Friday, November 30, 2007

his dark materials

Just before Thanksgiving, I finished reading the children's fantasy trilogy called His Dark Materials. The three books are called The Golden Compass (now a movie), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. I simply adored these books, and highly recommend them, for adults as well as kids. I am a big Harry Potter fan, but I liked these books more than Harry Potter. For me, who waited in lines at midnight to get book 7 and to watch movie 5, this is saying something. (No, I did not dress up.) Maybe I'll share my ideas on Rowling, death, and agnosticism later, but right now, I want to gush about The Amber Spyglass.

I don't want to give too much away for anyone who wants to read these books for themselves, but I will say this. One of the main plots involved killing god. That idea hit me like lightning. I've heard Nietzsche's ideas on god being dead, and I've written before about how I felt like I killed Heavenly Father when I left Mormonism. At the time, I grieved about that symbolic death of a mythical figure. But when I came across the idea in these books, it thrilled me. I couldn't wait to see how it played out.

The books also deal with souls, death, evolution, friendship, love, the fall, sexuality and original sin, the institutional church, church-leaving, deceit, character. The Church is a bad element; childhood innocence as well as maturity and sexual awareness are celebrated; the heroes and heroines are multi-faceted and capable of both "good" and "bad."

These are some of my favorite bits at the end of The Amber Spyglass:

"'The Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing mistake, that's all.'" (Mary, p. 441)

"'Was it hard to leave the church?' said Will.

'In one way it was,[' answered Mary, ']because everyone was so disappointed. Everyone, from the Mother Superior to the priests to my parents--they were so upset and reproachful...I felt as if something they all passionately believed in depended on me carrying on with something I didn't.

'But in another way it was easy, because it made sense. For the first time ever I felt I was doing something with all of my nature and not only a part of it. So it was lonely for a while, but then I got used to it.'" (p. 446)

"'When you stopped believing in God,' he went on, 'did you stop believing in good and evil?'

'No, but 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 from what people do, not for what they are. All we can say is that this is a good deed, because it helps someone, or that's an evil one, because it hurts them. People are too complicated to have simple labels.'

'Yes,' said Lyra firmly.

'Did you miss God?' asked Will.

'Yes,' said Mary, 'terribly. And I still do. And what I miss most is the sense of being connected to the whole of the universe. I used to feel I was connected to God like that, and because he was there, I was connected to the whole of his creation. But if he's not there, then...'" (p. 447)

"That was the meaning of this night, and it was Mary's meaning, too.

Had she thought there was no meaning in life, no purpose, when God had gone? Yes, she had thought that.

'Well, there is now,' she said aloud, and again, louder, 'There is now!'" (p. 452)

"'She [an angel, Xaphania] said that all the history of human life has been a struggle between wisdom and stupidity. She and the rebel angels, the followers of wisdom, have always tried to open minds; the Authority and his churches have always tried to keep them closed....And for the most part, wisdom has had to work in secret, whispering her words, moving like a spy through the humble places of the world while the courts and palaces are occupied by her enemies.'" (p. 479)

(Thank you to hotmomama and her kids for recommending these books to me.)


Rebecca said...

That makes me want to read the books even more! I'll probably end up seeing the movie of The Golden Compass first, but I'll definitely read the books as well. Thanks for the info!

Becca said...

"I felt as if something they all passionately believed in depended on me carrying on with something I didn't."

That's it exactly. People panic when someone rejects their beliefs as if it means they must reject them as well...

C.Rag said...

I also just finished the books last week. They were one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read in a long time. I think for this new generation it will be their Lord of the Rings
Here's a good Boston Globe article about the ridiculous Golden Compass boycott by the Catholic League.
Technically they didn't kill God. They killed the Authority. God/the dust lives on every where & in everyone.

rolypoly said...

I just finished The Subtle Knife last night!

I'll admit I find the characters and writing a bit cold, but it's such a satisfying series when it comes to ideas and imagination -- I get totally lost in it the universe Pullman has created.

The most enjoyable part of it to me (lit grad student that I am,)is all the connections to Paradise Lost. I love the idea of Satan as a hero, or rather, I love the idea that challenging absolute authority is the noble thing to do, rather than obeying thoughtlessly.

I'll be trying to finish the Amber Spyglass by the time the movie comes out next week!

Sideon said...

I'm adding these to my Amazon music order - TODAY.

from the ashes said...

wow, I got people excited! Hee hee.

Rebecca- From what I've seen, the plot of the movie follows the book well. And it looks like a lot of care and thought has been put into casting, set design, costume, etc. I'm definitely going to see it.

becca- Yes. Our leaving the faith challenged their faith, too.

crag- SPOILER. Good point. I almost included the paragraphs where Lyra and Will let the Authority out and he melts/drifts away. I found it to be so beautiful and heartbreaking. I think we interpreted Dust differently, though. I didn't really see Dust as God; I saw the Authority as God (eg, there really isn't one). But I can totally see your interpretation of Dust, too.

rolypoly- I saw those parallels as well, or rather, I assumed them, since I've never read Paradise Lost. But all the going through the underworld, the harpies, etc, I could tell were literary references. And I too loved the celebration of challenging authority.

Sideon- Do! You'll enjoy them!

Mai said...

You seem to be becoming happy and satisfied with your life. And growing!

'Truthful living,' whatever that means to you, has that effect.


from the ashes said...

Thanks, Mai.

c.rag- I meant to add that I saw Dust as consciousness and self-awareness of that consciousness.

C.Rag said...

To me that's what god is. God is consciousness and self-awareness. That's what makes us different from other animals. The term god is miss leading.

(chandelle) said...

i'm probably the last person on the planet who has not read the harry potter books, and i'm not a big fan of fantasy unless it's done VERY well, but i am very interested in reading these books. maybe i'll get them for my husband for solstice - he like fantasy a lot.

Rebecca said...

In case you haven't seen the movie yet: Very much a kid's adventure movie. Don't get me wrong - it's totally fun and visually beautiful, and the little girl is enchanting, it's just been a bit whitewashed for the masses.