HIS DARK MATERIALS – Trilogy: Northern Lights / The Subtle Knife / The Amber Spyglass
By Philip Pullman
Scholastic Ltd (three books in one volume). RRP $59.95.
Children’s fantasy with dark overtones
Philip Pullman, the author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, was once described as “the most dangerous man in Britain”.
If he wasn’t so brilliant, or if his work targeted a different audience, this claim would be unfounded, but the matter stands that Pullman’s bitter anti-Church stance is woven throughout his award-winning children’s novels, and reaching thousands of young people throughout the world.
The English writer has taken up the challenge to re-write Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) in a trilogy for children. Ignoring Mary and Christ’s role in human history, Pullman sets up Lyra as “the second Eve”, her companion Will as Adam and Mary Malone, an ex-Catholic nun, as the temptress.
But Pullman is not a great fan of Genesis and this time, for the world to be redeemed, Lyra must fall.
The story begins when the savagely independent Lyra witnesses a secret meeting amongst Oxford scholars where she sees slides of the mysterious Northern lights and children involved in dubious Church-funded experiments.
When children in her town begin disappearing, her quest to rescue them and her interest in the North lead her to an encounter with an inter-clan Gypsy meeting; friendships with scholars, witches and fighting bears; journeys through different worlds (even to the land of death); and the nourishment of her special relationship with a boy named Will.
Listed in this year’s top 10 favourite books by the BBC, the books of the trilogy have won the prestigious Carnegie Medal, the Guardian Award and the 2001 Whitbread Book of the Year amongst others. Pullman’s works are selling in the millions in the UK and America and may now be found on Australia’s top-sellers’ lists, including Angus & Robertson’s “50 books you must own” promotion.
The fact is Philip Pullman is brilliant. His stories are fast-paced and enjoyable; the plot leaps from unexpected delight to unprecedented horror; the ideas and philosophies he weaves through the texts are extremely thought-provoking; and (with the exception of the poorly edited third text) these volumes are up there with the best-written children’s books on the market.
The truly horrifying thing for Christian readers is that Pullman does not hold back with his blatant anti-Church propaganda. All the evil characters in the text are in someway linked to a corrupt and power-hungry church.
The clergy are, at their best, harmless alcoholics; and, at their worst, obsessive murderers. The great horror of the story – a horrendous abuse of children – is a Church-approved project.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the trilogy, though, is the (implied) homosexual angels, Balthamos and Baruch’s, claim that “The Authority” (God-figure) is not really the creator, but merely a power-hungry angel. When Lyra and Will later encounter him in the midst of a heavenly battle, they discover an aged being who is “demented and powerless” (Amber Spyglass, p.43).
Apart from the highly disturbing anti-Church stance, love and hope do prevail, even though it is always a bit ambiguous as to whom the reader is supposed to be barracking for.
Pullman’s His Dark Materials certainly is an amazing read, but is really not appropriate for the child audience it is marketed at. It does, however, set up a great opportunity for adults to verify with young readers where and how Pullman deviates from the truth. This may be the first time the child encounters the Church depicted in this light, but it will not be the last.
And for those of you who are praying for the speedy conversion of Peter Singer, now would be a great time to whack Philip Pullman on that prayer list.