I did it. I read through the final book of this trilogy. If you haven’t read my first two reviews, you should probably start there.
I was not that impressed with book two. The story moved on to several new characters and new settings while the old ones I came to love were set aside, but I figured everything would pull together in The Amber Spyglass, and I was correct. Pullman ties everything up in a tidy package, incorporating all the details from book one and book two. This trilogy has a LOT going on and it really is put together skillfully. I love Lyra, Lee Scoresby and Iorek Byrnison, and I’ll never forget the adventures they navigated together. And the final bittersweet ending is just right. From a literary standpoint, it’s a work of art. However, this series is downright hostile toward the Christian religion, which I adhere to faithfully, so I have a pretty hard time giving it a glowing recommendation.
In book one, the Church is the great villain. In book two, the heroes make war on God. In this last one, God is destroyed altogether. But not until He’s been thoroughly discredited by every protagonist voice in the story. (“He was never the creator. He was an angel like ourselves—the first angel, true, the most powerful, but he was formed of Dust as we are…He told those who came after him that he had created them, but it was a lie. One of those who came later was wiser than he, and she found out the truth, so he banished her. We serve her still.”) At one point, God is shown as a cackling, drooling, terrified old man.
An atheistic worldview is rounded out in other ways. Heaven is another lie. It’s really a “prison camp” established by the Authority. Lyra set the dead free and death itself dies, but not in a biblical sense. The dead, once they are released, dissolve into nothingness, which every ghost in the book is blissfully happy about. (“All the particles that make you up will loosen and float apart…You’ll be out in the open, part of everything alive again.”) There’s also a good deal of evolution and science vs. religion. In fact, the story features a nun-turned-physicist who shares a long, passionate story of how she discovered there really is no God. Good and evil are based on their “helpfulness or hurtfulness” rather than on absolutes. Grace obtained by works is described as being “deeper and fuller” and more meaningful than grace given freely. And this last book also includes a lot of sexuality (Lyra is reaching puberty and sexual awareness) which is portrayed almost as an opposite to religion, as though they can’t coexist. I would guess it’s either countering Catholic vows of celibacy or flaunting biblical sexual boundaries, or perhaps both, though it’s pretty broadly applied.
So here’s my final opinion of His Dark Materials trilogy: Philip Pullman is very talented. He’s written a thoroughly engaging masterpiece that brilliantly illustrates his worldview. I can’t blame him for that. I do the same thing. But our worldviews are so completely, so irreconcilably at odds that I really can’t get behind this one. I give its content, religious and otherwise, a 14+ age advisory.Book one: The Golden Compass Book two: The Subtle Knife