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Books: the His Dark Materials

The surest way to find out if someone has read the His Dark Materials series (short of asking them outright) is to start raving about Harry Potter; If the person has read this trilogy by Philip Pullman, sooner or later they will give an exasperated sigh and announce that while Harry Potter is a fine (if light-weight) diversion, The Golden Compass is so much better.

The Golden Compass is set in a world which could be mistaken for Earth until about page seven, after which a host of subtle and not-so-subtle differences start showing up. In the latter category is the fact that the souls of people do not reside inside their bodies, but rather manifest themselves as external and distinct entities in the forms of animals. Also curious is that the theologians of this world are preoccupied with something called Dust: a kind of physical, magical, or religious particle which seems somehow tied to conscienceness. Much of the story revolves around the quest to discover the true nature of Dust and the journey of the young Lyra as she travels across her world and into others -- including our own.

It took a while for The Golden Compass to hook me -- two-thirds of the way through and I still could have put it down forever. But once the hook took hold, I devourer the rest of the novel and tore through the next (The Subtle Knife). Unfortunately I found the third book, The Amber Spyglass, to be something of a disappointment. While the first two books seemed meticulously plotted, many of the major plot points in Spyglass did not strike me as being thoroughly thought through. (A friend and fellow enthusiast of the series hit the nail on the head when he describe the final book as feeling "rushed"). But even so, the His Dark Material series is an involving and though-provoking read, and one I highly recommend.

Posted on March 04, 2002 to Books