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If anyone asks me for my favourite book, His Dark Materials, always leaps to mind. I first read trilogy about five years ago and it has stuck with me ever since.
You may recognise them better as individual titles. The first in the trilogy is Northern Lights (known in America as The Golden Compass). The second book is The Subtle Knife, then lastly, book three is The Amber Spyglass. Containing themes such as good and evil, ideas of faith, religion and ideology. I went through emotions of love, family, companionship right through to loss and death...these books really have something for everyone.
I love these books for so many reasons. The first book, Northern Lights pretty much starts off as a book aimed at the younger end of the Young Adult readership market, as the story at that stage is relatively straight forward. Then as soon as I got sucked into the books (which for me, happened very quickly), without realising it, the books started to develop into a story of epic proportions, especially as we go through Book2 and into Book3.
Very often, whilst reading, I've thought to myself, "wow that's so clever", or "I really like what Pullman has done with the story at that bit" but then as I got onto the 3rd book, my mind was blown! I was marveled at Pullman's ability to grab an audience and take them through so many ideas and themes. You might be familiar with Philip Pullman's other books? He is a British author and a CBE, from Norwich and has bee listed in the "Top50 list of authors since 1945" by The Times newspaper.
It's like Pullman has a clear message for the world, but knew the only way to do it, would be through his story and characters. He lets us go on a journey with them for the first half of the trilogy, then when we get towards the end of this epic tale - what the characters go through really speaks to us as humans, and lets us examine our perceptions of the world and the ideas we hold. For a book to do that, I believe is very special indeed.
So what are they about? Here's a very brief outline, but don't worry, no spoilers here:
We meet Lyra, an eleven year old girl, who lives with the scholars at Jordan college, amongst the colleges of Oxford. She doesn't have many friends, her trusted companion is her Daemon, Pan. Lyra doesn't live in our world, although it is very similar and has lots of parallels. One of the key differences are the Daemons; they are animals that are the embodiment of a human soul, this means that of course, they go everywhere with their human and can not be split apart. If you are male, your Daemon is a girl, if you are a girl, your daemon will be a boy. When you are young, your daemon can change into whatever creature it wants, but during puberty, it locks into one animal.
Lyra has another friend, Roger, a gyptian, who gets kidnapped by the Gobblers. This triggers a chain of events with vast proportions, what follows is an epic battle with the Polar Bears of Svalbard - which intertwines beautifully with a storyline about her devoted uncle, Lord Asriel as he begins his mission to find Dust, so he and his team head out for the Northern Lights. What's the connection between Dust and the Gobblers? How will Lyra find her friend? Who is Mrs.Coulter, and why is she do interested in Lyra? What is an Aliethometer and how does Lyra make it move?
A continuation of the first book, we learn of Lyra and the peril she in. She's gone too far and got too involved with the mystery of Mrs.Coulter. We meet Will, from our universe, who lives in the Oxford we know today. He finds a special knife and once harnassing its power, meets Lyra. But who is at the heart of the evil? Lord Asriel? Mrs.Coulter? The Gobblers? The Daemons? Iorek Bernerson, the reigning Polar Bear king? The Sky Witches? The Dust?
Is Lyra left for dead, and can Will get to her in time? As Lyra and Will jump from universe to universe, they discover something incredibly significant about Dust and why it needs to be saved. But what is the significance of the amber from another universe, and their Dust? Their journey takes them to clutches of hell and the gates of heaven.
An Amazon reviewer said: In concluding the spellbinding His Dark Materials trilogy, Pullman produces what may well be the most controversial children's book of recent years. The witch Serafina Pekkala, quoting an angel, sums up the central theme: "All the history of human life has been a struggle between wisdom and stupidity. The rebel angels, the followers of wisdom, have always tried to open minds; the Authority and his churches have always tried to keep them closed."
I think young boys would particularly like this series - as they can look up the male protagonist, Will. I used to work in a bookshop and was there for the release of the 3rd book, The Amber Spyglass, by that time I hadn't read them, but the MASSIVE queues of people buying it pricked my interest, especially as most if the queue was young folk, in particularly boys with their parents. Knowing that reading levels of boys is not as high as it should be - this pleased me. It reminded me of the hype of a Harry Potter release. Having said that, I think this book series will appeal to everyone, although yes, His Dark Materials are aimed towards the Young Adult market, but were written for no age group in particular.
I feel very connected to the books, perhaps because I live in Oxford, where the book is set. Pullman's descriptions are so evocative and so real. I can't help falling in love with the books every time I read them. They really are excellent!
There's a gorgeous moment at the end of the series, that is set in the Oxford Botanical gardens, and as you may know, you can actually visit it in real life... and yes, I went to the gardens to visit specifically because I had read the trilogy! You'll understand what I mean, and why this is so significant, once you read them.
Thanks for reading
© MarcoG 2012