As promised in my review of The Golden Compass, I have found The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass second-hand and read them. Philip Pullman did manage to entertain me at several points with his creativity and he took a lot of pot shots at Christianity.
Some of the reviews that I read when The Golden Compass was turned into a movie had claimed that Pullman’s knocks were only aimed at the Catholic church. One or two also claimed that the main character, Lyra, was convinced by her external soul (or “daemon”) to have sex with someone. After reading the books for myself, I have to wonder what these reviewers were reading. Several of them may be deserving of the pot shots since neither was true.
One of the most troubling parts of this final book is Pullman’s attempts to define good and evil. Lyra’s father claimed that he chose an empty world to build a new city in and that he had not chosen a confrontation with “The Authority” (“God”). This was an attempt at neutrality despite the father’s killing of a child to arrive in this world. Is there any sense of “right” in which this would be allowed? In my opinion, Pullman never adequately deals with his actions.
At another point in the book, Lyra and and her cohort (Will) go to the place of the dead. To accomplish this, they learned that each living being has a guide to the underworld that follows them as long as they live. Lyra managed to bring hers into the open and convinced him to lead her. He left once they were past the point of return (which begs the question of whether she can “die” now).
The underworld is a location where the good and the bad are all tormented and the reader is asked to make a truth assessment about The Authority from this fictional scenario. This is just as bad as any contrivance created by other authors unless Pullman decided, for once, to limit his argument to the Catholic church’s Pergatory. Even then, this may or may not be a valid argument. I have not read extensively on the Pergatory teachings except for what Luther wrote…
Lyra and Will eventually create an opening out of the underworld. When dead spirits pass through the opening, they disolve and become a part of everything. Somehow their spirit will find its way back to the world where their soul was left when they died. Think of this like “The Force” from Star Wars and I will come back to it in a moment.
After the way that The Authority is built up as a tyrant, it turns out that he has since retired and left his regent, Metatron (“Enoch”) in charge. In his retirement, he has become a very whimsical and fragile being that is kept in a sealed box. The box is accidentally broken and a breeze disintigrates him while Metatron is waging a war against Lyra’s father. God is dead.
Lyra is repeatedly compared to Eve in this trilogy. It is said that she will decide the fate of all multi-dimensional races. As the time approaches for her “fall,” the infamous “Dust” flies out “windows”—out of the universe and into nothingness—at an insane rate. This loss would soon prevent all manner of knowledge from being grasped by the intelligent races. Then Lyra falls in love and this exodus stops.
Pardon my incredulity, but why didn’t everyone else who fell in love have this effect? What makes Lyra special in this way? (And don’t most people lose their heads when they fall in love? Eek, it is like a really poor parody of the son of God dying in our place as punishment for our wrongdoing.)
The angels insist that some dust is still leaking out and offer to close all the “windows” (except for the new exit from the underworld). This is accomplished but I have to wonder how the spirits are now to reunite with their souls since the exit from the underworld opens to one, specific world.
When everything is said and done, some parts of the story were amusing. I was not terribly impressed with the philosophic side of the story. It is not as bad as some reviewers would have you believe and it is worse than others say. Then again, Pullman is an agnostic rather than a full atheist. How many people know the difference between these two?