His Dark Materials trilogy, by Phillip Pullman

This trilogy stands apart in terms of the eschatological impact of the world Pullman has created.  Purportedly written in negative response to the blatant Christian message of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series, Pullman has created a world in which God is not the creator of the universe, but merely another player in the vast design of existence.  Parallel worlds are broken off at historically important moments (rather like in Diana Wynne Jones’s Chrestomanci series), and passage between worlds is rendered possible by use of the Subtle Knife of the second book.  These “windows” between worlds have a number of unforeseen ramifications—both physical and eschatological—which drive the plot towards its powerful and inevitable dénouement.

Pullman-CompassThe Golden Compass (1995 as Northern Lights)

—This novel can stand alone, although it does introduce some not-quite-fully answered questions.  Lyra, the protagonist, learns part of her real identity as she tries to protect those she cares for.  In Lyra’s world, as in ours, there is no simple division between black and white, right and wrong, and sometimes trying to help others leads ultimately to their betrayal.  The plot revolves around the discovery of “Dust,” mystical matter that attaches to sentient beings and all things created by them… Lyra’s “uncle,” the enigmatic and powerful Mrs. Coulter, and a number of politically powerful Church organizations all battle to control the acquisition of knowledge, which is ultimately power and control… The multiple factions all know that Lyra plays a significant role in their discoveries and their future, but knowledge of exactly how comes piecemeal and slowly.

Pullman-KinfeThe Subtle Knife (1997)

—In which we are introduced to Will, who stumbles through a window into another world when trying to discover who is hunting his mother, where his father disappeared to ten years previously, and why… Will and Lyra’s paths cross, and they learn, as we do, a little more of their roles in the progress of history… and the real identities of some of the players.  Will, like Lyra, has a significant role to play, roles which neither of them fully understand.

Pullman-SpyglassThe Amber Spyglass (2000)

—In which Lyra and Will are pitted against time and those who wish to destroy Dust forever.  Pullman develops a Biblical analogy to the Garden of Eden, with Will and Adam, Lyra as Eve, and a scientist from Oxford on our (Will’s) world as the Serpent (temptation).  I am not sure this analogy works fully, but her conclusion of the series is well structured and satisfying.  No holes are left in the plot for logic to slip through.

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2 comments on “His Dark Materials trilogy, by Phillip Pullman

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