Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

His Dark Materials #1-3

His Dark Materials

Rate this book
Northern Lights introduces Lyra, an orphan, who lives in a parallel universe in which science, theology and magic are entwined. Lyra's search for a kidnapped friend uncovers a sinister plot involving stolen children and turns into a quest to understand a mysterious phenomenon called Dust. In The Subtle Knife she is joined on her journey by Will, a boy who possesses a knife that can cut windows between worlds. As Lyra learns the truth about her parents and her prophesied destiny, the two young people are caught up in a war against celestial powers that ranges across many worlds and leads to a thrilling conclusion in The Amber Spyglass.
The epic story Pullman tells is not only a spellbinding adventure featuring armoured polar bears, magical devices, witches and daemons, it is also an audacious and profound re-imagining of Milton's Paradise Lost. An utterly entrancing blend of metaphysical speculation and bravura storytelling, HIS DARK MATERIALS is a monumental and enduring achievement.

1102 pages, Hardcover

First published November 1, 2000

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Philip Pullman

312 books23.3k followers
As a passionate believer in the democracy of reading, I don't think it's the task of the author of a book to tell the reader what it means.

The meaning of a story emerges in the meeting between the words on the page and the thoughts in the reader's mind. So when people ask me what I meant by this story, or what was the message I was trying to convey in that one, I have to explain that I'm not going to explain.

Anyway, I'm not in the message business; I'm in the "Once upon a time" business.

Philip Pullman is best known for the His Dark Materials trilogy: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, which has been named one of the top 100 novels of all time by Newsweek and one of the all-time greatest novels by Entertainment Weekly. In 2004, he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. He lives in Oxford, England.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
83,598 (53%)
4 stars
46,141 (29%)
3 stars
19,130 (12%)
2 stars
5,427 (3%)
1 star
3,104 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,623 reviews
Profile Image for Corie.
33 reviews45 followers
September 19, 2007
Until recently, this series had somehow flown under my radar. It wasn’t until I saw the trailer for the upcoming The Golden Compass movie that I was introduced to Lyra’s world. The trailer made the movie look AMAZING, so naturally (as I always do), I thought…”I MUST read this book!”.

His Dark Materials creates a beautiful, vibrant world with characters as deep as if you had known them your whole life. The books themselves deal with heavy subjects. Nuclear Physics, Parallel Worlds, Quantum Particles and Theology snuggle right up against equally introspective looks at Love, Friendship, Loyalty, Family and Honor. Quite frequently, I found myself looking at the cover of these books again and again to ensure that I was indeed reading a “children’s” novel. When did this genre get so deep? I don’t remember reading anything this remarkable when I was younger. No offense to you, Encyclopedia Brown, my dear friend.

While I hesitate to compare to Potter, I want to point out one main difference which I think is very important to anyone thinking about purchasing this series for their intrepid young reader….while HP deals with the strong ideals of good vs. evil, HDM leans heavily into the actual concepts of both, dissecting each, questioning the origins, challenging the pedestals each stand on. In HP, evil is simply evil. HDM doesn’t assume any such nonsense. If there is evil, it forces the reader to consider why they think that something is evil. Is it really? Or are you just looking at it from a different perspective? Also….for those who thought the HP series was too religious, reader beware of the HDM series. Pullman isn’t vague. He labels his players in the battle of good vs. evil – calling the church, the creator and religions out by name. Note this example: In book three, this sentence appears: “The Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing mistake, that's all.” Again – I wondered if this was merely an adult book cloaked in child’s clothing (as I lapped up every word).

I thought that the struggles between the Church, The Authority, the Creator, Dust, The Council etc. were deep but thoroughly engrossing. I embraced how Pullman questioned the very beginnings of organized religion and of the creator himself. He turned everything on its ear: Ghosts, Angels, Witches and even Death. He is essentially challenging every reader, regardless of age, to look at the world around you. Why do we trust, why do we believe, what is faith, what is truth? Maybe things are different than what they seem. Perhaps there is more out there than our extremely limited view of physics, theology and cosmology is currently telling us. Maybe the world isn’t round after all. Maybe it’s infinitely layered and unbearably more beautiful than we ever knew.

