I’ve finished my His Dark Materials re-read and I’m so glad I did pick them up again. They’ve made me look forward to La Belle Sauvage so much more. The Amber Spyglass is the final part of the trilogy but probably my least favourite. Maybe it suffers a bit from successful author editorial syndrome, in which edits aren’t quite so harsh in later books. Because it did feel a bit long and meandering, and lacks a little pace in places. It is still good though, and provides a conclusion to what’s going on with the dust.
Lyra and Will are separated at the start. Lyra is being kept asleep by her mother, who we can’t trust completely but seems to be starting to put her daughter before her own desires. Will is being accompanied by some angels, two who appear as male and are deeply in love. Yet another thing that passed me by on my first read, there are gay angels.
Remember Mary from our world who was studying dark matter and found out a way to talk to it? Well she’s now stepped through into another world where there is an intelligent species who have evolved to use wheels to move around. Mary is accepted into their community and helps them with her knowledge of dust. But the trees that provide their seed pod wheels are dying and it’s something to do with dust.
There is a subtext to this part, as it there to most of Pullman’s worlds, around evolution and climate change. The actions of man have consequences, in this case to dust which is part of everything. Will and Lyra must make some hard choices and put aside their wants in order to do what’s best.
Maybe sometimes we don’t do the right thing because the wrong thing looks more dangerous, and we don’t want to look scared, so we go and do the wrong thing just because it’s dangerous. We’re more concerned with not looking scared than with judging right.
The two children also spend some time in the land of the dead, a place daemons cannot go. The separation of daemon and person raises the question of what is death. There is both an afterlife here and also the idea that at death your return to dust, your atoms always exist but become something else. There’s no heaven and hell, perhaps just purgatory and the relief of release.
From the earlier books, you’ll know about dust being original sin. Lyra is becoming more sexually aware, although I’m really not sure what age she is by now, not much time has really passed but she’s presented as more of a young adult by the end. The daemons settle in their final form before the gut-wrenching ending. It’s not dramatic but shows the children as selfless and brave and OMG if only there could be another way. Sniffle.
I stopped believing there was a power of good and a power of evil that were outside us. And I came to believe that good and evil are names for what people do, not for what they are.
So I think there’s going to be a lot of people looking forward to the parts of The Book of Dust that return to an adult Lyra. I haven’t read La Belle Sauvage yet (I’m saving it for a time I can settle down with it in one go) but I understand that’s set before HDM with the forthcoming books much later on.
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