His Dark Materials

I’m not sure how it happened that I read the first book in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy — The Golden Compass — and never got around to reading the remainder, but somehow it was so. It’s not that I didn’t have the opportunity: I bought all three books several years ago and read that first one right away. I enjoyed it, as I recall, but somehow things just kept getting in the way of me continuing.

Until this past week. I saw a trailer for the upcoming film version of The Golden Compass (looks pretty wild) and immediately kicked myself for not finishing the trilogy. I’ll freely admit that my reaction may have something to do with seeing Nicole Kidman in the role of Mrs. Coulter, the stunningly graceful mother of the trilogy’s primary protagonist. Mrs. Coulter is a woman who could seduce, well, anyone she wants, and I can think of no better casting, perhaps in the history of man, than to give the former Mrs. Napoleon … er, Tom Cruise the role. (I think Ms. Kidman was my first bona fide film crush, in fact. At least, I can’t remember going gaga for a gal on screen prior to 1989’s Dead Calm.)

Anyway, I decided I needed to read those last two books — The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass — and spent part of my Thanksgiving break doing so. They were, I’m pleased to say, pretty darn good books.

They’re not perfect books, by any means — there are far too many conveniences in the plot for my complete happiness — but they’re very entertaining and surprisingly fascinating at an academic level. By his own admittance Pullman sets out to invert the Heaven-Hell dynamic in Milton’s Paradise Lost, and one can also see a profound influence of William Blake throughout the works. In addition, the trilogy seems a fairly direct rebuke of C.S. Lewis — both his theology and his fiction.

And, as I said, the series is entertaining. Pullman’s scope is suitably massive, the worlds he’s created are magnificently drawn, and the characters are great fun to follow. Definitely recommended.

For those who have read the books, there’s a fun little “what’s your daemon” gadget on the movie’s official website. Pretty swell. I just did mine — I really do hate these kinds of quizzes, as I overanalyze each question — and it says my daemon is a lion named Delila, which I think makes me Samson.*

*I shave my head. Get it?

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