I’m putting this in my top five for now. Those of you who know me know that this category fluctuates a bit here and there. New favorite reads come along, old one’s fade away as I forget why I loved the world it painted for me. But for now, this series goes in my five. Because, as with every other book in my top five, the characters stayed with me long after I closed the back cover. I cared about them, I felt like I had made new friends and was physically sad to say goodbye to them. And THAT is what makes a book better than just “good”. That is what makes it endearingly wonderful, to the point that you carress the book's cover lovingly everytime you come across it. And becomes one you would recommend to others without hesitation.
Profile Image for Seth T..
Author 5 books863 followers
September 1, 2010
Day late and a dollar short with this one.

My hope was to have read and reviewed His Dark Materials trilogy before the film adaptation of the first third, The Golden Compass, came out last Friday. And I would have too - if it weren't for that sheer enormity of suckiness that was the third book in the series (The Amber Spyglass). *sigh* But then, life doesn't actually work out perfectly for us as often as we'd like. Sometimes there are earthquakes that level cities in Turkey. Sometimes Spinach is found to test positive for Salmonella. Sometimes a country introduces democracy to another. And sometimes, just sometimes, Philip Pullman writes a book.

Now I don't want it to sound like the series is the worst ever written. It's not. It's not even the worst I've ever read. Not entirely anyway. The fact is there are three books and they should be treated separately before we get to the series as a whole. So then, to the review! (times three.)

Oh yeah. And there'll be some spoilers in there. Not that it matters. Seriously.

The Golden Compass
A third of the way into Pullman's first installment of His Dark Materials, I was excited. While Pullman wasn't the most eloquent of writers and his characters had yet to really develop at all, it was clear he had an exciting imagination and was as good at world-building as nearly any fantasy author. He had developed an alternate history for our world that while completely foreign was largely analogous to our own that it didn't seem like a different world entirely. They have science and electricity and particle physics and everything - they just call it by a different name.

The real joy and conceit of the series though is Pullman's use of daemons, animal expressions of every character's soul. These familiars are constant companions of every human, expressing through their animal nature the nature and quality of their human companion. And the daemons of children have yet to find a stabilized form and so flit forth and back and over and again through a host of forms - from owl to ermine to tabby to dolphin to moth to monkey. Et cetera.

Throughout the first book's clumsy storytelling, there is still something that approaches near to wonder. Enough to satisfy some readers. The first four-fifths of the narrative are brisk and enjoyable, and the book only begins to falter when Lyra (the heroine) leaves the bear kingdom to meet her first-act climax. Pullman stumbles through an expository patch here and a finale that comes off as slightly less than readable. The book, much like The Fellowship of the Ring ends without an ending, leaving the conclusion for future installments.

The Subtle Knife
Typically, the middle chapter in a trilogy is its weak point, so the greater turn toward mediocrity wasn't so worrisome and I didn't quite see in it the grave portent that I ought to have (hindsight, eh?).

The second installment introduces a hero into the mix. Will, who is on the cusp of his teen years just like Lyra, actually hails from our world. And through happy accident or fate or dull contrivance both finds himself in league with Lyra and the chosen wielder of a knife that can cut through the fabric between worlds. The two team up and have a number of relatively dull adventures as we learn more about the great war brewing between heaven and earth and about the prophecy that Lyra is to be the new Eve and that she is to perpetrate a great betrayal and the freedom of all the worlds is at stake. Also introduced is an ex-nun-now-particle-physicist named Mary Malone who is prophesied to be the serpent/tempter to Lyra's Eve.

An interesting set-up for the final book despite being introduced by three-hundred pages of boredom punctuated by moments of ingenuity and interest.

