Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Recommended Reading: His Dark Materials

I finally got around to reading the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. It was marketed as "young adult" literature--a marketing category to which I have never paid attention--so I didn't hear about it when it first came out. When I did hear about it, I was in no great rush to read it, but I eventually saw it being sold at a discount, picked it up on a whim, and added it to the to-read pile.

Now I have read it. If I hadn't known it was marketed for kids, I never would have guessed. It doesn't much read like books for kids, other than the most important characters being young. Furthermore, I'm surprised that the publishers chose to market the trilogy to children. The subject matter is heavy, and the message is strongly anti-religion.

Anyway, Pullman is inventive, and the narrative is absorbing. The third volume, The Amber Spyglass, doesn't tie everything together as tightly as I would have preferred, and I'm not convinced that some of Pullman's narrative choices were necessary, but the books are nevertheless excellent. To my taste, they are far better and more creative than Harry Potter, which I suppose, in its later volumes at least, is the most obvious fantasy series for comparison. (The Narnia books might be an even more natural comparison, but I haven't read them.)

Christians of a more dogmatic sort probably should avoid the trilogy. It will upset them. Also, despite the marketing, I would hesitate to give it to anyone under fifteen or so, and only to someone that young if they are relatively well read. Pullman draws upon Christian texts considered as mythology, Christian apocrypha, Greek and Roman mythology, Gnosticism, animism, archaeology, anthropology, modern physics, and no doubt stuff that I failed to recognize. Therefore, much in the books will be over the head of someone who has not done a lot of reading. For people who are familiar with most of the stuff in the preceding list, or have picked it up indirectly by reading the canon of fantasy literature, I recommend the trilogy highly.


Darkalter2000 said...

Man you want anti-religion? Teo words. Terry Goodkind. His Rules of Magic/Truthseeker series. It doesn't come out alot in the first couple books but in the last one even I was insulted and I have been know to mock aspects of christianity. The insult was to all religions, in a very viseral fashion, and ruined the series for me. Pick up "Magic's First Rule" and read the series if you want though. I did like it till the final book. But if your even a tiny bit religious I wouldn't recomend it.

Xenophon Hendrix said...

I've read some of Goodkind's stuff.

Anonymous said...

Young adult means junior high to high school(I think?) and can get pretty mature with authors like Madeleine L'Engle ect. I tend to look to it for light reading.