Book the Fourth: His Dark Materials

Okay, not really book the fourth. More like book the fourth, fifth and sixth. His Dark Materials is a young adult sci-fi/fantasy trilogy consisting of The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, written by Phillip Pullman. I vaguely recall when these books came out there was some fuss or to-do about them. I couldn’t remember what, exactly. I recall very clearly, now, however.

The trilogy chronicles the adventures of an unusual young girl named Lyra and her discovery of a mystical particle referred to as Dust. She is accompanied on her journey by her daemon, Pantalaimon, and later joined by Will – a boy from our world. It is indeed a fantastic romp through multiple worlds, encountering fantastic peoples, complete with war, a trip to the land of the dead, nonhuman beings, polar bears and the forces of good and evil. It would take a novel to fully describe the plot. Pullman is a master of intrigue and suspense. His characters are beautifully and intricately outlined, and his fanciful other-worlds are utterly believable.

The book grapples with issues that commonly face young people entering their teen years: self-discovery, questioning authority, encountering your parents’ imperfections, romance, and development of one’s own personal philosophy.

I was, indeed, deeply disturbed by this book. Parts of it read more like an Atheist’s Manifesto than a children’s book. I am not a book banner or a book burner. I also do not believe in censorship. But I do believe that words and stories carry great power. The great power of these books lies in their seeming innocence as children’s novels and the craftiness of deceit.

I read a comparison once of how trying to navigate life without Christ as your compass is like trying to fly upside down. Reading these books was like trying to fly upside down. Pullman is very clearly making the statement that God is useless and might as well be dead (if He isn’t already). He’s also arguing that we are best left in our natural (sinful), un-religious state. He depicts a ruthless, evil, heartless Church full of inhumane experiments, murderers and plotters.  See what all the fuss and to-do was about?

In Pullman’s world, Church is evil, self is good. In my world, Christ is good, self is evil. In Pullman’s world, God is (or should be) dead. In my world, life is hopeless without God, who is fully and powerfully alive. In Pullman’s world the only good can come from self. In my world, self is the most evil thing that can be found.

Considering that Pullman’s paradigm stands mine on its head – I was utterly conflicted in this battle between “good” and “evil.” I couldn’t sort out good and evil – I was flying upside down.

I immensely enjoy the fast-paced narrative, the exceptional use of language and the inventiveness of the characters and other-worlds. I appreciated the opportunity to be challenged regarding my personal beliefs and personal philosophy.

Should you be afraid of this book? I don’t think we should ever fear differences of belief or philosophy, or learning about them. I also, however, would not permit my children (assuming I’ll one day have them) to read these books until I observed a maturity of Christian faith that would allow them to look deceit in the face and call it what it is. Christian parents, it is good for your children’s faith to be challenged and for them to be presented with other beliefs and world-views. Please be assured, however, that they are prepared to face those other beliefs by arming them with Truth.

So, I give the trilogy two-enthusiastic-thumbs-up for inventiveness, craft and skill. I also give the trilogy my certified seal of “Please Be Cautious with this Material.”

Up next – Tess of the D’Ubervilles

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