The Amber Spyglass
Book three was just a mess. It's almost nonsensical as it strives against reason and its own narrative to bring the story to some kind of resolution. The great betrayal prophesied? Not really a betrayal at all. Lyra being tempted? Never happens. Mary playing the role of the serpent? Nope. She just kind of stands around. Oh, and the big plan to take war to heaven and kill God? Has nothing to do with anything in the story really. Though they do end up killing the Enoch from some world. The last 250 pages are baffling. There is no climax. The plot contrivances are painful. I'm not even sure what the point of the story was. Things happen because in Pullman's mind they need to, not because it would make any sense for something to happen a certain way.

It's hard to believe it but this book was worse actually than The Da Vinci Code. At least that was merely stupid. This was stupid, senseless, and (perhaps worst of all) boring. It's what I imagine Eragon would have been if I would have made it past page one hundred.

So then, as a whole? His Dark Materials is bad news for readers. From a moderately strong start it quickly turns into a preachy, meandering production of less than an infinite number of monkeys typing for slightly less than eternity. This is probably what half those monkeys would hit upon after about a year and a half. Pullman sets in motion things in volume one that never bear fruit. He never satisfactorily explains the things that one would expect that he should have explained. He provides no climax. His narrative is a shambles. He creates a character (Father Gomez), sends him on a mission to kill Lyra, follows him around for an inordinate amount of time, and then kills him without there ever being a confrontation between himself and his prospective victim. And then there are the mulefa. Don't get me started.

Additionally, his characters are cardboard cutouts who express whichever motive Pullman decides is necessary - no matter the fact that there is no reasonable expectation that these characters should behave so. The aeronaut decides really out of the blue that he loves Lyra (a girl he doesn't even really know) like a daughter and will do anything to protect her. The principle witch meets Mary Malone, talks with her for a few minutes, and then declares them sisters for life. It's all just baffling.

Recently, having criticized those who expressed how well-written the series is, I was put to notice that His Dark Materials has won a number of awards. I find this a chilling revelation and it wasn't 'til I recalled that Left Behind was a phenomenal bestseller that I was comforted that this was just business as usual for a civilization that is so steeped in mediocrity that it awards the title of Greatness to that which dare not even approach the servant quarters of Greatness for fear of overstepping its bounds. I think people want so badly to think highly of something, to think it the next whatever-recently-great-thing-comes-to-mind, that they abandon all sense of what is in order to do so.

Shame on Philip Pullman and shame on our society for encouraging such dreck. Remember, if you praise it, it will be emulated.
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,118 reviews3,964 followers
September 14, 2021
I read these three books to and with my child a few years after they were published. By the second and third, kiddo was waking up early and reading ahead. So I had to read further ahead because some of the vocabulary and philosophical and theological issues were huge for a child of seven or eight. We had some fantastic discussions as a result, and they nurtured a budding love of fantasy that probably started with The Hobbit (see my review HERE) and Harry Potter, which we read around the same time. Like those, the worldbuilding and associated terminology were part of the immersive charm.

We didn't read any of the spin-offs (though kiddo might subsequently have done so), but we did see Nicholas Wright's epic stage adaptation in 2003 (playscript here) at the National Theatre, over two days, starring Anna Maxwell Martin, Patricia Hodge, and Timothy Dalton.

Image: Lyra (Anna Maxwell Martin), Will (Dominic Cooper) and Iorek Byrnison, the armoured bear (Source)

I haven't watched the film (films?) either. I love the memories I have. I may, possibly, reread the original books, but I fear they will lack the magic without my young, bright, but credulous child (who married a fellow Tolkien fan a couple of weeks ago!).

The reason for posting this so many years later is partly so I don't forget, but also because these memories were reignited by reading Daisy Johnson's Everything Under (see my review, HERE), which also features people living on the waters of Oxford.
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,113 reviews44.4k followers
September 24, 2017
In just under a month La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1) will be released, so I thought I’d do a summative review of my experience with this trilogy. Here’s what I thought of each book, I read them over a period of four years and my reviews are what I thought at the time; they’ve not been edited since:

Book 1: The Golden Compass- 5*

This novel is an absolute work of pure genius, and is in my top ten reads of all time. Before I go into the depths of character and plot, let me start by saying this book is up there with other fantasy hard hitters: by this I mean books like The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia: the books that define the genre. This is high praise indeed, and this novel is worthy of it.

