search for it and find it in the world where they first met. The knife chooses Will as its bearer. It can cut through the fabric of reality and open windows into other world, and this the children put to good use when they realize that the man isn’t going to return the compass. After reacquiring the compass, they set out to find Will’s father, hunted by both friendly and unfriendly forces. It’s a matter of touch and go, which will catch up with them first. Lyra’s destiny is revealed to the readers and to the children’s enemies, but the children are unaware of it, although they know that it is something to do with Lyra’s father and the war he is planning to wage on The Authority (God). Will’s destiny is tied to the knife.

Ends with a cliffhanger…I’m looking forward to see what happens next.

Entry 5:
Title:The Amber Spyglass
Author: Philip Pullman
Year published: 2000
Genre: Fantasy, children’s
Subgenres: Alternate realities, parable
Where got: Public library

SPOILERS ahead. If you don’t want to know how the story ends, DON’T READ ANY FURTHER!

The story:
The conclusion to the trilogy. The story is really much too complex to summarize in a few sentences, but I’ll try anyway.

At the beginning of the story, Lyra is in the power of her mother who has suddenly been filled with a desperate need to keep her safe. This she does by hiding in cave in the Himalayas and keeping Lyra asleep so she can’t run away. It’s up to Will and some unexpected companions to save her. Meanwhile, everything is set for war between the forces of Lord Asriel (Lyra’s father) and those of the Regent – an angel who rules in the name of The Authority. Mary Malone, a scientist Lyra met briefly in Will’s world, has learned that she has a role to play and sets out to find Lyra. Lyra and Will set out to find the world of the dead and end up setting free the spirits of the dead. In the process they lose contact with their dæmons, and it takes a long time for them to find them again, but when they do, they are in a world where Mary Malone is waiting for them, ready to play the part of the snake to Lyra’s Eve and fulfill the witches’s prophesy…

Entry 6:

His Dark Materials trilogy – Review:






Technique and plot: All three books.
Although published as a trilogy, His Dark Materials is one epic story, a brilliantly written extended religious metaphor, a sort of Pilgrim’s Progress from Innocence to Experience. It starts out innocuously, like a snowflake, with wild-child Lyra going off to the Arctic to rescue her best friend, and ends like an avalanche, with the the death of The Authority (the Church, or perhaps God as the Church sees him/her/it) and the fall of Eve as replayed by Lyra and Will. A lot of work and imagination has obviously gone into this book, and I’m sure it will be seen as Pullman’s greatest work for years and perhaps decades to come.

I loved the first two books, but found the third too long and uneven – the story could have been told in fewer words. It was melodramatic in places, and the continuity suffered because there were so many different viewpoints that were being explored. It never held my attention for more than a few chapters at a time, whereas I read books one and two through with only a few short breaks. The third book definitely didn’t live up to my expectations. All in all, I liked the story, but volume three could have done with some pruning.

A sometimes delightful and gripping, sometimes melodramatic and overdone fantasy adventure. 4+ stars.

Entry 7:
His Dark Materials links:

Here’a bunch of links to websites about the His Dark Materials trilogy:
Pullman’s official website
Annotations for all three books (includes excerpts)


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