16 July 2008

His Dark Materials

I wish that I could just put down a book that didn't resonate with me. I plowed through the His Dark Materials* trilogy by Philip Pullman, and it wasn't worth it. The philosophy is weak: "I don't know if I am an intelligent designer, an evolutionist or an atheist."Dust is a pale and pathetic version of the ridiculous midi-chlorians that George Lucas seemed to pull out of his backside in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. I really couldn't tell you who borrowed what from whom. When you start talking about intelligent particles or micro-organisms enhancing human biology, God begins to make more sense.

Then there's the whole business of fate vs. free will. If you even have to have that discussion, then on some level you believe in "God"; whether that God is intelligent particles throughout the multiverse or whatever is academic. I was not enamored with the first book, but I read the whole trilogy: down to the last iota of deus ex machina and tripping over every possible plot hole along the way. The writing is poor, and the third book is little more than pulp and circumstance. Some chapters go on and on for no apparent reason with little plot development and futher flattening of the characters. I can't tell if Father Gomez† was thrown in just to give Balthamos a character resolution or vice versa. How disappointing!

Oh, and for not being particulary fond of Tolkien, Pullman's books have talking bears, witches, shamans, ghosts, spectres, cliff-ghasts, spur-heeled Gallivespians (read venomous Lilliputians), angels, dæmons, etc. He may not care for Tolkien's work, but Pullman's attempt at multiverse mythology is no less inspired by it.

Next, there is magic as science. It's the fantasy fiction of the 21st century, I guess. Pullman's not the first to try it. Anne Rice tried to explain vampires and witches that way. Why not? It's like string theory with a sprinkle of pixie dust. But that doesn't explain how you can make a knife out of steel with man-made smithing tools and then have it cut through layers of the multiverse because a kid can put his mind into an alpha state. I stick with the Doctor's TARDIS, thanks very much. Allons-y!

Lastly, I don't want my daughter to read it. My reason? Not because of the mixed messages about when it's good to lie or how sometimes killing people is all right if it's for a good cause. Instead, I don't want my daughter (or son) to read this book because of the message that Pullman puts forth that it's OK for a girl (Lyra Bellacqua) to be independent, intelligent and willful until she meets a boy because then she should become all goofy, foolish and subservient to him so that he can tell her what to do and run her life for her. Will I forbid my daughter to read it? Of course not. It's on the bookshelf where it's been since Christmas. She can read it whenever she likes. So far, she hasn't shown interest.

Frankly, the movie The Golden Compass has better story telling, better action and more believable magic as science. Right now, she's into Nancy Drew.

* The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass
± angelic being serving as a virtually powerless guardian to Will, the central character in Book 2
† Magesterial (read Papal) assassin absolved in advance for a murder he would commit

1 comment:

Bob S-K said...

I didn't read any of these and had never intended to read them. Now I really won't!