The protagonist of the book is Lyra, a young girl, who is parentless and seemingly friendless. She has grown up in an Oxford College and has developed a detachment to her guardians. She spends her days enjoying her youth and harassing those that turn out to be some of her greatest allies. For her, this book is a journey of self-discovery: a way of exploring the limits of her character and potential. Her adventure sees her befriend an armoured polar bear and become the wielder of the golden compass. This is initially described as a lie detector but it is apparent that the depths of its power have not been fully explored.

"It lay heavily in her hands,the crystal face gleaming, the brass body exquisitely machined. It was very much like a clock, or a compass, for there were hands pointing around the dial, but instead of the hours or the points of a compass there were several little pictures with extraordinary precision, as if on ivory with the slenderest sable brush. She turned the dial around to look at them all. There was an anchor; an hourglass surmounted by a skull; a bull, a beehive…..Thirty-six altogether and she couldn’t even guess what they meant."


This book retains all the classic elements of fantasy: magic, mythical creatures and supernatural phenomena. The world Pullman has created is physically intertwined with our own; there are references to cities and countries in which his idea has been planted.

Each human has a daemon that is essentially their soul. These take on the form of an animal that is representative of the person, for example someone who is enthusiastic and friendly has a colourful cat whereas as solider has a wolf or a hound. The author does very little to explain this. It is just thing “thing” that we are told about at the start but through the book but we begin to see the significance of it. The fact that children’s daemons change is a subtle hint how children can be influenced and have not found their identity where as adults are secure and confident. In this the author has created an air of mystery as we explore the true meaning of the bond as we read further.

The plot is fantastic. The author manages to surprise the reader on several occasions as he drops several, massive plot turns. This sees the story go into unexpected directions. From the beginning of reading a book, you begin to predict what will happen. Some books are completely predictable and obvious in their direction; this one was not. I physically gasped at some moments as I found myself awed by the author’s storytelling; this is when several characters origins, in relation to Lyra are defined. The book begins as a simple rescue mission but ends as a story that is questioning the morals of all characters involved. The fate of the characters is destined in the mysteriousness of the northern lights; the gateway to beyond.


This is one of those books that is applicable to all ages; it originally appears to be a children’s book, but it can be enjoyed by anyone. Much of the content in here touches on themes that most children would not comprehend fully, never mind be able to philosophise about. The author considers spirituality, religion, morals and the existence of the soul, amongst other things. Most children would not pick up on these references and understand the significance of them; however, they would still adore the book.

The book can be seen as two separate entities existing at the same time; the first, and most obvious, is the one that appeals to children; the saving of innocents from despotic adults with lots of exciting characters. The second is on a deeper scale; the author explores the conflicting powers of science and religion, manipulation and morality in terms of actions being for a greater good. In this the author is a genius, he has wrote a book that can be both a children’s bed time read and an adult’s point of pondering.

Book 2: The Subtle Knife-3*

When I read this the first time I completely overlooked a main component of the book. I approached it as if was the second book in the series, a massive mistake. I wrote a review criticising the fact that the novel felt awkward; it had no beginning or end: it just felt like the typical content you’d find in the middle of the story. The ironic point of this is that most critics take the trilogy as one whole book, rather than three separate works. And this really is the best way to approach the story.

The Golden Compass is the beginning of it all, the setting of the stage. This, then, is the middling part of the work. The second protagonist of the series, the Adam to Pullman’s Eve, takes the lead here. Initially, I was very resistant to this idea. I had grown to respect Lyra; she’s a really strong heroine, but after a while it started to make sense. Pullman has expanded his story considerably. Lyra has three chapters told from her perspective. The same amount, roughly speaking, is told from the perspective of Will. The rest of the chapters are from side characters of the previous book. So there’s a strong move away from a Lyra centred story.

