Saturday, February 2, 2008

Live-Blogging His Dark Materials

When my poor foot went under the knife, a friend loaned me the Philip Pullman His Dark Materials trilogy, as a recuperation present. 900 pages guaranteed to keep me off my feet, as it were.

For whatever reason, I missed Dark Materials the first time the books were published (1995-2000), which puzzles me. I can only assume that it was because this "atheist fantasy trilogy" never made it to my Midwestern hometown school library. Certainly I read every fantasy book on the local shelves, including The Prydain Chronicles (loved), The Dark is Rising (hated), and the Enchanted Forest books (the first in the series is possibly the best fantasy parody ever).

Anyway. I just finished Golden Compass (in one long stretch) and am going to drop a few responses. Here be spoilers, obviously.

* I can't take Lord Asriel seriously because of his name. Poor guy. Yes, he was originally named after the Angel of Death (and the name also shows up in Madeline L'Engle's Many Waters as one of the seraphim), but whenever I hear the name I am prompted, however unfortunately, to think of Lord Asriel Abyss.

* What prompted Roger to accompany Lyra in the last chapters? Pullman never says. Chapter 20 ends with Lyra telling Iorek that she is going to find Lord Asriel, and Chapter 21 begins with Roger riding along beside her. Because of the plot twist at the ending, I feel like we missed a scene where Lyra invites Roger, or Lyra decides she needs Roger with her, or Roger begs to come and Lyra finally relents.

* The story contains a lot of familiar tropes (Lyra's an orphan who turns out to be of noble blood, etc.), but what makes it stand out are the philosophies woven through the book. I think I'm probably the fifteen-gazillionth reviewer to make that comment. I'm very interested to see where Pullman goes with this Dust idea, particularly as I already know (thank you, Salon) that the series ends with... well, I won't be like Salon's movie review and spoil it for you.

* I can't help reading the fixing of the daemon in adulthood as a metaphor for "the end of possibility." Thank you, quarterlife crisis.

* On that matter, although I know from another movie review (which I'm not going to take the time to look up) that Pullman, unlike C. S. Lewis, is pro-maturity and pro-sex, I find it a little troubling that all of the adults presented in Golden Compass are tragically flawed. Grow up, kids. Embrace the Dust. So you can turn into... an unctuous Scholar? a crabby Gyptian? Mrs. Coulter?

* Had to laugh that the biggest villain in the book (so far) is called Mrs. Coulter.

* Loved the chapters where the bears wanted daemons. I think by the time I finish this trilogy I'm going to want a daemon.

* After finishing the book and then going to YouTube to watch the movie trailer, I was surprised (and disappointed) to hear Lyra's name pronounced "Lyra" instead of "Lira." Since Lyra spends most of the book lying her way out of things, this suggests that Pullman's naming creativity is on par with J. K. Rowling's (who named a future werewolf "Remus Lupin," and then expected us to be surprised when he started baying at the moon). It also suggests that Lord Asriel will probably turn out to be the Angel of Death, after all.

* I was also surprised to see the daemons presented as solid creatures. I had imagined them to be slightly transparent, airy, ethereal. Having the soul of a cat running alongside you is not the same as having an actual cat, after all.

* And on that note, what a great book to read while snuggled next to a kitty. Every time Pantalaimon got some cuddling, Miri did too. ^__^

* Oh, and if this is one of those books where, at the end, Pantalaimon turns into his final form but the narrator coyly doesn't tell us what it is, I'm going to throw all 900 pages across the room.

On to The Subtle Knife!

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