His Dark Materials is a movie, a TV show, and also a trilogy of books. Today, I’ll discuss the books, because I recently finished them.
Lyra Belacqua is an orphan, who lives in Oxford. Not our Oxford, but an Oxford in a parallel world. In this alternate world, the church rules supreme, casting a long shadow over the world. There is something special about Lyra, because no other other orphans get to live at this alternate Oxford University.
She has an uncle, Lord Asriel, who visits on occasion. However, he is involved in some sinister religious-political machinations, and at the beginning of the story he sets off to the far north, only to vanish. Then, children start disappearing. Lyra’s friend Roger is taken, and Lyra is pulled out of the University by the mysterious Mrs. Coulter. Mrs. Coulter has an agenda, though, and Lyra’s initial infatuation with the woman turns into mistrust.
Events pull Lyra deeper and deeper into a power struggle inside the church. A struggle that eventually spills over the boundaries between worlds. And Lyra is caught right in the middle.
Above is just the first book, and the second and third book really change things up. The fact that His Dark Materials turns into a war to kill God is… well, not so much a twist as a ‘is the trilogy really going there? Wow, ballsy.’
Lyra Belacqua is the main character of His Dark Materials. She is a child, and preoccupied with things that young people worry about. However, when the world pulls her into the deadly serious business of inquisitions and murdering children, her innocence and bravery make her an anchor. The tone of the books would have been much darker if the book had featured an adult protagonist.
The second book of His Dark Materials introduce Will Parry. He’s a young man, of an age with Lyra, who’s father is missing and who’s mother is ill. She seems to have psychotic episodes. Will takes care of things, but unfortunately, his mother’s paranoia is not complete fabrication. Actual spooks are after something Will’s father left in their house.
Iorek Byrnison is a panserbjørn. That’s a race of polar bear-like creatures from Lyra’s world. They are fierce warriors, and Iorek might be one of its fiercest members. Lyra finds him in a village on her trek to find her friend Roger. He’s an outcast of his people, held under ransom by the villagers, and gone to drink. Lyra changes all that by helping him.
I’ve already mentioned Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter, and they are interesting additions to the story. Mrs. Coulter is the antagonist of the first book, and the second, but she and Lord Asriel also have their own story to play out. When it comes to interesting villains and foil characters, they both get top marks.
There’s more characters, many more, but discussing them all will take up too much room, and doesn’t really add anything. Go read the books if you want to know more.
I was expecting your run-of-the-mill young-adult fantasy trilogy. Of course, a war to kill God is not really young-adult. And neither is torturing people and kidnapping children and murdering them in science experiments.
His Dark Materials is really an attack on organized religion by the author Phillip Pullman. Some people might be offended by this, but personally I tend to agree with his views. I’m an agnostic, and believe blind obedience organized religion thrives on actively fuelled many horrible things, from the crusades to terrorist attacks to violence against women. Anybody can believe in a higher power, I personally do, but I do not believe in churches representing this higher power. If you actively hurt other people (LGBT+ people for example) because somebody told you that’s what God (or Allah, or whoever) wants, then you should seriously reconsider your choices because you’re being an abusive idiot.
The religious undertones aside, His Dark Materials is a well-written work. It’s easy to read even with the large cast of characters and complicated plot.
If you’re religious and feel offended if people talk bad about the church, you’re not going to like these books. Otherwise, I can highly recommend them.