This book is worth reading just for the prayer in Gethsemane.
After reading The Amber Spyglass, I was surprised by the commonly promulgated analysis that the His Dark Materials trilogy was an atheist answer to C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, I guess because I was expecting such an atheist tract to read like something from Richard Dawkins or the other New Atheists, who dismiss religion as merely fictional. But if religion is merely fictional, then why be so bothered to write a novel about it? In other words, if the Authority doesn't exist, then why do you need to go kill him?
Upon further reflection, I think the distinction between Philip Pullman and the New Atheists is precisely that Pullman is a novelist. He understands the power of fiction, and thus cannot dismiss religion as "merely" fictional: literature surely has a great power to change the course of human events, perhaps even as much as science does.
And it is that attitude that makes this book so powerful. This is not an atheist who isn't interested in Scripture and never made an effort to understand it. This is someone who knows the stories as well as anyone, and it is only someone who has really carefully thought about them that could be so angry: someone who understands how these stories could be a force for good, and so often haven't.
I'm not quite sure what the title's getting at (besides getting the passer-by's attention, in which case it worked), because "scoundrel" always makes me think of Han Solo, and is not the word I would choose for this character. Nor am I convinced that "good man" is appropriate, either.
Nor can I figure out what the story about the colored cloth is doing....more