[2004-12-26] “His Dark Materials”

“Unputdownable” is how I would describe Philip Pullman's superb “His Dark Materials” trilogy comprising “The Golden Compass” (released as “The Northern Lights” in the UK), “The Subtle Knife” and “The Amber Spyglass”. I am so glad that I picked them up after all the three books had been released as I cannot imagine how I would have borne the agony of having to wait for a couple of years to find out how this delicious saga unfolds.

Pullman combines the multiverse and dark matter theories from modern physics with theology and pure fantasy to create a gripping saga with only a few logical loose ends. The tale begins in a parallel universe quite like ours (even in the names of places and their relative geography) populated by humans who have externalised polymorphic souls called daemons. The corrupt Church has established a stifling theocracy and seeks to suppress anything that goes against what it has propagated. In particular, it wants to reign in and control the research into a recently discovered curious form of matter called Dust.

The ebullient and charming heroine Lyra Belacqua and her daemon Pantalaimon find themselves dragged from their blissful abode in Oxford into what becomes the ultimate battle led by Lord Asriel against The Authority (God) itself. They are ably supported by the brave Will Parry from our own world and a whole lot of other characters including gypsies, witches, armoured bears, mulefas, Gallivespians, etc.

While the story in the first book happens entirely in Lyra's world and is quite linearly narrated with Lyra always at its centre, the next two books have several threads of narration, many more prominent characters and keep switching between worlds. The story is quite gripping and the pace quite good. I did find the end a bit disappointing and strange considering the ambitious swipe of the story's plot, but I still found the book on the whole an extremely satisfying read. I was a bit sad that it had to end and I keep wishing I had an external daemon of my own too.

I would highly recommend this trilogy to anyone and I am so surprised that it is not as popular as it ought to be. But for Ananth who pushed me to read it, I would probably never have known about this epic. Thank you Ananth! (By the way, he has named the hard disc partitions on his computer Pantalaimon and Lyra, with the former being the boot partition, as “the boot has the sole (soul)”. Yes, that is awfully corny.)

Other Posts from 2004