Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 08: The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

I’m going to go light on plot overview because I want to talk more about the thematic aspects of this one. So here are some things that happen inThe Amber Spyglass, and not in any particular order:

Lyra and Will travel to the land of the dead, and they have to separate from their daemons to do so. The description of the emotional consequences of the separation is heart-wrenching.

Dr. Mary Malone, a scientist from Will’s world who studies Dust, travels to a world where she ends up living with creatures that I imagined to have elephant heads on gazelle bodies, except the legs were, as Pullman described, in a diamond conformation. Mary fashions the titular Spyglass in order to see Dust.

Mrs. Coulter is sneaky and underhanded, but in a somewhat redeeming way.

There are tiny people who work as spies for Lord Asriel, and there are all varieties of angels: some vengeful, some immature, some wise, some emotional wrecks.

Epic battles! Epic heartbreak! Death! Wisdom from Iorek Byrinson!

Okay. I’m getting a little jokey because I’m delirious and I don’t love writing reviews, but understand it’s not because I’m joking at expense of The Amber Spyglass. When my Golden Compass review was posted on Pajiba a few days ago, there was actually a bit of discussion and some mixed reviews around this book. Mainly, it seems like people don’t like Mary and her creatures or Pullman’s heavy-handed criticism of the Church, and they feel that Lyra’s ultimate purpose, for which the whole total of everyone and everything is at stake, is kind of weird and hokey. These are valid criticisms that understandably bother some people, but ultimately, I didn’t care. YES, he beat the shit out of that “The Church is evil and the Authority is kind of a dick” drum, and that’s probably easier to swallow if you don’t have religious inclinations, but my take was that the message, moreso than the players, is of import here. It could have been the Church, it could have been a government, or it could have been the Illuminati — the point was that blind faith is not a good thing, especially when the vaulted leaders simplify everything into ‘good’ and ‘evil.’

As for Mary, it’s definitely true that she didn’t need to be there. But that world she was inhabiting sounded so lovely and pastoral that I didn’t mind taking a break every few chapters to check in with her there. I liked the idea that some worlds simply didn’t evolve human beings, because think about it — if Pullman posits that there are worlds upon worlds interlacing with each other, why would all of them have humanoid life? It may seem ridiculous to invent new creatures just for a subplot, but I think it made the whole idea of multiple worlds more interesting.

The fate of Lyra and Will I am reluctant to discuss too much because it could get spoilery. I will say that in my case, the emotional impact of their destiny did really affect me. The impact the two of them were meant to have on Everything did seem a little overwrought, but it didn’t really lessen my connection to them when they had their epiphany.

SO. In conclusion.The Amber Spyglass is a bit more jarring in pacing than the prior two novels. There are more quick cuts between different scenes, and even more characters to keep track of. My eventual impression was that each of these stories did, in the end, enhance the overall experience and make the climax more satisfying (see what I did there?) And yes, there is some heartstring-pulling, so if you’re into that kind of thing you’ll almost certainly be impacted. I finished this about a week ago, and I have to say that I’m still thinking about it daily, processing everything that happened and nursing my residual heartache. I’m kind of a softie, maybe, and I will own up to placing more value on the story than on technicalities.

All of this together means I get to add another book to the ‘Favorites’ list!

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2 thoughts on “Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 08: The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

  1. I am most definitely religious but I absolutely love this trilogy, and this one just killed me. The reviews of this series that keep cropping up mean I am definitely going to have to revisit it as soon as my pile of new books diminishes (so maybe not for a while). Anyway I totally agree with your point about the authority – I wasn’t offended as a religious person as, whilst Pullman has been vocal about his dislike of the church anyway in ‘real life’, the message here isn’t specifically about that. Also, Pullman’s criticisms are also valid a lot of the time in terms of the corruption of power – they do tend to be aiming quite specifically at the Catholic church as well, and I am not a Catholic so maybe this is why it does’t bother me so much. For me, the story here and the ‘God’ presented here is so far removed from what I believe in that for me I just enjoy it as excellent fantasy fiction

  2. alwaysanswerb on said:

    Glad to hear your perspective, as I certainly can’t speak from a religious point of view! Indeed, the Church’s activities in these three books weren’t really anything that they would specifically be accountable for in real life, so the version of the Church on trial here is pretty despicable, but not really comparable to the actual Catholic Church (as you mentioned.)

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