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Books - His Dark Materials 3: The Amber Spyglass

Posted 19 July, 2007 at 9:26pm by Michael Chu
(Filed under: Books)

It's actually been over a month since I finished this book, but I had some major issues with it and couldn't bear to finish the review until now. Spoilers follow the jump, so don't click more if you don't want to read some of them.

In this conclusion to Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy, Will and Lyra continue their travels between the worlds. Lyra, who is prophesied to be the faciliatator of a new era (Eve reincarnated), unknowingly begins to fulfill her destiny with the help of most of the characters from the first two books.

I found many of the ideas presented in this book to be appalling. The idea that Mary Malone, a former nun, concludes that God does not exist because she begins to disagree (or rebel) against her order's doctrines, seems absurd. Deciding that there is no God simply because you fell in love (and of course God would not want you to fall in love) is really weird logic. Also, the act that saves the universe from utter destruction and reverses the flow of Dust into oblivion is the mutual profession of love (and passionate kissing) between Will and Lyra, presumably prepubescent children. As in his previous book, Pullman makes it a point to not mention sex, but as Will and Lyra were "on the path to mortal sin" I felt confused by the whole section. I will continue to assume they didn't "do it" and simply kissing and telling each other they love each other is enough to save the world. I'd be okay with the book if Pullman used logic to persuade the readers that God doesn't exist (or is an old and decrepit farce of a deity) but most of the lines of reasoning he presents are irrational. It seems obvious to me that you can't believe in God without faith and although some (perhaps a decent amount of) logic can be applied in the decision, it is more than anything an irrational choice - one made on an emotional and spiritual level. It seems that Pullman makes his choice about not believing in God (or that God is a joke) in the same manner - irrationally.

One of the questions that I wonder is how Catholic is Nicole Kidman. When she divorced from Tom Cruise, it was rumored she did so because she wanted to raise their children Catholic. If that was true, then does she know where the movies are going to lead? In an interview, she said she chose to star in the role of Mrs. Coulter (who eventually "reforms" and actively attacks the regent of God and destroys him) because her children loved the story. I only assume she knows where the story leads, so maybe she divorced Cruise to prevent her children from being raised in the Church of Scientology.

As a Christian, I was appalled by the themes that Pullman laces through his final two books of His Dark Materials. I have no problem with illuminated a corrupt Church or modeling an oppressive society around a ritualistic religion, but to call out God (the God of all the worlds - who is apparently not just the God of the worlds in the book, but all the worlds including ours, named specifically as the Christian God, Yahweh, as well as others) as a charlatan and the one and same being as Satan/Lucifer and all the worlds religions have been a scam just seemed a little over the top.

In any case, I had to finish the series since I was so invested in Lyra's world, Will's world (which is so like our own), Cittagazze, and the world of the Mulefas. Although weird and unsatisfying, the final book does wrap things up and put closure to the story. Unfortunately, the few glimpses of the wonder and amazement that the first book provided is completely bogged down by the crazed muddiness of the almost ludicrous subplots that serve to only lengthen the book. Several chapters go by where I cannot but wonder if the narrative took this turn simply to lengthen the book. Pullman does try to tie things up neatly, but his explanations (and dare I say God-like pronouncements) don't hold up against persistent argument.

What I'm reading: Shardik by Richard Adams (1976 Mass Market Paperback), The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte (Hardcover), Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1) by Neal Stephenson (Hardcover and Audio), and Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis (Trade Paperback).

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