I can’t believe I’d never read His Dark Materials. It’s one of those books that, reading them as an adult, makes you think, ‘If only I’d had that in my childhood; I’d have had a friend for life!’ This trilogy finally came to me by recommendation of a colleague and fellow bookworm, who basically ordered me to read it immediately when she found out I didn’t know anything by Pullman. So I did, and I found a new favourite.
His Dark Materials (Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass) by Philip Pullman
In a time a little bit like ours and yet very different, young orphan Lyra Belacqua and her reluctant companion Will Parry get tangled up in a great adventure that leads them across a multiverse of different worlds, where they find themselves cast into the central roles in the final fight between good and evil. (That’s the extremely condensed version – to go into any greater detail in the plot would mean spoilers, and you absolutely have to experience for yourself just how magnificently this story evolves!)
Pullman sets his re-imagining of Milton’s epic Paradise Lost in a series of worlds populated with all sorts of wonders, where humans carry their soul on the outside in the shape of a daemon, where animals talk, armoured bears roam the lands and clans of witches rule the skies. While the story in itself is all kinds of wonderful – a breathtaking adventure of two children facing the forces of heaven and earth – it’s the characters who truly create the magic. Lyra, a smart and brave pre-teen with a mind very much of her own, and her daemon Pantalaimon have a bond that makes your heart ache with love, while her budding relationship with Will has all the bittersweet glory of innocent young love. The creatures they meet and the battles they fight on their long journey across the multiverse help to create a rich and utterly credible alternative reality in which you can completely lose yourself. (It’s one of these realities – much like Pratchett’s Discworld – that has been brought to life by the author to the point where, at least in my mind, it really and truly exists.)
Pullan also weaves an astonishing number of philosophical issues into his narrative – from questions surrounding the concepts of God, good and evil and life after death to the struggles between science and religion and the theory of parallel universe and alternative civilisations. And underneath all these big ideas there’s a beautiful story of growing up, going out into the world, discovering love and finding your place in life. I honestly don’t think a children’s book could be more wonderful than this.
Pens: 5 out of 5, and a place on my special shelf of favourite books!