The His Dark Materials trilogy is a brilliant trio of books written by Phillip Pullman, which comprise one of the greatest literary masterpieces of recent times. They are, in the order in which they should be read, Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.
The trilogy comfortably inhabits the realms of fantasy and science fiction, children's and teenage literature. Despite being classed as children's books, anyone over the age of 11 should be able to greatly enjoy them.
Northern Lights has won the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Award. All of the books have won wide-spread critical acclaim.
What Makes the Trilogy so Good?
Reading the books makes it very clear that Phillip Pullman is an extremely talented author. He has his own distinguished style of storytelling, which is complex yet not too hard to follow. His style is extremely descriptive; you feel as if you are being drawn into the scenes described, be they beautiful or disgusting. The characters are also easy to imagine, and each have their own clearly defined personality traits and identities, without being too caricatured.
Pullman also manages to lead the reader into believing certain things which are then proved to be false. The plot twists and turns often, meaning the reader never knows quite what to expect. Writing this entry has been difficult, due to the amount of plot twists involved.
The books contain a varied, colourful and extremely imaginative cast of characters. If every single character were listed, this Entry would be very long. The following is a list of some of the more important characters in the books:
Lyra Belacqua - A 12-year-old orphaned girl, who grew up in Jordan College, Oxford. She is nicknamed 'Lyra Silvertongue' by Iorek Byrnison because of her skill in twisting the truth and telling lies. She is a naturally inventive child, who often uses her deceitful nature to her advantage. Lyra is surrounded by several strange prophesies, and has an important fate of which she is unaware. She is given the alethiometer, a strange device with many symbols on it, by the Master of Jordan. Unfortunately, she must first discover what it is and how to use it.
Pantalaimon - Lyra's dæmon1. A dæmon is a being that every human in Lyra's world has. It is an aspect of a person's soul. If a person becomes separated from their dæmon, they will become zombie-like, emotionless hulks. Before they reach puberty, a person's dæmon can change shape into any animal it wishes. Once they approach adulthood, their dæmon 'settles' into one particular form.
Will Parry - A boy Lyra's age. He has never met his father, knowing only that he was an explorer who went missing. His mother is mentally unstable, and so he has been forced to look after her all his life. Despite this, he still loves her dearly. He has to leave her after he accidentally kills a man raiding their house. He meets Lyra, and ends up becoming the bearer of the 'subtle knife', a blade with mysterious powers.
Lord Asriel - Lyra's uncle, and an extremely powerful man, as well as an explorer. We discover some interesting facts about him later on in Northern Lights.
Mrs Coulter - A beautiful and mysterious woman who offers to take Lyra with her on a trip to the North. However, there is much more to her than meets the eye.
Roger - Lyra's best friend. She spends most of her time playing with him in Oxford.
Iorek Byrnison - One of the panserbjørne, the armoured polar bears of the Arctic. He becomes important to the adventure once he befriends Lyra. The armoured bears themselves are massive solitary creatures, and fierce fighters with a strong sense of honour.
Serafina Pekkala - A witch who befriends Lyra. Witches are women who have great powers for both fighting and healing people. Although most witches appear to be young and beautiful, most are in fact hundreds of years old. They have the ability to fly, using branches of cloud-pine. They can also travel further away from their dæmons than humans.
Lee Scoresby - A Texan aeronaut from Lyra's world. He pilots a balloon and lends his services to others. He is a good friend to Iorek Byrnison.
Stanislaus Grumman - An explorer who was last seen in the North. Lord Asriel comes to Jordan College with important news about his whereabouts. Crucial information about him is discovered in The Subtle Knife.
Lyra is having a fun time growing up in Oxford, when her Uncle Asriel arrives with important information about a mysterious substance called Dust, and the possibility of the existence of other worlds, parallel to our own, yet different. Lyra ends up travelling to the North, and becoming entangled in a horrific experiment being conducted on Dust, and the affairs of Lord Asriel. This all ends up having tragic consequences for not only Lyra, but the entire universe.
The Subtle Knife
We are introduced to Will Parry, who manages to stumble into another world, where he meets Lyra. Together, they must face hard tasks, involving a magical knife, angels, and an oncoming war. Their complicated adventure crosses several worlds, including Cittagazzé, a city where all the adults have left because of the threat posed by invisible menaces called Spectres.
The Amber Spyglass
The war between worlds begins in earnest, with Will and Lyra in the centre of it all. The Church are aware of Lyra's destiny, and know that it will lead to their destruction, and so set about trying to destroy her. Both children end up sacrificing a lot in order to do what is best for the entire universe. Eventually, the story concludes, and all is finally clear. We also learn more about angels, and are introduced to strange wheeled creatures called mulefa, and the Gallivespians, a race of tiny spy-people who travel on the backs of dragonflies.