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Subject: His Dark Materials – Questions and Spoilers rss

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Daniel Kearns
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His Dark Materials – Questions and Spoilers

I just finished the His Dark Materials trilogy last night and I am perplexed, to say the least, about a number of issues.

First let me start by saying that I like to read thinky books: my avatar is from Life of Pi. Second, I love Biblical retellings: another of my favorite books is Watership Down. Third, I feel I have a much better than average familiarity with Biblical history and literature. I think I enjoyed the Dark Materials but I also have the sinking feeling that the ending was a storytelling trainwreck. I hope some Dark Materials fans would help me out, I’d really appreciate it.

Let’s start with the good. I really enjoyed the tragic love bit at the end. I thought it totally worked and was very sad.

Unfortunately, either the biblical bits totally failed (or were jettisoned or were tacked on in first place) or I just completely failed to understand the depth of the allegory. Maybe some insight on these questions would help.

1) What was the prophecy that Lyra was a part of?

2) What did Lyra actually do to fulfill this prophecy? If anything, Will seemed to be the important one but I’m not sure what he did either.

3) How did Lyra fill the role of the new Eve?

4) How did Mary play the role of the serpent (wisdom)? She told a personal story about love. Was that it? Wouldn't Lyra and Will have figured this out on their own someday?

5) What difference did Lyra and Will make to anything?

6) What was at stake if Lyra had been killed? Why did the church want to kill her?

7) What was the result of the war in Heaven and how did it affect the plot?

8) How was the world different as a result of anything that happened?

9) What did God have to do with anything because the whole problem with the world(s)were the holes being cut by a man-made object?

Here’s my take:
Things seemed to be heading in the right direction for recreating Eden. Mary was moving into the tree (like the serpent) but then got down for some reason. Lyra fed Will the fruit but the cosmic consequences of this weren’t clear (other than their love I guess). The war in heaven bit I did not understand at all. Did Pullman chicken out and have them fight not God but Metatron instead (an entity that almost no one knows and isn’t even canon). While I liked the tragic love ending (I’m a sucker for tragedies), it seemed to completely undercut the entire point of the trilogy for me. Wasn’t the point that the authority, and the church, stifles love, sex, creativity? If so, it seems weird to me that after defeating (?) the authority, love would still be denied or constrained at the end of the book. It seems no progress was made. And what’s with the everything-is-back-to-normal ending? I just got the impression of a Scooby-doo ending where the main characters stand around and have a good laugh like “Hahaha We killed God for nothing?! The knife was the problem all along. Boy is my face red! Hahaha. Let's go gang.”

For me the entire series was a bunch of interesting ideas put into box and tossed in the air. There never seemed to be a logical reason for anything anyone did for example: the bomb, Mrs Coulter kidnapping Lyra, Will's Dad getting killed when he was about to die anyway, the kids going to the world of the dead, on and on. Conversely, nothing anyone did seemed to matter anyway. I just don’t get it. Am I missing something or was this book just off?

Please help, I want to like the story on the basis of Will and Lyra’s relationship but the whole cosmology big-picture stuff is really holding me back.
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Kurt
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Couldn't agree more. Started off fairly strong in the first book, and was a noble attempt at something larger, but ultimately he fell short of his lofty goals. By the end it all felt like a loosely cobbled together hodgepodge of thoughts that he didn't have straight himself.

Sorry, I don't have the answers for you, Daniel. I'd doubt that Pullman does either. There's plenty to read into throughout though, so I imagine someone has some personal interpretations of it all for you.
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Marc Kob
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Put me in the camp of those who thought the first two books were great, and the third one a complete disappointment.
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Daniel Karp
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In my opinion, he first book was excellent, the second was not as good, and the third was awful. My best advice to people interested in the series is to read the first book, then stop. Reading the first and second and then stopping is also OK.

Rather than try to figure out the mysteries, you might be better off just leaving them unanswered. Ever read The Crying of Lot 49? (If not, go get a copy now!)
Spoiler (click to reveal)
Leaving the central mystery of a book unanswered is sometimes the most satisfying ending.
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Dave Lartigue
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I read the trilogy and there's no way you can convince me that any of it was thought out. I'll never be convinced that what "dust" turned out to be was at all what he had in mind for the first book. I thought the interesting world set up in the first book was abandoned by the beginning of the second to make way for a plodding pedantic mess.
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Mark Casiglio
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dakarp wrote:
In my opinion, he first book was excellent, the second was not as good, and the third was awful.


My experience with the series was exactly the same as dakarp's.


edited to clarify which Daniel I was talking about.
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Daniel Kearns
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Well that's disappointing. Thanks for the replies, everyone.
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Dave Riedy
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Wow, I'm shocked at the responses to these books. They're some of the best fantasy ever written, as far as I'm concerned. Although I would agree that Pullman's hand got a little more obvious in the third book in places.

Don't know that I'm the one to attempt to answer these questions, but I'll cherry-pick a few to answer.

5) What difference did Lyra and Will make to anything?

They released all the souls being held, basically destroying that part of the cycle of life and death.

6) What was at stake if Lyra had been killed? Why did the church want to kill her?

Lyra was the one person able to read the Aleithometer, which was able to "speak" to dust.

7) What was the result of the war in Heaven and how did it affect the plot?

The result of the war in Heaven was that the "angels" who were fighting in the name of god were defeated and the fiction of a living God -- used as a figurehead for the church -- was killed/released.

8) How was the world different as a result of anything that happened?

Presumably this means that the church is going to have less power and not continue to remove children's souls (daemons) from their bodies out of fear/hatred of "sin."

9) What did God have to do with anything because the whole problem with the world(s)were the holes being cut by a man-made object?

God is a figurehead that the church uses to justify its hatred of sin (which is characterized by sexual awakening/puberty in much of the book) and the reprehensible actions the church takes because of that hatred it masks with piety.

I thought Lyra and Will were the new Eve and Adam because they were a couple that shrugged off the tyrany of religion and fell in love and grew into adulthood together.
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Mystery McMysteryface
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Wow!! I'm only replying because I always felt I was in the minority on this one.

My husband and I both eagerly read the 1st book. He liked it, I was meh!

We both started the 2nd book--neither one of us could finish it.

I never sympathized or liked Lyra. The dust thing didn't really intrigue me either.

I must state I love sci-fi fantasy and have read tons in the past 5 year or so. I also have an English degree and have done some grad school so I can and have read just about anything, including some truly difficult to read literary authors.

So.........in my educated opinion, I have to say the series is not very literary or well written. At least, IMHO.
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Kurt
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EgorjLileli wrote:

So.........in my educated opinion, I have to say the series is not very literary or well written. At least, IMHO.
Is it really a 'humble' opinion if you bring up your education?

I kid. I read the first when it was super hyped and went along for the ride with the promise that it would deliver something, but ultimately it doesn't....
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