Just how dark are His Dark Materials? As it turns out, pretty dark! And disappointing.
Phillip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass) follows the adventures of young Lyra and her daemon Pan (think “animal familiar”). Along with their friends – including an armored bear, several witches, an aeronaut, even a boy from our world – they travel across and between worlds in pursuit of a mysterious substance known as “Dust” that plays a key role in the preservation of life as they know it. Oh sure, it was a grand adventure with all kinds of fantastical elements: strange new creatures, windows in the fabric between worlds, miniature spies, not to mention a trip to the land of the dead. But in the end, there was a lot of sacrifice and very little gained in return.
One point that irked me was the mysterious “Dust” that everyone seems to be chasing. I kept trying to find a proper definition for it; at some points it was referred to as “sin” or “experience,” so I was beginning to expect some impressive symbology once all was revealed. But in the end, it just seemed to be its own magical substance that kept balance among the universe, and I was rather disappointed that it didn’t have a deeper meaning.
Another plot twist that did not sit well with me was the author’s use of a religious theme. As the story went on and we started to hear more and more about the “Authority” and making a war against Heaven, I started hoping for a C.S. Lewis-style fantasy, with a faith meaning underneath. That turned out not to be the case. Their “Authority” is not the same as our God – theirs is old and frail and (literally) withered away like dust in the wind. Their Kingdom of Heaven had an evil Regent and no savior. So naturally, I was disappointed to see what I thought would be a “Christian” story turn into something completely against what I know.
To make matters worse, all the hard work and suffering and sacrifice on the part of the characters amounts to very little. True, they seal up the breaches between worlds to stop the Dust from draining into oblivion. But their trip to the land of the dead only results in a pathway for the dead to leave their dim and lifeless existence and dissolve into nothing – there is no true “heaven” or peace to be found in the afterlife. Many characters die, and Lyra and Will, who are in fact the main protagonists, don’t even get their happy ending ☹. (And you know how much I like my happy endings!) All I could think as I finished reading was, “This is what you get when you live in a world without grace.” Because without grace, without a savior to intercede on our behalf, what you see is what you get. All of our efforts fall short of perfection, and that’s exactly how this series ends. Everything they do isn’t enough to make things right, because they are only able to do things in their own power.
I suppose, in some ways, reading these books made me thankful that our world is not like any of the ones in this trilogy. There is someone who overcame death on our behalf. We don’t have to struggle to build a perfect world. There is always a happily-ever-after for those who trust in the one who saves. It’s a grim picture to be sure, and it’s not a story I’d want to read again, but sometimes seeing how different the world would be without Christ is just what you need to encourage you in faith!
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section!
Until the next time, keep reading!
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I have two passions: reading and writing. You can't write good stories without first reading good stories - that's my theory, anyway. So this is where I'll share with you the depth of those passions: background on what and why I write, as well as talking about the books that I read and how they impact my writing.