Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Banned Books Week: His Dark Materials

His Dark Materials was listed as number 2 out of the top 10 most frequently challenged books in the year 2008.

When The Golden Compass trailers began to circulate on the web in early 2007 I was immediately interested by the concept. A) It was based on a book, B) the trailer looked good, C) Nicole Kidman was in it and I LOVE her.

So I figured I'd pick up the book and give it a try. It was then that I realized The Golden Compass is only the first book in the trilogy entitled His Dark Materials. After which are followed by The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. I bought the book that had all three tales in it and read it in the month of January 2008.

I was shocked to see that the books were said to be for children. Really and truly shocked. As I read each page I was taken back by the tough language that was given and the even tougher adult issues at hand. Yes, the books point of view follows a girl at the brink of puberty and there is a child-like quality to her viewpoint but the underlying issues that are in the book are so thought provoking and adult that I feel any child that might read the book will totally miss out.

Yes, as a child one could probably read it. A child who has a lot of patience and attention to finish out the lengthy series (although that didn't stop kids from reading Harry Potter!). But the themes of religion and state and the downfall of humans are interesting to read and see but placed just so that, I feel, a child would not immediately understand the issues and ideas Pullman was raising.

The book has talking polar bears who wear armor and beautiful witches who fly. Your soul is not in your body like it is (if you believe in such) in our universe but outside of your body and taking the form of an animal. As a child your not quite the person you're destined to become so the soul (called a daemon in the books) is capable of changing into any animal depending on your mood. But once you hit puberty (which many cultures considers to be the point where you become a man or woman) the daemon settles on an animal most fitting for the person you are and remains that way until you die (and the daemon flickers out). The daemon is a creature that is your lifelong friend, a companion and confidant, and much like the belief of the soul inside a person it's not a good thing to have body and soul parted.

The way Pullman wrote of the daemons I kind of wished I had one. Well, I do, I believe people have souls and I believe I have one also. But I wish they were on the outside of our bodies in the form of an animal which I could confide in and have no one hear what I was telling it. A best friend always beside me.

As much as the series is magical and breathtaking it also is dark and grim with characters who are strong and frightening and subject manners worth pause.

The book has been in trouble for it's political and religious viewpoints and also due to it's violence. I always tsk tsk this type of situation where people dislike something simply because it goes against their religious and political views. Just because you don't believe in it doesn't mean someone else agrees. I felt that the book raised the idea of what are we doing to this earth exactly? What harm are we causing it? Of course, the book is in a parallel universe to our own so it's a hair different but the idea is the same. And also, how much control does the church have with the state? How much do religious beliefs become influenced by science? We live in a nation where we try to keep religion separate from government but not always does that separation really hold true.

It's the type of trilogy to get some people nervous. All of these things to consider and you don't want to believe it, don't want to think it might be true. Or you might be offended that someone might even think of that. Blasphemy to say it. Just spit on the ground to banish the bad luck which developed from his negative words and ideas.

In that sense, the fact that this trilogy has such thought put into it and can make so many people angered or smile in agreement, I think it's fantastic. The main characters name is Lyria and I've even considered that if I ever have a little girl her first or middle name might be just that.

I hope this book is never banished off the face of the earth. If we continue to honor the idea of free speech then I think it never will.



  1. I thought that he WROTE the books fantastically but I didn't like the message it was sending. Now I'm not one to shove religion down anyone's throat but to me the books seemed to make God evil and that we need to kill Him out of our lives. I'm just not ok with that in my life. I respect everyone's opinions and beliefs I really do. I just didn't like the overall message and thought that kids shouldn't be introduced to that until they know what they believe themselves.

    Though i think having a deamon would be kick awesome! (I want a tiger... ;) )

  2. I'm reading the first book right now and it is ok. It is definitely not at the same level as Harry Potter, not by a long shot. Obviously not everything can be high quality material. Hopefully the second book is better.


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