Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Amber Spyglass


The third and final entry of author Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy opens with various poems from other writers setting the story’s mood, with each chapter, akin to the Dune series, opening with a philosophical quote. In the beginning a girl named Ama talks with Mrs. Coulter, who shows the young one her sleeping daughter Lyra. In the meantime, for the first few chapters, a fragmented substory is presented with Lyra and Roger in the world of the dead. Back in the land of the living, Will Parry wants to find Lyra and Serafina Pekkala.

Lyra’s father Lord Asriel seeks his daughter, as well, amassing angelic forces, and meanwhile, the Inquirer of the Consistorial Court of Discipline interrogates Fra Pavel. Another side-story presented throughout the novel is Dr. Mary Malone’s experiences with a people known as the mulefa, whom she occasionally helps with their various tasks. Will meets the ursine monarch Iorek Byrnison, who takes a fascination in the subtle knife the boy began wielding during the second entry of the franchise. One of the chief antagonists, Father Gomez, himself expresses interest in the weapon.

Lyra continues to fight for consciousness, although her mother yearns to keep her asleep. One chapter that returns to Dr. Malone involves her constructing a mirror, with a vivid description of the process involved. Will ultimately meets with Lyra in the world of the dead, seeing a town within the underworld whose inhabitants lack dæmons, and she gets her own personal “death” as a guide. Philosophical questions occasionally arise about what happens to one when they die, with Will and Lyra ultimately encountering harpies, chief among them being the somewhat laughably named No-Name.

Lyra continues to seek the ghost of the deceased Roger, and encounters the spirits of other characters that met their ends during previous entries of the trilogy. In another somewhat odd narrative decision, a small bundle of Lyra’s hair from Mrs. Coulter’s locket serves in construction of a weapon of mass destruction, and she is quickly incarcerated. Lyra, having had to separate from her dæmon Pantalaimon to enter the world of the dead, senses that the shapeshifter familiar is in danger, and several cosmic battles conclude the third installment, with the enigmatic Dust playing a significant role, along with the eponymous spyglass that can detect it.

Overall, the final entry of Pullman’s trilogy is an okay read, but the antireligious commentary is far more noticeable and oftentimes ham-fisted, and there are plenty of questionable literary decisions such as naming one of the harpies “No-Name,” along with the “Republic of Heaven” playing a role in the book’s latter events, along with other unclear entities such as animate beings with wheel-like appendages. Although marketed as a children’s novel, the atheistic overtones would certainly be sure to go over the heads of younger audiences, and the story overall did little to dent my personal religious beliefs.

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