8 Reasons to Read (or Reread) His Dark Materials before The Book of Dust Arrives
When it was announced that Philip Pullman was finally releasing the long awaited The Book of Dust, the first volume in the long-awaited trilogy companion to his magnificent His Dark Materials trilogy, the outpouring of glee saturated the internet. It’s not surprising. When I finished reading The Amber Spyglass, sobbing like I have never cried at a book before or since, it was the year 2000. Early readers have been craving this series for 17 years. What kind of non–Harry Potter story inspires this much fervor over 20 years after the publication of the first book? A magical one, in every sense of the word. If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading the His Dark Materials trilogy yet, or are considering rediscovering it, here are some reasons why you should do so immediately.
In The Golden Compass, the first book in the series, we are introduced to Daemons, manifestations of a person’s soul in animal form. Every person in this alternate world has one, and the animal shape the Daemon ends up taking is an indicator of their person’s personality. They’re kind of like a Patronus you get to cuddle and talk to and have as your best friend forever.
2. The World Building
The Golden Compasstakes place in a world that seems to have branched off from our own at some point. Heroine Lyra Belacqua lives in a mostly recognizable England, and there are other shared creatures and places between her world and ours, but Pullman adds new elements both subtle (antiquated names for things and places) and fantastic (armored talking bears). He both throws you into the middle of this world, trusting you to keep up, and helpfully guides you through it when needed. Without spoiling too much, there are many new landscapes, creatures, and peoples to discover throughout the entirety of the trilogy, and each one is distinct and breathtakingly creative.
3. Lyra Belacqua
In a series full of dazzlingly unique creations (did I mention armored talking bears?) Lyra stands out. A noble girl, raised and educated haphazardly by the academics of an ancient university, she’s half fighter and half storyteller. She’s compulsively dishonest, scrappy, loyal, and full of love and adventure and curiosity.
It’s so hard to write this list without spoilers! Here’s what I can tell you without ruining the pleasure of discovering it for yourself: the Alethiometer is the golden compass for which the first book is named. It’s not actually a compass, although it looks like one. It’s closer to a pack of Tarot Cars, but way cooler. You will want one, as you will also want a Subtle Knife and Amber Spyglass of your own by the time the books are over.
5. The Themes
His Dark Materials tackles a lot in its pages. Questions of science vs. faith, free will vs. destiny, and more. But what it’s primarily concerned with, and what Pullman writes about most beautifully, is the pain and pleasure of growing up. He describes the joy of childhood, the wildness and the freedom, with a kind of rush that makes you want to immediately go outside and start throwing mud at someone, but he never condescends to young people, or treats them as innocents who need protection. He values and sees the beauty in Lyra’s growing sexuality and complexity as much as he does that in her childhood.
You won’t meet Will until the second book, but he’s wonderful. I love Will.
7. Genuine Scares
There’s a lot of beauty in these books, but a lot of genuinely terrifying things too: dark underworlds, evil medical facilities, beautiful kidnappers, and more. Pullman’s writing is as adept at chilling you as it is at stunning you.
8. Witches and Gypsies, and Fantastic Creatures, and Magical Doorways, and Love, and Friendship, and Death, and Epic Romance OH MY…
Just read the books, guys, I’m running out of things I can say without spoiling it all!