I have mixed feeling about this. It felt like an odd authorial decision. At times this felt like an entirely different series altogether, again, something I eventually got over. There is no sense of closure at the end of this. The first book had a strong ending, but this has very little. This book seemed to be a mere set-up for the next instalment, which makes it rather difficult to review; it’s like picking out the middle bit of a story and trying to criticise it as a separate entity from the rest of it: it’s not easy to do. Any criticism you make are negated by the fact that this is not a separate book: it’s a chunk of a greater work.

So I’m going to read the third book before I speak any more about this- I need to see where these elements Pullman added go to. Perhaps a review of all three works together would be the best option. At this moment though, I find the witches one of the most interesting aspects of the work. I’m not entirely sure what to make of them as of yet. Hopefully, the third book will give me all the answers I need.

"All through that day the witches came, like flakes of black snow on the wings of a storm, filling the skies with the darting flutter of their silk and the swish of air through the needles of their cloud-pine branches. Men who hunted in the dripping forests or fished among melting ice-floes heard the sky-wide whisper through the fog, and if the sky was clear they would look up to see the witches flying, like scraps of darkness drifting on a secret tide."


Book 3: The Amber Spyglass-3*

I’ve been putting this book off for almost four years. I’ve been truly terrified to read it for such a long time. The first book, The Golden Compass, is one of the best fantasy novels I have ever read. I adore it. The second book is something else entirely. I was horrified when I read it and truly disgusted with the unexpected direction the series took. I did not want to read this one because I did not want my memories of the first book shattered completely.

So I finally picked it up and I approached it expecting to hate the thing. I expected it to be worse than the second book, but my expectations were unfounded. The biggest problem this trilogy has is the fact that it’s not really a trilogy. It’s essentially one big book, one story. Each book is not self-contained but needs to be read in sequence; they are not structured like individual books: the story keeps flowing to the last page. And this book, whilst nowhere near the same level of mastery the first book possessed, was not entirely bad. It managed to piece everything together quite nicely, but this series had the potential to do so much more.

I was delighted with the first book, for many reasons. One of the main things that impressed me was the strength of its protagonist. She’s a very young girl who is very much human. She is not a messiah figure and was prone to make mistakes but she was also capable of moments of real brilliance. I rooted for her. I wanted to see her grow and conquer those that would seek to use her for their own ends. She had power in her. With the introduction of Will she took a backseat in the story, he became the main hero and overshadowed her completely. She seemed happy to follow his lead and became subservient to his decisions.

This was a big mistake. Whilst Will did actually develop some personality in this book, it was at the tragic cost of Lyra’s. Pullman seemed unable to balance the two personalities together without one unfortunately dominating the other. And the ending they pushed towards was so very (how shall I put this?) closed. It was not the ending this series needed. I feel that Pullman sacrificed the situation he had blooming to fit the writing into the allegory he had been devising since the first book. It became too forced, one the story would have been much stronger if it was allowed to breathe and go where it needed to go.

The redemptive themes towards the end seemed drastically out of place. Two characters that clearly didn’t care much unexpectedly had a change of heart. I found it a little unbelievable. You may wonder why I even bothered to give it three stars. I’m wondering that myself. I think a lot of it has to do with Iorek Byrnison. He was in the last book, and his presence here helped pull the story up in my estimation. But His Dark Materials will always be a series that ruined its own potential.


I’m excited to read the new book, but I’m also a little bit nervous. I’m not sure if I will actually like it. I have very mixed feelings about this trilogy as, if you read my reviews here, you can probably tell. The start was spectacular, but then it went in places I didn’t think it should go. I know man readers agree with me, but there are also many who love the series as it is. I hate the direction it took and I hate how the female protagonist was a shadow of her former self by the end, dominated by Will’s personality.

Four stars is a very fair rating I think for the series as a whole is my opinion. The initial brilliance was distorted as the series expanded, but in reality all it did was detract the magic and limit the power of the storytelling. I will approach the new book with an open mind, and I hope that it is as fantastic as it could be.

