This article was first published on Culturewatch.org
The Subtle Knife concluded with Will and his father meeting just moments before his father is killed (by a witch whose love he had spurned) and the abduction of Lyra from their camp. The Amber Spyglassbegins immediately afterwards with Will finding that he has two new companions, the rebel angels Baruch and Balthamos, who had been following his father until he led them to the bearer of the subtle knife. Will sets out to find Lyra, a journey which eventually takes him to the Himalayas in Lyra’s world and during which he meets up with Iorek Byrnison. Along the way Will and the angels are seen and attacked by the Regent, Metatron – the powerful angel who had been the Authority’s right-hand being but who has now been given full control of the Kingdom of Heaven. Baruch leaves the others to hasten to Lord Asriel with news of the knife and the knife bearer’s connection with Lyra.
Lyra herself is being kept in a mountain cave by her mother, Mrs Coulter who seems to be having a change of heart about the church. By the time Will reaches the cave, Lord Asriel and the Magisterium have both discovered Lyra’s whereabouts and are sending their own forces – Lord Asriel’s to rescue her but the Magisterium’s to kill her. The Magisterium is intent on killing Lyra having discovered that her destiny is to be a second Eve. If she falls as Eve did, they believe, Dust – and sin – will triumph. Will cuts into the cave from another world, but while trying to cut another way out for Lyra, the knife shatters and the children are stuck.
Meanwhile, Mary Malone ends up in the world of the mulefa where she discovers that the strange wheeled creatures can see Dust. Mary makes a device for seeing Dust for herself, and then is urged by the mulefa to find a way of stopping their precious seed pod trees from dying. She discovers the problem is the ebbing of Dust out of the world, but what could possibly change that?
The Amber Spyglass is the final volume of Philip Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials. Lyra’s story is picked up again two years after the end of The Amber Spyglass in Lyra’s Oxford. The Amber Spyglass is the book in which Pullman’s anti-Christian agenda is most clearly seen. Several critics – and not just Christians –have complained that The Amber Spyglass gets bogged down in philosophical issues, and crosses the line from storytelling into propaganda for Pullman’s atheistic worldview. Peter Hitchens commented in The Mail on Sunday pers-www.wlv.ac.uk/~bu1895/hitchens.htm that after the first two ‘captivating and clever’ books, The Amber Spyglass is ‘a disappointing clunker . . . too loaded down with propaganda to leave enough room for the story.’ In The Times (18 October 2000), Sarah Johnson calledHis Dark Materials ‘the most savage attack on organised religion I have ever seen.’ Minette Marin sides with Pullman in calling herself a ‘godless scientific materialist’, but laments that ‘This third book is frostbitten in parts by the freezing fingers of didacticism; overt didacticism is death to art; the magic of stories is too elusive for moralising’ (The Daily Telegraph, 21 October 2000).
Philip Pullman is the author of almost thirty books and has won several writing awards including the Whitbread Book of the Year for 2001 with The Amber Spyglass. His Dark Materials has sold over 7 million copies in 37 languages.
For more background information and in-depth analysis of Pullman’s books, see Tony Watkins’ Dark Matter: A thinking fan’s guide to Philip Pullman (www.damaris.org/pullman).