On the His Dark Materials series
Occam's Razor and the Subtle Knife
Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials is one of the more remarkable young adult fantasy trilogies of the past generation. The first book, The Golden Compass, has to be the best YA Robert A. Heinlein or Ursula K. Le Guin never wrote. At the climax of the third, The Amber Spyglass, God dies, and we don’t miss Him a bit when He’s gone.
There’s a lot of ground to cover from the altered Oxford of the first book to the altered multiverse of the last. There are a lot of high points to hit, and some potholes, too. Let’s take a look at what went right . . . and also at some of the things that may make a reader raise an eyebrow or two.
The Golden Compass has more in common with Heinlein than with Le Guin. Lyra Belacqua’s world is intricately realized, and the plot revolves around scientific puzzles. The sciences involved, however, more closely resemble what would be sorcery in our normal, mundane world.
Even human nature–or rather, the way human nature is expressed in the created world. The Golden Compass opens, “Lyra and her d¦mon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.” D¦mons are external manifestations of the spirit. Lyra’s d¦mon, Pantalaimon, is her scout, her advisor, her confi-dant–literally, her other self.
And Lyra needs all those things, because she is, to put it mildly, high-spirited and adventurous. She and Heinlein’s Podkayne Fries would get …