In 2003, when the BBC had a poll to decide Britain’s favourite book, His Dark Materials came third after Lord of the Rings and Pride and Prejudice. I was 14 when I first read the series, and when I re-read it twelve years later, I found that the book still had the same hold over me. I remember finishing the last page of the trilogy, closing the book and feeling sad and fulfilled at the same time. Sad for the sacrifice the characters make, fulfilled because I had never read an ending that was so complete and so beautiful.
His Dark Materials trilogy is made up the books Northern Lights, Subtle Knife and Amber Spyglass. The heart of the series is the story of a boy and girl and how they are destined to save the fate of mankind, in a universe where heaven is in chaos, and the worlds are controlled by sinister dogmatic institutions.
The series explores the concepts of parallel worlds, the after-life, science, love and faith. In the books, we meet talking animals, witches, God, angels and deamons. Inspired my Milton’s Paradise Lost, Pullman looks at original sin from a different perspective. Using the story of Lyra and Will, the books challenge long held concepts of religion and the role of religious institutions. While both Lyra and Will are from different worlds; Will from ours, and Lyra from a very steam punk fantasy version of ours; they are both plagued by people in power who are using tradition and religion to control people’s lives. While the protagonists are both children, the content is quite mature and has attracted a largely adult audience.
I remember reading the epilogue of the seventh Harry Potter book and feeling that JK Rowling could have written a better ending. While I adore Rowling, and will write another post dedicated to why she should be Queen, Pullman got it right where endings are concerned. It is a book that you need to read yourself, to fully understand. Pullman’s imagination has no boundaries, and every chapter will take you somewhere new, test your ideals, or blow your mind away with magic. No movie, book review, or third person narrative will give it justice. So go out there and buy yourself a copy. You can keep it for your future children to read.