Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Above: Philip Pullman -- Yeah, so maybe his writing is for "young adults". I'M ONLY 30, FUCKERS!

Today I'd like to discuss one of my favorite book trilogies ever, British author Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. Taking its name from a passage in Milton's Paradise Lost, the series follows the adventures of a young girl, Lyra, as she travels through a series of alternate realities, facing a slew of staggering obstacles and wicked foes. The books are aimed at a "young adult" readership, but their themes and complex plots are suitable for any age. They're better than Harry Potter. WAY better.
As I skeptically delved into the first installment of the series, The Golden Compass (known as Northern Lights in the UK) years ago, I went in expecting a bunch of dumbed-down pandering and heavy-handed morality. What I got was a killer, action-packed, tripped-out sci-fi/fantasy masterpiece that kept me up until 3 or 4 in the morning, unable to set it down.
This wasn't what I was expecting. Armored polar bears doing battle on the Arctic tundra? Strange, shape-shifting animal companions called daemons who do battle with each other and provide a window to the darkest regions of their owner's soul? A rip in the space-time continuum that manifests in the Aurora Borealis and siphons magic off into other realms? Thinly-veiled villainization of the Catholic Church and organized religion in general? Shit, man! These aren't children's books! This is METAL!

The Golden Compass (first published in 1995) is only the tip of the iceberg, with 1997's The Subtle Knife and 2000's The Amber Spyglass thickening the plot, intensifying the action, and heaping even more philosophical ruminations onto the unsuspecting reader. These books are HEAVY. These books are SCARY. But they never cease to be FUN.
When I first completed The Golden Compass several years ago, I passed it off to a friend with my highest recommendation. After she finished it, she did the same, passing it on to another friend. I did it again with the second and third books, and soon we had no less than 8 people completely absorbed in our little Dark Materials book club. Sounds nerdy, right?
Well FUCK YOU. You're the one reading this blog.
I'm not going to give away too much of the plot, but here are a couple hints: A knife that can cut through the fabric of space-time is involved, along with adventures involving psuedo-pirates and magic witches, quite a bit of death and morbidity, some trepanning, and, of course, the aforementioned polar bear ass-kicking.
Like any decent book series, Hollywood mangled The Golden Compass in 2007 with a predictably awful film adaptation starring Dakota Fanning and Nicole Kidman. To the film's credit, it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. But I was expecting it to be REALLY, REALLY, REALLY bad. The next two films are on the way in the next couple years, which I urge you all to avoid at any cost. At least until after you read the books.
Some theater company in Britain did a stage version at some point, too, but the Google image result below was enough to thwart any further research.

For those of you who like reading (yes, BOTH of you), I strongly urge you to check these books out (if you haven't already). You can get The Golden Compass here, The Subtle Knife here, and The Amber Spyglass here (all for less than a dollar, plus shipping!). Or, if you want to jump in with both feet, get the entire trilogy here (ten bucks, plus shipping, used). Or you could even get 'em at "The Library"! Remember that place?

PS: The last chapter of the last book is extremely psychedelic (below). Please handle with caution.


Anonymous said...

I read Northern Lights a few years ago, wanted to read the rest but I kind of forgot about it... Cheers for mentioning it, I'll really have to find the other books now.
The Panzer Bjorns have got to be one of the coolest concepts ever... Pretty fucking metal too...

RyGar said...

I'm a total book-nerd, and I've been looking for an excuse to read something a bit more on the fantasy/sci-fi end of the spectrum. This may just be the excuse I need. I've pretty much avoided the genre in both movies and print, because it is so often disappointing. I'll look into these, thanks.

ola said...

Drunk beyond comprehension but i agree wholeheartedly (is that an english word?) with your rave-up. Aesome seriies and i recomend the two spin-ofs Lyras Oxford (not super) and Once Upn... (super!). Cheers from drunk Swedebn. /Ola