His Dark Materials is an epic trilogy by acclaimed British author Philip Pullman, a series of fantasy novels for children. There is sometimes discussion about whether they are children’s books or if they belong to the Young Adult category. Personally, I think they are children’s books for the age group of 12 – 15. It’s not Young Adult because that handles specific themes that are not present here. They are also not really children’s books, but I believe this trilogy is meant for the reading group in between: those who have outgrown traditional children’s stories and are not yet ready for the typical YA.
If you picked up this book in search of a beautiful, intricate children’s story, best put it down again. Because that is what the book is for children. But for older readers and adults it is so much more. There are hidden depths beneath the surface and every time I read it, I discover something new. The three books in the trilogy are:
- The Golden Compass (alternative title: Northern Lights), first published in 1995
- The Subtle Knife, first published in 1997
- The Amber Spyglass, first published in 2000
The first book was turned into a movie in 2007 with Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig and Dakota Blue Richards in the leading roles. The Golden Compass won awards for the visual effects, but was not very successful. Critical reception was mixed and due to disappointing results at the box office, the second and third movie plans were cancelled.
The universe the first story is set in, is much like our own but with several differences.The first thing you need to know about are daemons, a physical representation of something akin to the Indian spirit animals. The church is largely in charge of everything scientific and even magic is not strange to them. The child heroine discovers the truth about her parents, while stumbling upon to a different universe. Old prophecies reveal her as the one who will open up the different dimensions with the use of a golden compass. I liked that the story is written from her point of view, because now we get to live the story through her and discover everything along with her.
The second book tells the tale of a young boy, living in England who is in charge of taking care of his mother since his father disappeared. Along the way, this child hero also discovers the truth about his parents and learns of the different dimensions. This story is set in our modern-day world. The story is a little more macabre, since Will accidentally kills an intruder out to get hidden letters from his father. These letters take him on the journey of discovery. This story was completely different and yet the same to the first one. Again, the writing is great and the story is set up beautifully.
In the third and final instalment of the trilogy, the two first ones come together. The child heroes from the first two stories meet, and their respective parents also figure in the story. But this story is more than a wrap-up of the previous two books, and is a beautifully outlined story in its own right. I recommend reading the three stories in order, if you want to get all the details right and avoid frustration. All the unanswered questions and secrets from the first two stories are revealed in a final, epic battle for the fate of the world. The heroes of the story also face battle and have to make decisions about their loved ones that could affect everything. Very powerful conclusion to the trilogy!
It’s a great trilogy for teenage readers who are not yet ready for or interested in typical YA books. Filled to the brim with fantasy, so much detail and underlying story lines, these books are a real gem for young fantasy readers. For older readers this is great as a reread (or reading it for the first time) and marvelling at all the different layers which will make you think. Have you read it yet? What did you think? Let me know!