Profile Image for Mathew.
25 reviews6 followers
October 5, 2011
Could you imagine a story that weaves history, quantum physics, theology, cosmology, trepanning, shamanism, love and the seriousness of adolescence into a coherent narrative? I could not. Yet Phillip Pullman has done just that, and a world more. This wonderful trilogy will lead you along a most unlikely path through some of the biggest questions of life - in philosophy, religion, history, science, and not least literature. That it does so as a masterful, child-accessible and wholly engaging story is a feat of imagination and storycraft easily on par with Madeleine L'Engle's classic A Wrinkle In Time and its sequels. The book has recently won an award for being
"the best children's book in the last 70 years". I am inclined to agree.

The first book, The Golden Compass, features the adventures of 11-year-old Lyra Belacqua, a precocious hooligan in a world almost but not quite ours, and the eponymous mechanism around which much of the story's plot is based. By itself, it might seem like a bit of a flighty read - fun, engaging, imaginative, but a bit strange at times, slyly heretical, even gruesome, leaving one to wonder "What is this really about?" Some critics (mostly of the sort that would have books like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn banned) have come to the shallow conclusion that the series is nothing but a vessel for diatribe against certain religions institutions, never named but nevertheless obvious in reference. While Pullman shows a certain wicked zeal himself in creating a world in which wicked zealotry is as obvious - and as taken for granted - as political corruption in our own, his purpose is far grander than any partisan attack on stale religion. Rest assured, dear reader, every scene in the book is building towards a conflict simultaneously metaphysical and worldly which is only fully revealed in the third book.

The Subtle Knife introduces Will, a boy of unquestionable grit who is destined to become Lyra's companion. Will hails from our world, but unexpectedly finds himself in a welter of parallel worlds, where he comes into possession of a knife. This knife has two edges; the first edge can cut any material in the world, while the reverse edge is "more subtle still", according to the knife's guardian. The knife quickly becomes the focus of a conflict that not only transcends worlds, but also intersects Will's troubled home life in a profoundly personal way. As new characters and new revelations enter the story, Will and Lyra come to realize that their struggles are part of something much, much larger.

The third volume, The Amber Spyglass, brings into view the literally cosmic scope of a battle that centers on Will, Lyra, and the strange objects in their possession. The volume builds to a literally universe-shaking climax, as pivotal events never fail to surprise and yet mesh perfectly with the grand flow of the story.

I will say no more, lest I spoil any of the surprises, except to reiterate that for once I agree wholeheartedly with the critics: this series, and in particular its masterful conclusion, is transcendent, magnificent, and astonishing.
Profile Image for David.
66 reviews6 followers
December 10, 2012
The first sentence that came to my mind after finishing this book was: anyone who would give this novel less than five stars has to be either a philistine, a charlatan, or a cynic. To add to that: a cynic grown so dull with the slop of the world that they have been rendered unable to see the raw charm of these characters Lyra and Will, and the amazing sad kind of beauty that comes with making the irreversible passage from childhood to adulthood.

Pullman is able to weave together in the thread of this narrative so many aspects of our worldly existence, including physics, evolution, literature, intraspective thinking (or meditative quieting of the mind, I'm not sure what to call it), religion, adolescence, and first love into a story that has all the charm and imaginative freedom of a fantasy work. Perhaps these themes could have been addressed without talking bears and animal daemon-companions, but the wonder of being able to explore this kind of magical world is what people who enjoy fantasy love about the genre.

There are depths here to reward rereading of this novel many times throughout one's life, and it deserves to be shared with anyone who is sensitive, intelligent, and curious about the world around them. The story itself is thrilling at times, but there is such richness here in ideas that one does not feel the need to plow through the novel in order to find out about what happens in the plot. The chapters allow one to rest and think, and to feel the weight of what the characters are confronting in the deepest part of oneself.

An amazing work that impressed me more and more as I read through it. It truly felt like I went along in a journey that mattered, and will be sorry if the virtues and ideals I saw played out in this work aren't made a model for myself in real life as well.
Profile Image for Kitty G Books.
1,551 reviews2,937 followers
February 9, 2016
So, this is a bind up of all three books in this series and it's a reread for me. I first read these when I was very young (maybe 11/12) and I remember absolutely loving them. This still remains true to this day and they are excellent books the second time through too. Also, being 10 years older now than when I first read it helped me to notice a lot more of the subtle references to religion, souls, sex, body image and so on. None of these were things I was even considering when I was young, but now these things become a vital part of the story, making this book one which bridges the gap between fun for kids and interesting for adults.

