JoLee's Reviews > The Amber Spyglass

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
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's review
Dec 03, 2013

liked it
bookshelves: young-adult

First of all, I would not recommend these books to kids. I don't think that most kids would be able to navigate the intricacies of Pullman's ideas and separate the story from the rhetoric. I see this as a major problem since they are written for and marketed to children.

That being said, there are a lot things about the books that I found really interesting. For example, the people of this world have a creature that is part of them, their daemon. The daemons are a physical manifestation of the person's soul, which is an incredibly interesting idea. The children have daemons that can change forms symbolizing how their personalities are not fixed or decided. When a child matures his daemon takes on a form that best portrays that person's character and personality. In a way the daemons act as a conscious; they also reveals character traits that a person might want to keep hidden.

Pullman's books definitely have an anti-organized religion slant. But the issues that Pullman tackles in the first couple books are things that I don't believe in anyway - like original sin and the church wielding political power. Here's what Pullman himself said about that, "When religion acquires that power, it goes bad very rapidly. That's the criticism I think the story of His Dark Materials is making, because in Lyra's world, power is wielded by religious authority, and that's why it's gone wrong." One of the major conflicts in the story is a Galileo-esque tale of a man who makes a scientific discovery that goes against the doctrine of the Magestrium (the church and the seat of political power.) And since he is like Galileo, you can imagine how well the Magestrium takes that discovery.

One thing that really bothered me about the first couple books actually has nothing to do with Pullman but just the general state of the world right now. That is the fact that it always seems like the church goers in books have to be crazy - either crazy controlling or crazy religious or just plain crazy. I'm shaking my head now in frustration.

Where things got dicey for me with Pullman's books was in the last book of the trilogy. Now instead of fighting against the corrupt church, Lyra's father wages a war against heaven and God is portrayed as an old man, which I found pretty offensive. However, that being said, I never got the impression that Lyra's dad was a "good guy" or that he was doing the right thing by trying to overthrow God.

As far as the physically inappropriate behavior is concerned, I never really could decide what happened in that scene. It's clear that the kids love each other (they actually aren't that young, 14 and 15, I think) but that is all that is clear. Involved in this situation, is a character who is told that she is "to play the serpent," as in the Garden of Eden. And, I suppose, that if you believed that Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden because of some sexual sin (which I know people do), you might read this section of the book in that way. But I'm not sure if that is what Pullman was going for.

Ok. So final run down. Is all the criticism hype? No. But most of it is too heavy handed. Am I sorry I read the books? No. And I would even consider reading them again. I would like to get my mind around some of Pullman's critiques and see if I feel as uncomfortable with some of the stuff as I did the first time (it's been 4 years probably). I walked into these books blindly. I didn't have any idea what I was getting myself into when I started reading them, and so I think I was doubly shocked by some of the themes of the books. But what a fruitful conversation Pullman has started. I would love to talk to someone who has carefully and thoughtfully read the books. I saw the movie but Nate didn't, and I really wished that he had so that we could talk about it and try to separate Pullman's ideas from those of his characters.
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer So, do you think these books really advocate atheism the same way CS Lewis's Narnia series promotes Christianity?? I skipped the movie in part because it seemed so controversial and in part because Nicole Kidman looks so odd these days (she needs to eat some food and limit the plastic surgery.) I've heard book three entails inappropriate physical behavior between children??? Is it all just hype??

message 2: by LeiAnn (new)

LeiAnn I kind of struggled with that myself. I don't really think my testimony is in danger if I read these books, but I don't want to financially support someone who has said he specifically wrote the books to promote atheism (I checked Maybe if I read them from the library, my conscience will be satisfied.

message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

i am sorry but i disagree
i first read this book when i was nine years old
and i understood every bit of it
i understand phillip pullman's theme and i think that, if the narnia series promotes christianity, and that is much loved, then why shoudent the amber spyglass promote atheism

message 4: by LeiAnn (new)

LeiAnn I suppose that the reason I personally wouldn't want to financially support the series or its author is personal. I don't have a problem with people who don't believe in God or religion, but my struggle comes with someone who would use children's books to try and promote anti-religious dogma. Frankly, some of his statements sound like he's trying to trick children into mistrusting God, which is offensive to someone like me who believes in Him.

I think the same arguement could absolutely be made against C.S. Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles if you aren't Christian. However, Lewis' characters and the themes he presents are not offensive to me because they're things I believe in and want to teach my children anyway.

All that said, I do not have a problem with kids reading these books, but it is definitely something I'd want their parents to discuss with them to help them understand where their beliefs and the "God" in the book differs.

message 5: by JoLee (last edited Sep 16, 2008 01:53PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

JoLee I have no problem with the fact that anti-organized religion or atheistic books like Pullman's exist. I just wouldn't necessarily recommend them to most of the children that I know. But, since you read my review, you know that I have thought quite a lot about Pullman's books; that I am really very impressed with the way that Pullman delivers his story, and that I enjoyed the books and would read them again. I wrote this review in response to the questions raised in Jennifer's comment. I know that many people would disagree with my review, but I also am in no way saying that these books have no value.

Claere well,
i'm a kid (age 12)
and i like it.
no not like it, i meant love it!

Gill's Great Book Escapes These books stimulate young minds towards philosophy, and the nature of man. Absolutely wonderful! I would invite any child(or adult) to challenge their own thinking in such a enjoyable way. Science, history, mankind can never move forward unless our children learnt to challenge what they are being taught.

JoLee Gillian wrote: "These books stimulate young minds towards philosophy, and the nature of man. Absolutely wonderful! I would invite any child(or adult) to challenge their own thinking in such a enjoyable way. Sci..."


I hope that you read my whole review and the comments, so that you know I am not a close-minded hater. In fact, I wouldn't describe myself as I hater of these books at all. Luckily there are a lot of books that challenge young (and old) minds whether one reads Pullman's books or not.

message 9: by [deleted user] (new)

I just finished it and I am 11 and thought that at a few points with the poems it was a little hard to decipher but over all one of the best book series I have ever read.

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