His Dark Materials is one of the most successful series of books in the modern era in Britain. It was number three on The Big Read 2003 and to be liked by the public is no mean feat. However, Pullman only gets credit for the one book, even though Materials is a series of three books. J.K Rowling is credited with 4 of the Harry Potter books for some bizarre reason.
Anyway, 2003 public accolades aside, I received Northern Lights as a Christmas present a few years ago and charged through the book and felt compelled to finished the series a lot quicker than I normally would (I’m still working on Sword of Shadows despite reading the first book in 2009).
I enjoyed the first book a lot despite some choice narration which seems really out of place. On page 120 there is a description of a guy called Farder Coram smiling that goes like this: ‘Farder Coram’s smile was a hesitant, rich, complicated expression that trembled across his face like sunlight chasing shadows on a windy March day.’ What the hell does that even mean? Especially when it’s next to John Faa’s smile which is, ‘slow, warm, plain and kindly.’ And overkilled with adjectives. But Pullman wasn’t going to write that was he? Compare to rest of the book, in terms of tone and style, this little section lifts right out. I didn’t just glance over it either so whatever it’s meant to do, it certainly does something.
Whereas on the whole, the trilogy was exceptional, there was one continual irritant throughout – Lyra Belacqua, the story’s main protagonist.
Never has a character, when surrounded by a magnificent story, Made me want to tear a book into shreds just to be rid of her. She is spoilt, selfish and annoying throughout to the point where it made my head hurt. I found it impossible to relate to her.
I much preferred Will Parry who appears in the second book, The Subtle Knife. He is well-constructed, edgy and has an air of misfortune about him that I found easy to relate to.
Where Northern Lights and The Subtle Knife are both great books, Pullman then has the problem faced by many authors – finishing a masterpiece. The Amber Spyglass, bringing the trilogy to a total of 1,271 pages, does... an okay job. I’m going down the middle here as I liked how it panned out but there were a few things I didn’t agree with.
The first thing was when a dude called Metatron turned up. I honestly though Lyra has wondered into an alternate reality when Megatron destroyed Optimus Prime and had some kind of robot child spinoff that was worshipped by angels. However, I then did a little research and found out that Metatron is actually some kind of sort of Jewish head angel thing. He is mentioned in a few brief passages in The Talmud, a central text of Judaism. This is really obscure especially as the main focus of the evil in the book is Christianity. Whereas Metatron is a legitimate name from religious mythology, Pullman could have picked something a bit more fitting his subject.
I also didn’t like the whole, ‘religion is evil’ undertone throughout. I know it’s meant to be the whole point of the story but Spyglass takes it a little far at times and Pullman certainly won’t be making friends with the church of England any time soon.
However, the outstanding award for shittiness, still goes to Lyra for being the worst protagonist at the centre of a magnificent story. It’s like finding a long black curly hair sticking out of a hot chocolate fudge slice (served with cream and ice cream).
On the plus side, her daemon has taken on a permanent form of a human – he is now the reserve goal keeper for Manchester City. And French. Who knew?
His Dark Materials bibliography:
- Northern Lights by Philip Pullman was published by Scholastic UK Ltd in 1995. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)
- The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman was published by Scholastic UK Ltd in 1997. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)
- The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman was published by Scholastic UK Ltd in 2000. RRP £7.99 (Paperback)