I love controversy. It makes life interesting.
One of the most controversial book series in the past decade is His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman. I had heard a lot of things about it, with a wide spectrum of opinions. Some said that it was one of the most engaging fantasy stories ever written. Others said that it was a hideous and insulting attack on Christianity.
Whenever there is a book out there that creates this kind of buzz, I know that it’s a book I have to read.
There are three books in the series: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. They follow the story of Lyra, a young girl who is unwittingly pulled into a battle between the church (the Magisterium) and those who want to be free of its tyranny. There are so many interesting aspects of these books, but the one that I love the most is the story world that Pullman creates. Lyra’s world at Jordan College is similar to our own in many ways, but there are some really amazing differences as well. For starters, each person has a daemon, a part of their spirit or soul that lives outside their bodies in an animal form. From the first page, I wanted a daemon! I wondered what mine would look like, what personality it would have. Another awesome thing? The armored bears of Svalbard. Yes. A kingdom of talking polar bears who wear armor and do battle. How cool is that!
As the series progresses, we are also introduced to Will, who is from our world. He and Lyra form a partnership that becomes an beautiful friendship. That was another thing that I loved about these books – the depth of the characters. With all the fantastical elements in them, the characters feel very real, from the heroes to the villains. No character is simple, not even the ones who seem to be the epitome of evil. You are left constantly guessing what their true motivations are, right until the end.
I can see why some people might have been offended by books with the premise of basically setting out to destroy the church and kill God. The thing is, I don’t think you have to read it like that. I think there are many ways to read books. For example, C.S. Lewis’ famous series The Chronicles of Narnia can easily be read as a fancy Christian allegory and nothing more, with Aslan being the Christ figure. But you don’t have to read it that way if you don’t want to. Allegory or not, Narnia is still a really fun story set in an exciting and mystical world. Pullman does the same thing. I think if you strip away all the controversy of the books and read it as a brilliant fantasy story, it is easy to become enchanted by them, regardless of your personal religious beliefs.
So go check them out! They are definitely worth the read.