Tuesday, May 23, 2006

God or the Devil? .....His Dark Materials

Although I couldn’t put Northern Lights down, something about this trilogy was strangely annoying. Lyra lives up to her charismatic name as the constellation of The Harp that lures and enchants everything. Apparently Lyra, the harp, was the one given to Orpheus by the Sun God, Apollo. Orpheus was the one human being besides Psyche to be allowed down into the Hades, the Greek Underworld where the dead went and lived as ghosts. Pullman's young heroine, Lyra, unlike Orpheus, manages to return again and even to free the ghosts and allow them to escape their terrible limbo world. They become part of the conscious atoms and particles of the Universe. There’s some really deep stuff here.
The concept of the daemon was brilliant. I suspect most of us do intuit another person’s “animal” inner being. It’s a kind of gut feeling. Someone looks ‘horsey’, is a ‘pig’ or a ‘bear’, behaves like a ‘mouse’. But in Lyra’s world they are real, separate birds and animals who can talk with you and accompany you. How lovely a concept! We would never feel lonely if we could be in contact with this inner being, would we? I like to imagine mine sitting here with me now. I think my daemon is a Snowy Owl. I have pictures of Snowy Owls by the computer. The picture shows a strange dream I had once of a beautiful owl with one white wing and one black wing against a pitch black sky. It felt a very important dream then and now. Was this my daemon?

Pullman’s second volume, The Subtle Knife, was also enthralling. A knife that, like reason, cuts through everything and opens the mind to other worlds and ideas yet is broken and destroyed as soon as emotion and indecision take hold. Total concentration and one-pointedness are necessary to use the tool of the mind. This weapon belongs to thoughtful, clever Will, Lyra’s male counterpart. The story begins to get very adult and more complex now. It certainly isn’t childlike. But I really struggled with The Amber Spyglass, the last of the trilogy. It was sci-fi and weird, the ideas too complicated and confused and the peculiar entities Pullman invented just didn’t have the sense of reality and loveableness that Tolkien gave his imaginary beings. The Mulefa just never did it for me; they were too unlikely.

Pullman is the son of a vicar. No surprise there. Often the most anti-church people are. It’s called rebelling against authority and God the Father is, I suppose the supreme authority. And when Pullman banishes him forever, we end up with a Republic of Heaven. Hmmm…

It’s a great book for all its flaws. A brilliant concept and remains in my mind and still makes me puzzle and think about it as a truly great book should.

Lorri (

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