Context: Finished this off on my in-laws’ decking in the garden.
For a long time I’ve been wanting to get my hands on the first book in His Dark Materials trilogy and I finally found this copy in a charity shop. It wasn’t at all what I expected. For those North American readers of the blog, note that in your continent, this book is sold as The Golden Compass for reasons that elude me.
For a start, it was a children’s novel in the style of Harry Potter (or rather I should say HP is in the style of Northern Lights.) Now, I really didn’t like the first HP book and I have to say, after so much great literature in the last couple of years, it was a bit of a shock to be reading something that was so simple in its written style.
But I warmed to it and enjoyed the detail of Pullman’s world here. I like the way it is set in Britain but not the Britain I know. It’s a kind of apocryphal world that could have existed in another parallel universe (maybe a clue there about the story line!) because it is so similar but then just not quite right. It’s a bit like Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go world in that sense.
But while it’s a good story in itself and I’m looking forward to finding out what happens to Lyra in books to come, it wasn’t for the story that so many of my non-Christian friends have recommended it to me, I’m sure. It was because of the way the church is portrayed.
So, as I approached the book, I had an inkling that it may rub me the wrong way. It didn’t really though, at least, not until the very end. This is because my non-Christian friends have, understandably, made a common error and equated my love for Christ with a love for organised religion which I certainlyly don’t possess. I’m all for the organised church to be held accountable for any abuse of power.
But what did intrigue more than incense me was the eerie passage from Genesis 3 right at the end of the book. There’s a quote from it refuting the church’s idea of original sin and the unusual thing is that it isn’t Genesis 3 in the Bible we all read but a modified Genesis 3. And this is what intrigues me. As Pullman has created a parallel Britain with things that are similar to but still not the reality of Britain as I know it, he seems to have done the same with the Bible. Because of this, I’m not too sure that he is actually being critical of the actual Bible itself or any particular interpretation of it.
Instead, I think it’s a clever way of making an illustration of how theology can be used to crack the whip over people and keep them in bondage when it was intended to bring freedom. And criticism of this I am all for.
Having said that, I’m not sure what role Lord Asriel is supposed to be playing when he says “Death is going to die.” In terms of parallel’s with Christianity, that would make him synonymous with the Messiah and I’m not sure (yet after book one) whether Pullman intends that or not.
Still, I look forward to getting my hands on book two, The Subtle Knife, someday.
Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.
So Lyra and her daemon turned away from the world they were born in, and looked towards the sun, and walked into the sky.
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