Everyone is familiar with the story of Adam and Eve, and the serpent whose temptations led to the fall of man. John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ is a timeless poem of over ten thousand lines on the same. They are of importance both historically and religiously. In recent times, Sir Philip Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials has so often been called “a reimagining of Milton’s Paradise Lost”. “Northern lights”, “The Subtle Knife”, and “The Amber Spyglass” complete this trilogy.
The novels stretch across multiple universes ruled over by magic, science, theology and a peculiar thing called dust. It is not one of your run-of-the-mill reads. What sets apart His Dark Materials from other books is not just the wonders of Pullman’s imaginative ability but also the way the idea of ‘the fall of man’ has been redefined and expressed by him. This is definitely one of those series that defines the genre, in line with the “Chronicles of Narnia” and “Harry Potter”, with the matters of quality if not popularity. The series is essentially described as a children’s novel, but as far as my judgment goes, it is anything but that. People of all ages will undeniably find themselves getting lost in the pages of this masterpiece.
The story revolves around Lyra and Will, two children who somehow always find themselves in the center of trouble. They travel through the multiverse, to lands of witches, armored polar bears, and strange creatures with complex societies of their own. The story begins with Lyra, who hails from a world where people’s souls exist outside their body, called daemons. She and her daemon Pantalaimon, live in a university where she is raised by scholars. She is a smart and stubborn girl, living her days running around the campus and poking her nose into matters best left untouched. Her mischievous tenacities soon get her intertwined in the matters of the Magesterium, the religious organization that administers her world. What starts as a quest to find her friend Roger, soon leads her to discover that something much more sinister is at play.
In “The Subtle Knife” Lyra is joined by Will, a troubled boy who obtains a knife that can cut through the world. Together, they embark on a journey of a lifetime, rather an era that presents them with a predicament of making choices – the outcome of which would ultimately dictate the fate of the entire universe.
The third novel “The Amber Spyglass” offers a thrilling conclusion to the remarkable trilogy. Lyra’s power of manipulation and persuasion, along with Will’s fearless determination land the pair in the middle of a war between powers far greater than they have ever possessed. They take us through the secrets of the universe and fight a war against the destiny of mankind itself.
Pullman masterfully blends magic, theology, and particular metaphysics to create a story that has the ability to impact the imagination of an entire generation. I must say, the series is quite controversial, considering the fact that it questions and vivisects the basis of religion and morality. There is no fixed idea of a division between good or bad, right or wrong, but just a quest of the irrefutable truth. He is unbearably honest in criticizing the idea of creation and religion which we accept today. Pullman urges his readers to look around them, and question the basis of what they are taught.
It took Pullman 7 years to finish His Dark Materials, and he was rightfully able to create a classic that is a must-read for everyone, irrespective of age or religion. The depth and the variety of the theories suggested and challenged, along with the author’s tendency to describe the most infinitesimal details make the series quite hard to wrap around your head, but I promise, it is worth every dime. You will never be able to see the world in the same way again.