Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Amber Spyglass Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Philip Pullman
Publisher: Scholastic
Genre: Young Adult, Steampunk
Series: His Dark Materials Book Three
Pages: 518

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(Spoilers for The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife are below).

Philip Pullman concludes the His Dark Materials Trilogy with the Amber Spyglass, and what an ending to the trilogy this book is.  Pullman continues to prove he has guts as a storyteller, not only with his philosophical statements, but also with the way the plot the resolves itself at the end.  More importantly the book is like riding an emotional whirlwind, as plot threads resolve in unexpected ways, readers will find it nearly difficult not to be entranced by everything this book throws at them.

Reading the Amber Spyglass makes you forget that this is a book for children.  Various literary critics and literary award committees seem to have forgotten that the book was for children, too.  The Amber Spyglass would win the 2001 Whitbread Book of the Year Award (A British book award that is an equivalent to the American Pulitzer), becoming the first children’s book to ever accomplish this feat.

Exceeding all of my personal expectations for this book, Pullman delivers a beautiful, deeply meaningful conclusion to his trilogy.  The plots all resolve, many in unexpected ways, and they provide a catharsis of emotion that neither of the previous books had been able to match.  Simply put the Amber Spyglass is perfection in children’s fantasy.

Lyra having been captured and separated from Will is returned to her home world with her captor Mrs. Coulter.  However, Mrs. Coulter’s actions have condemned her in the eyes of the Magisterium and she and Lyra are forced into hiding.

Will begins his journey to find Lyra, with the help of two angels and the Subtle Knife.  Mary Malone eventually finds herself in a strange new world with strange new beings, the Magisterium now aware of her role as the tempter sends an assassin to find her.

Lord Asriel prepares for war as the universal supply of dust begins to drain from all of the worlds.  The only hope for saving the universe comes back to two young children and one simple truth.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of this book is Pullman’s intensifying of his anti-religion position.  The final battle outlined in the previous book basically suggests that the final battle will be all about two children heading to the heavens to defeat God and save the universe.  If that doesn’t upset much of the world’s faithful than Pullman also includes a number of philosophical observations about religion which probably will.  For example the quote the below:
“I thought physics could be done to the glory of God, till I saw there wasn’t any God at all and that physics was more interesting anywayThe Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing mistake, that’s all.”
Despite the anti-religion and anti-God sentiments found in this trilogy Pullman’s story never comes across as immoral or condescending. Pullman uses his story to offer the world another point of view for the existence of humanity and its purpose. I believe the true heart of Pullman’s story can be largely defined by this excerpt in The Amber Spyglass:
“When you stopped believing in God, did you stop believing in good and evil?”
“No. But I stopped believing there was a power of good and a power of evil that were outside us. And I came to believe that good and evil are names for what people do, not for what they are. All we can say is that this is a good deed, because it helps someone, or that’s an evil one, because it hurts them. People are too complicated to have simple labels.”
Pullman has no problem calling out religion and its ideas about an all powerful being ruling the world   His declarations about religion reach the peak of their boldness in The Amber Spyglass.  Pullman seems to suggest people use religion as a type of moral buffer.  Basically, what he is saying is that is if you believe in God that does not give people the liberty or justification for doing shitty things.

The Amber Spyglass continues to reinforce the story’s themes.  Lyra and Will begin to come of age through the idea of free will, which is used to triumph over its opposing counterpart, destiny.  They also increase their knowledge on worldly matters, and most notably they increase their sexual knowledge (There are no sex scenes in this book).  Where as religion has had a history of condemning romantic encounters between people, Pullman encourages romantic and sexually charged encounters, claiming it is necessary for growing up.

For some people the nature of Pullman’s critiques of religion may stun people.  But perhaps most shocking are the plot twists Pullman throws at readers in the book, especially the way the story resolves itself at its conclusion.  By plot twists I’m not talking about something like the end of the Sixth Sense, rather I’m talking about comparing the ending of this book to a standard children’s book.  Without getting into spoilers, Pullman’s ending to the book is bittersweet (it’s also courageous), but it’s this bittersweet ending that gives so much more meaning to the characters, their sacrifices, and the book’s themes.

Pullman’s trilogy has it all, but looking at each of the individual books, The Amber Spyglass gets the most catharsis out of its readers.  The controversial thematic structure can be overlooked with an open mind, and there is a myriad of enjoyments for the readers that do this.  For a children’s fantasy book, The Amber Spyglass is a masterpiece  It’s a classic that will be recognized as such by future generations of critics and readers.  It’s a book that must be read.

Score: 10

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