His Dark Materials By Philip Pullman – A Retrospective

by Tito W. James

His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman is releasing a new trilogy of novels set in his retro-futuristic fantasy world. The first novel in the new series The Book of Dust will hit store shelves October 19th. Having read the original trilogy recently I wanted to do a recap review of the books and the film for those who might be interested in Pullman’s new novel.
In a world where human souls exist outside their bodies as animal companions (daemons) a girl named Lyra is sent on an expedition to the north pole to save her uncle, Lord Asriel, who is held captive by a race of armored polar bears. Lyra must learn how to divine the truth from a golden compass while being pursued by Ms. Coulter who represents an oppressive religious authority known as the Magisterium.

The trilogy explores the idea of parallel universes. The Golden Compass  takes place in an alternate history world with fantasy elements. The Subtle Knife is about characters from the first novel crossing into “our” world and exploring a limbo between worlds. The Amber Spyglass culminates with characters from across the multiverse banding together overthrow an oppressive god.
The Golden Compass Film has solid acting, cool special effects, and makes for an enjoyable adventure. However, enough material was exorcised that it’s worth reading the book. Let me put it this way, the film was rated PG 13 but the novels should be rated R.
Pullman created an original fantasy Multiverse of angels, daemons, and steampunk gadgets that can be read by both children and adults. The sex and violence are handled with maturity and the religious satire adds a layer of depth to what could easily have been a fight between Good and Evil.

I felt that The Golden Compass was the strongest book in the series with great characters and ended on a steep cliffhanger that never gets resolved in the last two books. The first story is about Lyra saving Lord Asriel and fighting Ms. Coulter but Lyra has little facetime with these characters in the coming books despite their clear importance to the plot. In The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass Pullman just keeps adding new characters and concepts instead of thoroughly exploring the world and plot that was built in The Golden Compass.
Pullman also has this nasty writer’s tick of ending chapters with characters falling asleep and beginning chapter with characters getting shaken awake. Lyra even spends the first quarter of the third novel under a sleeping spell.
The saving grace of the series is the frightening and sexy Ms. Coulter. Pullman clearly enjoys writing her and he’s good at it. Despite my gripes with the series I’d still recommend His Dark Materials and I eagerly await the chance to enter Pullman’s fantasy world again in The Book of Dust.

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