Friday, November 2, 2012

His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman

(In which destiny’s capacity for betrayal never ceases.)


When I decided to slip The Golden Compass (Book 1 of the trilogy) for Brit lit along with the Hunger Games for Am lit into the roster of literary text for my World lit subject, I just had one thought in mind: I wanted my students to see their common ground – the influence of an overly dominating social entity (the Capitol in Collins’ and the Magisterium in Pullman’s) and the consequences of absolute power. Incredulously simple, isn’t it? 

Although I was worried because of the anti-religious theme of The Golden Compass, the fact that Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale and Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy made it to the original list boost my confidence in this rather audacious decision. There would be no harm in teaching The Golden Compass, I thought. But I’m certain The Subtle Knife (Book 2) and The Amber Spyglass (Book 3) mean a different story. 

After a semester, I believe the lessons are successful. Okay, just so-so. Whether or not my own personally-chosen inclusions would make the students want to read more than The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Fifty Shades Trilogy (which, shamefully, I still haven’t read) was beyond my basic clairvoyance or tests. But anyway, am I not supposed to be glad about those titles?

I was able to finish the remaining half of the last book of His Dark Materials Trilogy after almost two months of grappling with academic paperwork, And then I realized, my students should read the whole series. Never mind the anti-religious theme Pullman confirmed. The book is more than just multiple parallel universes. It’s even more than just simply doing what’s right and fulfilling your dreams.

Set in Oxford in another world, The Golden Compass opens into a dimension in which humans walk beside their souls in the form of animals, called daemons. One remarkable child, Lyra Belacqua, is among those simple kids who spend time frolicking in meadows and playing war outside Jordan College. But things go awry when one by one, children start to disappear. Lyra’s simple childish life turns to a halt when she hears about Dust. She was also chosen as an expedition assistant by Mrs. Coulter and was given the alethiometer, a truth measurer, by the Master of Jordan College. After doubting Mrs. Coulter’s intentions, Lyra runs away and was rescued by the Gyptians. With the help of the alethiometer and the Gyptians, Lyra sets out to find her best friend Roger, who is also among the missing children kidnapped by the evil that was the Gobblers, headed by Mrs. Coulter. To accomplish this, Lyra needed the help of various people and creatures – the witch queen Serafina Pekkala, Lee Scoresby the aeronaut and the armored bear Iorek Byrnison. Just when she thought her duty ended with the rescuing of the kids, her uncle Lord Asriel opened a portal to a new world.

In The Subtle Knife, Lyra enters the gate to another world and finds herself in Cittagazze, where she meets William Parry, a boy from the world we know. Cittagazze is inhabited mostly by children. The adults either flee or die because of the Specters. William acquires the subtle knife, an instrument that scares the Specters. One of its edges cuts through any solid and the other cuts a window through any other world. By this time, Lord Asriel has started to make an army to rebel against the Authority in the heavens. He is after Will and Lyra because of the prophecy about the children and because of the subtle knife, a potent weapon in achieving a world without the Magisterium and the Authority. Different creatures from different worlds cross the windows cut by the knife to join the biggest war in the universes.

The Amber Spyglass concludes with answers regarding the prophecy about the children and the true nature and origin of Dust. The great battle was fought and in the midst of smoke and war, Lyra and Will find themselves in love, only to be ambushed by the horrific truths about the subtle knife and the alethiometer, as well as the decision they have to make to save Dust and stop the universes from falling apart.  

So the supposedly cliché coming-of-age themes of finding one’s identity and realizing one’s worth and destiny open up to a heavier premise for the novel, what with all the clash between science and religion made more complex by morality and ethics. Never mind the colossal war that sort of fell short with the greatness it was supposed to be. The novel is a great surprise in itself. I gave up expecting love to unfold anywhere after the first book. But when it did happen, it hit me hard with the intensity of high school romance.

When I started teaching The Golden Compass, I was only after making the students check on what social (whether religious or political) entity moves a society, a nation or a world, and to what extent the greed for power and supremacy leads people. I asked my students what a parallel universe is. In my head I picture this:

Now I realized it should have been (with the major differences and all) this:

I know I have said too much.

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