This is the story of Lyra, and later Will. They are both children, one from an alternative world (Lyra) where they have deamons which act as an eternal companion and soul, and one from our world (Will). We meet only Lyra in book #1 but by book #2 and #3 we have a lot of Will's involvement too and it quickly becomes a series about friendship, strength of character, love and adventure.

The character and worlds within this feel very genuine and expansive and I definitely connected with some truly horrific moments of the plot and felt deep sorrow, joy and sadness for the different characters at differing moments.

On the whole and excellent one to reread and a solid 4.5*s on the reread becuase of all the new things I picked up and loved the second time through :) Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Helene Jeppesen.
685 reviews3,641 followers
January 28, 2016
Great fantasy, amazing story! I think of all three books, I loved the first one "Northern Lights" the most because it introduced me to this amazing world, and it felt the most wintry to me with its polar bears, snow and magic. That being said, the two other books, "The Subtle Knife" and "The Amber Spyglass", were really good as well, and especially the second book kept my interest peaked.
This is one of those series that is written for children on the surface, but that is highly relevant and readable for adults as well as it contains layer upon layer of meaning and symbolism. I'm sure that you can read this trilogy again and again and still constantly discover new things - I certainly felt like a was missing out on a lot while reading just because so many things happened, and I knew there was more to them than what I realized. I was constantly surprised at how intricate this series is and how relevant it is to everyone in our world. It might be fantasy, but it is definitely true as well!
This is a children's classic and I'm obviously not a child anymore. But still, I'm very happy that I finally got around to reading this trilogy that so many people hold close to their hearts.
Profile Image for Duane.
828 reviews404 followers
August 12, 2016
I don't guess you could call this the "Gold Standard" of classic fantasy literature, that probably goes to Harry Potter, but His Dark Materials soars in that same stratosphere. It is so brilliantly conceived, so intricately constructed, and so well written that it leaves one in awe of Pulliam's achievement.

This trilogy is composed of three separately published volumes, Northern Lights (The Golden Compass in North America) (1995), The Subtle Knife (1997), and The Amber Spyglass (2000). A sequel, or companion book, titled The Book of Dust is due to be published in 2017.

The trilogy is categorized as for children and teens, but it is as much for adults as it's themes and views take on an anti-religious, anti-church point of view. Many Christians denounced the book as "atheism for kids". However, Pulliam says it is more about the dangers of strict, rigid religious doctrine and institutions than it is anti God or anti Faith. Pulliam refers to himself as agnostic atheist.

Pulliam's primary influences for the book were the works of William Blake and John Milton's Paradise Lost. It's actually a flipped over retelling of Paradise Lost.

I loved this book. I gave it 5 stars and put it on my favorites shelf. Wonderful characters like Lyra Belacqua and her daemon Pantalaimon, Will Parry, Lee Scoresby, and the great armored polar bear, Iorek Byrnison, and many more. The 2007 BBC Big Read put it at #3, behind only The Lords of the Rings and Pride and Prejudice.
Profile Image for Andrea.
15 reviews
March 5, 2008
(Spoilers below)

I read the first two books when they came out (my middle school years) but got tired of waiting for the third. However, when this whole controversy over The Golden Compass film adaptation was started by the Christian right, I decided it was time to read the series again. I simply didn't remember Philip Pullman's message about God and the Church disturbing me as a regularly church-going 12 year old. Sure, it made me think about what a corrupt church could do, but it all seemed hypothetical at the time and certainly didn't present any doubt that hadn't entered my mind before. When various websites quoted Pullman as saying his books are about killing God, it just seemed to me like there was an obvious caveat to that, i.e.: my books are about killing a God in a fictional universe where false authority is used to corrupt, control and destroy lives.

