Wednesday, 3 May 2017

The Subtle Knife

D'you know how embarrassing it is to mention good and evil in a scientific laboratory? One of the reasons I became a scientist was not to have to think about that kind of thing.

This instalment of His Dark Materials partly takes place in this world, introducing Will as a new main character. Where in Lyra’s world Dust was theological, here it is much more scientific, representing dark matter. I think it’s intriguing that religion and science are portrayed as seeking the same thing. Both want answers to the universe. One looks towards a divine power for the answers, the other looks for scientific proof.

Physicists believe dark matter exists as the mass of the universe just doesn’t add up, some there must be some other elementary particle making up the difference, we just don’t know what it is. That’s what the Large Hadron Collider is supposed to be for, looking into this conundrum… or looking for Dust! Interestingly, work started on the LHC the same year The Subtle Knife was first published.

It’s pretty impressive that a children’s book from the nineties has such big ideas but also manages to be an engaging and thrilling adventure at the same time.

I thought back at Bolvangar that whatever grown-ups did, however bad it was, kids were different. They wouldn't do cruel things like that. But I en't sure now.

The Church is still portrayed as the bad guys, though not necessarily so in Will’s (our) world, and so I can understand a lot of people will still object to these books. Brace yourselves for another round of outcry with the forthcoming The Book of Dust release. But let’s face it, the Church has been the bad guys through a lot of history, so it makes sense that they might be carrying on in another dimension.

Oh yeah, alternate realities are also a thing in this book. There’s Lyra’s worlds and ours, but also a third world both the children find themselves in. No one had daemons there either but there is something sinister plaguing the adults. Whilst no direct connection is made between the spectres and Dust, the fact that the children are immune seems to suggest that they are attracted to Dust, perhaps even feed off it. They leave the adults lifeless, like zombies, another hint that maybe Dust (or original sin) isn’t all bad for us.

Will realized slowly and unwillingly that those enemies of his mother's were not in the world out there, but in her mind. That made them no less real, no less frightening and dangerous; it just meant he had to protect her even more carefully.

Again, I got oodles more out of this on a second read, especially now I have more interest in physics than I did when I was younger. Now I have to go see if I still have my copy of The Amber Spyglass or if I have an excuse to buy another anniversary edition!

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Book Source: Purchased

2 comments:

  1. Ha ha - I had a similar reaction to you. The first time I read this book it was just an awesome story, but reading it again later in life I suddenly found so much more depth and intrigue. You cant help but love the dark materials trilogy!

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