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21 April 2010

Book Review: His Dark Materials Trilogy

His Dark Materials Trilogy (The Golden Compass; The Subtle Knife; The Amber Spyglass)
by Philip Pullman 

I read these first in 2005, I guess, when I had just finished a Harry Potter and was in withdrawal. I liked them. A lot. When I would think back on them and recommend them to friends, I would always say they were fresh and offered an original perspective on things.

Then the movie came out and in conversations, I realized I didn't remember any detail. At all. Nor did I remember any of the great "truths."

So I read them again.

I still liked them. But I found them a little over-reaching this time. The first,
The Golden Compass, is a little gem of perfection because it doesn't work that hard. It sets up a world and then assumes that you know about it. Doesn't explain much; just lets you absorb the world and absorb meaning by inference. Like "anbaric" as a form of energy and light. Pullman doesn't explain it. So the reader has to infer by context. It was like being 12 again and running into words like "ethereal." Defining by context is a fun game that I should play more often when I read, even when the words are readily available in my handy dictionary.

Anyhow, the sequel,
The Subtle Knife, introduces the next step in the ever evolving, ever complexly-intertwining story. It is a highly readable and entertaining book in which questions from the first book are answered but more questions arise. It introduces a new main character.

The comes
The Amber Spyglass. And the thing unravels a bit. There is too much. Too ambitious. Too many storylines, too many characters, too many assumptions of righteous correctness. Too blatantly preachy in parts.

And, for the most part, I agree with Pullman. The world isn't a nice place and the church can be, and has been, a huge part of past pain and persecution. But he gets a bit heavy handed. And convoluted.

But those nuggets of wisdom buried in the tapestry are still powerful. That evil and good don't describe who people are but what people do. That the world will never get better unless we all try to impart wisdom and kindness and patience and build the Republic of Heaven where we are, because "there is no elsewhere."

Regardless of what you believe spiritually, that is good advice to live by; be kind, be cheerful, be patient, work hard. 

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