Pullman, Philip. The Golden Compass. 2000. New York: Knopf, 2002. Summary
: His Dark Materials
Book III. Will rescues Lyra from her mother Mrs. Coulter, and the two descend into the world of the dead in order to find Lyra's friend Roger. Once there, they learn that the dead are in torment and free them. Thanks the sacrifice of Lyra's parents, the war against Heaven is won, and all that's left is for Lyra to fall in love with Will and thereby save the world for good. Unfortunately, the learn in the end that they must both return to their repsective worlds for that good to stick. Comments
: The longest of the three books by far, it is also the most fragmented and uneven. I found the multiple narrative threads distracting; all the adult politicking, warmongering, and angelic homosexuality (no, really) got in the way of the heart of the trilogy, which to my mind is the children's journey through worlds. (Hell, there wasn't even a Satan in the original rebellion against God to make an appearance for interest's sake. What's up with that?) Though the chapters with Dr. Malone and the mulefa were definitely among the most original of concepts I've seen in a long time. (Elephants on wheels? Who woulda thunk it?) Oh, and speaking of the series' intelligent beasts, the plight of the armored bears and their melting homeland reverberated poignantly for me with the plight of real polar bears today.
The centerpiece of the novel, of course, is all about life after death--and how no life after death is to be much preferred to an eternity in a prison world created by God (presumably out of sheer spite because He didn't actually create the universe or intelligent life). Doesn't the idea of your consciousness dissolving and your entire being dispersed throughout the universe represent the ultimate in comfort? Pullman seems to think so. Moreover, in an especially clever twist, to ensure that the dead can have their justly-deserved oblivion, we must busily fill the world with creativity, learning, and scholarship. So Lyra and Will won't have their happily ever after. So what? We've succeeded in vindicating the oppressed atheist of the multiverse and in making scholarship a spiritual imperative! Err, okay...if you say so...
The marketing of this trilogy is interesting. Perhaps taking a cue from the way that J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter
series gets release in dual "children's" and "adult" editions in her native country, Pullman's American publisher has decided to do the same for His Dark Materials
. And, boy, do they go all the way. The adult editions even get the Knopf imprint, which is usually reserved for highbrow literary fiction a la Toni Morrison and fiction that aspires to be highbrow and literary a la Anne Rice. I can't say that the tail manages to wag the dog (sorry, Knopf); the novels are not especially challenging intellectually unless you're a child or an utter moron, but, on the other hand, they're not especially condescending either. That's a small consolation. I suppose I'll resist the temptation to whine about the dumbing down of literary culture these days. Let's just say that some serious apologies ought to be going out to Toni. (Anne's optional.) Notes
: trade paperback, 4th printing Rating
- Grand but imperfect. Still, you have to admire the author for the scope of his ambition.