Monday, March 15, 2010

His Dark Materials

I was recently asked by an adult if Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials was worth reading and, if so, would I place a post on my blog?

I can't believe I didn't. I guess I simply assumed it was there. Perhaps it's on the original list and never made it online? Yes, it is. My apologies.

Before I get on with this, His Dark Materials is worth reading, but you should have the next books on hand as you read as many of you will be most upset by the cliffhanger endings of the first two books.

Now for some specifics. His Dark Materials is composed of three volumes: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. You have to read them in order.

The Amber Spyglass, the third book, won the Whitbread Award (now The Costa) in 2001, for best children's book. It also won the overall category, becoming the first book in a children's category to do so. Due to this, its' readership, and Pullman's claim that it is "Paradise Lost for teenagers," it was one of the books to bring on the new spate of crossover fiction. (For those of you unfamiliar with the term, crossover fiction is used to refer to children's books read by adults, or adult books read by children. As this is an extremely pertinent topic in contemporary lit, and was the topic of my minor's thesis, I will post the thesis here (later) for those of you with the time and inclination).

The books are dark adventures and, true to many great young adult books, feature a coming of age story. Like science-fiction, His Dark Materials explores concepts of religion versus science. In this world, a fantasized version of England, one's soul is external, taking on the form of an animal. As a child this animal soul, called a daemon, changes form, though it drifts toward a favorite form as children mature. After going through puberty, the daemon picks a form. Daemons can interact with one another, but you would never touch another person's daemon. The daemon's physicality makes struggles over souls (whether being used to stop sin or fuel science) more dynamic and graphic. Add armored bears, gypsies, balloonists, a world-rending knife, and a compass with unusual capacities, and you are off on an adventure of staggering breadth. Indeed, take a deep breath (okay, I know that's cheesy- deal with it) before diving in- you may not surface until the end.

Incidentally, when I heard the third book was to be released, I cajoled the shcool librarian into giving it to me the day after it was released- before it even had a date card or had been wrapped in plastic. I returned it the next morning, having not slept that night (who needs boring middle school when you have brand-new top-notch literature?).

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