2012 Book 109: The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman (7/19/2012)
Reason for Reading: I was interested to see where Pullman was taking the Paradise Lost allegory
Lyra and Will finish up their journey (started in The Golden Compass) while desperately trying to dodge enemies and make the right choices. I enjoyed this book even less than the second book, The Subtle Knife, though The Golden Compass was in the “ok” range. I just didn’t feel attached to the characters of Lyra and Will, and I didn’t care what decisions they made. There was WAY too much Buddha-on-the-mountaintop both in the narrative and in the dialogue. I realize Pullman had a message he was trying to portray, and it wasn’t a bad message (if you ignore all the hateful representations of organized religion)–he wanted to say that you should enjoy and live life here on Earth. What is happening in the present is what is important. Build the “Kingdom of Heaven” here on Earth instead of always denying our fleshy bodies as we look to our afterlife. This is a reasonable message, but I felt as if I was pounded over the head with it–to the point that it was distracting from the action. Furthermore, the action seemed to stop half-way through the book, followed by a long philosophical denouement. I WAS interested in his message, and that’s why I continued the book after I didn’t like the second…but it was a long haul for me. I don’t really understand why this series is as popular as it is? But that’s just my opinion. *shrug*
A note on Pullman’s Message
In his 1998 article in The Guardian, The Darkside of Narnia, Pullman stated his opinion about the Narnia series: “there is no doubt in my mind that it is one of the most ugly and poisonous things I’ve ever read.”
He didn’t like Narnia because of Lewis’ blatant Message. The ironic thing is, Pullman’s message is JUST as blatant, and in many ways just as hateful as he considers Narnia’s message to be (his representation of organized religion is very hateful). It is difficult for me to like the Pullman’s trilogy when I can’t help but see his Message and feel the full impact of its irony. It’s probably good that there are people out there who are able to ignore it! 🙂
In case you’re interested, there’s also a 2005 New Yorker article on Pullman’s inspirations for His Dark Materials. It touches on his views on C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Far From Narnia, by Laura Miller.
2012 Book 54: The Land of the Silver Apples, by Nancy Farmer (3/27/2012)
Reason for Reading: This is the second book in a trilogy.
My Review 4/5 stars
Jack, the Bard’s apprentice, sets off on a rescue quest when his sister Lucy is kidnapped by Elves. His companions are an unreliable slave/rightful-heir-to-the-throne and a recently freed girl-slave who worships the ground Jack walks on. They meet many magical creatures, re-discover some old friends, and have lots of exciting adventures along the way. I thought this was an excellent sequel to Sea of Trolls. It expanded the mythology of the land while developing the characters already introduced in the first book. I really appreciated the way Farmer handled the three religions that were represented by her characters in this 790AD Britain-based world. She showed the power and beauty of the Pagans as well as the Christians and subtly made the point that they all got their believers where they needed to go—but she did this without forcing the point or lecturing, which is the sign of excellent story-telling! My only quibble about this book is that most of the major plot threads were completed by page 400, leaving 100 pages for the final (and least pressing) plot thread. This is why the book got 4 instead of 5 stars.
2012 Book 47: The Subtle Knife, by Philip Pullman (3/11/2012)
Reason for Reading: Interested in the Paradise Lost allegory
My Review: 3/5 stars
Lyra has traveled to a parallel universe, where she meets Will—another traveler of universes. They team up when they find that Lyra’s quest to find out more about dust and Will’s quest to find his missing father are intertwined. This is a difficult book for me to review. The first time I tried to read this book, I gave up about a quarter of the way through because I didn’t like being beat over the head with an anti-religion Message. It really lacked subtly in this book, and I hear it is even more brutal in the third book. However, I decided to give this book another try because I learned that it was a retelling of Paradise Lost, and I was interested in seeing what he did with that. My final conclusion: I still feel that I was being beat over the head with a Message; however, I think Pullman is a VERY creative author. SPOILER ALERT: I was a little off-put by the pointless waste of lives at the end of the book. But perhaps the third book will elucidate the reasons for these deaths.