[Name Redacted]'s Reviews > The Amber Spyglass

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
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's review
Apr 11, 2013

did not like it
bookshelves: alternate-history, dark-fantasy, mythology, religion, romance, society, tripe
Recommended to [Name Redacted] by: everyone
Recommended for: fans of Garth Ennis' "Preacher", fans of Michael Moorcock's "Behold the Man", teenagers
Read from July 01 to August 01, 2007

When I was 11 I wrote something very much like this, a contrarian mis-interpretation of Milton's work coupled with several action sequences. When I was 13 I threw it away because I recognized how cliched, how facile, how very, very unoriginal it really was. Imagine my surprise when, after finally reading this series which so many people had ranted and raved about, i discover it to be little more than that: a contrarian mis-interpretation of Milton written by a perpetually bitter adolescent. This is the sort of thing I thought was cool when I was 10 or 11, and which most people think is cool when they are in High School. It is also the sort of thing most of us grow up and discard, having matured and moved on. Sadly Pullman and his fans seem to be stuck with a very one-dimensional reading of Milton, the Bible, religion...and, well, most things in life.

His awareness of religion seems to be limited primarily to neo-paganism, Catholicism/Anglicanism, and maaaaaaaaybe Islam; the characters are paper-thin; the plot has been done better elsewhere; and the smug sense of self-righteousness that bleeds through every phrase is suffocating. It's like Pullman just listed a bunch of traditional beliefs/doctrines/assumptions, recast them as their opposites, and genuinely believed himself to be doing something original and revelatory. It's almost sad.

Contrarian elements:

Is God traditionally good? Then let's make him BAD!
Is religion traditionally good? Then let's make it BAD!
Is God traditionally omnipotent? Then let's make him FEEBLE!
Is God traditionally omniscient? Then let's make him SENILE!
Is homosexualty traditionally bad? Then let's make God & the angels GAY! (which, if you think about it, is effectively saying homosexuality is bad...)
Is the Devil traditionally bad? Then let's make him GOOD!
Is the Devil traditionally male? Then let's make him FEMALE!
Is the Devil traditionally fascinating? Then let's make her DULL!
Is the Devil traditionally the focal character? Then let's reduce her role to A FEW OFFHAND REMARKS BY OTHER CHARACTERS!
Are witches traditionally bad? Then let's make them GOOD!

It goes on like that for several-hundred, tiresome pages. Throw in some racism, anti-Islamism and anti-Catholicism and you've got the entire book.

ADDENDUM: [Composed in part as a response to a 5-star review of The Golden Compass I read elsewhere]

I think people can see it as atheist propaganda because its author has admitted it is such. Also, its God-analogue is a senile, toothless being desperate for death, and both he and his fellow-angels are actually just extra-dimensional aliens who've been lying to everyone and merely pretending to be the creators of the universe -- this is stated in the narrative. They have been lying and deceiving everyone to maintain their authoritarian regime.

Also, part of the point of Milton's Lucifer is that he's a charismatic and convincing, but also a self-centered liar. He preaches rebellion, then rallies the troops with a promise of freedom...but still places himself above them. All that talk of "reigning in Hell" ultimately only applies to him; all the other out-casts are still under him, even if some of them wind up ranking higher than some of their other fellow out-casts.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Sarah (new)

Sarah I love reading your reviews. This book, bored me. I listened to it on CD, and the voice annoyed me, too. Not Pullman's fault, I guess.

[Name Redacted] Thank you!

And I know that feeling; a good reader can do a lot for a book, but a bad one... It's thanks to a chapter Garrison Keillor read on the radio in 1996 that I read "The Great Gatsby", but the amateur readers from LibriVox made the work of Thomas Aquinas a terrible chore. Unfortunately, even the best reader in the world can't save an awful book. And "The Amber Spyglass"? It's an awful book!

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