On the His Dark Materials series

Dust to Dust

By Sarah Zettel

I stumbled across The Golden Compass by chance, which I suppose is appropriate. I picked it up in the bookstore. I liked the cover, I liked the blurb, I really liked the little bit I read standing in front of the display. I took it home and was quickly enraptured. The story was exciting, the characters gripping, the heroes complex and the villains really, really villainous.

It was not until I’d read the two sequels and considered the work as a whole that I understood some of what Philip Pullman had done to make the first book in particular so special. He tackled head-on a number of the most pervasive fantasy tropes and archetypes and took them apart. In fact, he ground some of them into Dust.

For an author there a risk in doing this. The reason trope and archetype exist is that they are well-understood by the reader, they have a strong emotional resonance, or both. For an author to successfully take them apart, they must provide something strong and clear for a replacement. Otherwise, the story is going to be emotionally confusing and dissatisfying. Unfortunately, Pullman does not entirely succeed in this last, vital task with his story and it weakens the whole of this ambitious work.

Pullman is at his best when dealing with some of the weakest and least examined fantasy tropes. He starts with one of my least favorite: the Girl-Animal Telepathic Bond.

You know, in some ways I shouldn’t be a fantasy fan.  …

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