Somehow I haven’t written about one of my all-time favorite book series. It’s one of those books that I like to go back to every so often–usually after I’ve finished a long, serious book–when I want something familiar and of excellent quality. I first came across this series in college, thanks to a college course Adolescent Literature: Grimm to Voldemort (I know, sounds awesome right?) and am eternally greatful to Professor Flesch for assigning it. It is the only book series to ever make me cry and, as my friends can tell you, I don’t cry easily or often. And I cry every time I read it (and even discover new reasons to cry each time). Pullman has the ability to really get the heartrending emotions being experienced by the characters onto the page in a way that I’ve yet to find another author able to do.
You may remember when the movie came out for the Golden Compass, the first book in the series. There was the usual controversy over something that went against the Church (even though the first book actually has very little of this and it is the latter part of the series that really shows the anti-religion plot). And then there’s the issue of talking animals on screen. It just doesn’t work, they always look goofy and unnatural (because of course it is unnatural and therefore requires computer animation). But in the book it works perfectly and you can’t help but love the daemons and the witches and the armored bears and every other fantastical people that Pullman invented.
The series starts off with Lyra, a young girl who has spent her life running around Oxford College with little care for anything beyond her curiosity and sense of adventure. But when her best friend Roger is kidnapped (in a series of kidnappings rumored to be done by “the Gobblers”) she vows to rescue him. And so begins her journey, with a number of set backs and adventures along the way. But it turns out that freeing Roger is only the first of many things to come. The witches have a prophecy about her, one which says her decisions can change the course of the future. Lyra, together with her daemon Pantalaimon (a daemon is an external part of the human being that takes the form of an animal), and equipped with the altheiometer (a golden compass that she can ask questions and get the truth) set out on a long journey.
Book two, the Subtle Knife, begins with Will, a boy from our world whose mother is mentally ill. He discovers another world where he meets Lyra. While trying to find out more about what is happening, they meet Dr. Mary Malone who is working on dark matter experiments in our version of Oxford. Will gains possession of a powerful weapon, the Subtle Knife. The knife and the altheiometer are important instruments that are highly coveted, leading the two into more danger. At the end of book two, Lyra is kidnapped and Will sets out to save her.
Finally, in the Amber Spyglass, Will finds Lyra and together they set out for the land of the dead where part of their true purpose becomes clear. But a war is looming, can they survive?
Considering that this is a children’s series, the plot is anything but simple. In fact, it is possibly one of the most complex books I have ever read, full of big ideas and questions that always keep you thinking and guessing. In fact, it is the type of book you need to read multiple times because reading reveals new layers of understanding.
If there was ever a book series that you should read, I would suggest this one. In fact, I did just that to a friend of mine who did not enjoy reading. I told her to try this book because there was no chance she wouldn’t like it. Sure enough, she read the entire series and has since begun reading other things.
Buy the series here for a low price: His Dark Materials Trilogy (The Golden Compass; The Subtle Knife; The Amber Spyglass)