Now, having read all three books and knowing just a little bit more about faith, religion and the history of Christianity, I can see why parents would be concerned but not why they would forbid their children from reading the books or watching the movies. While Phillip Pullman is a known atheist and our "world" undeniably plays a part in Pullman's trilogy, the story is still fictional and Pullman's portrayal of God is just one many hypothetical possibilities. "God" is killed in Pullman's trilogy, but one must distinguish between Pullman's depiction of the Authority and the Christian image of God. Although Pullman's Authority is supposed to encompass all monotheistic and polytheistic beliefs in a god, God turns out to be just a corrupt angel and there is no one obvious creator. But even in Lyra's adventures I could not see anything refuting what I call God (an inexplicable higher force or reason behind all things). Although Dust makes up all living things in this trilogy, there is no discussion of why Dust came to be, just that for Dust to remain people must live truthful and full lives. So for me, it seems entirely consistent with my belief that there is an unseen God or higher uniting power in Lyra's universe that is ultimately good and has some relationship to Dust.

Pullman's books absolutely do not preclude what I call God, or even the God I think most Christians believe in. Pullman does promote healthy skepticism and warns against blind faith and a failure to embrace life in this world, but if anything, I think his books would help parents talk to their children about these abstract and important issues. So whether parenting from an atheistic standpoint or a strong Christian (Muslim, Buddhist, etc.) perspective, I'd encourage parents to let their children read the books if they desire to. Just talk to them afterwards about it. After all, helping children and young adults to try and understand the world around them and discover truth in whatever form they ultimately find it, is never a bad thing and is actually a necessary part of the process of achieving a deeper faith. By the time a person is old enough to understand any anti-religion message in these books, he is old enough to start critically evaluating his belief system.
Profile Image for Brierly.
155 reviews104 followers
January 11, 2018
Yes, it's taken me 3+ years to read His Dark Materials. I wanted to take longer pauses between the novels to really enjoy them. I've had my eye on this series for a while. Now I have a lovely bound edition with all three texts. I started The Golden Compass in high school but never finished it. In college I revisited Lyra's story and fell back into the rhythm of Pullman's storytelling. Lyra's characterization is vivid--truly a memorable character--and I liked the world building. Though, the pacing of Compass did not continue in the latter novels.

In summer 2016 I returned to the series with The Subtle Knife. Of course, this book suffers from middle child syndrome, but it was enjoyable all the same. I loved Will and Lyra as dual leads. Furthermore, the titular object was so much more to my interest than a alethiometer. One of those rare examples where dual lead characters balance one another... at least, for the time being. The story expanded here and grew much darker; favorite characters were revisited and new, compelling plot lines introduced.

I listened to The Amber Spyglass in summer 2017. I was so very excited to finish the series, especially knowing how much longer Spyglass is than the previous installments. But, as many have said on GR, Spyglass is both too long and too short; it reads like a great draft but not as a finished work. New characters are introduced and die frequently; furthermore, I failed to understand the introduction of several new species, no matter how interesting they were. Additionally, the ending was anticlimactic. Far too many elements were distracting during my reading of Spyglass. But all the same, I appreciate the world building in addition to the exploration of religion and adolescence.
Profile Image for David Katzman.
Author 3 books451 followers
March 29, 2017
This review only applies to book 1: The Golden Compass

Growing up with an addiction to Dungeons & Dragons and reading through my town library's entire Science Fiction and Fantasy section before I was sixteen has left me with a life-long proclivity for the fantastic. Some of my favorite novels manage to combine the highly literary (or experimental) with the fantastical. I'm willing to take a chance on books considered straight fantasy or science fiction, but I haven't been making the best choices this year other than Kraken. I gave Golden Compass a chance having found that many GR folks including friends have given it top marks. I didn't realize it was considered YA fiction nor had I seen the movie.

Frankly, I was underwhelmed. I had expected the next Lord of the Rings and this was nowhere near the sophistication of that work.

First to the good:

I appreciated a certain feminist sensibility that surrounded the main character, Lyra. Early on in the book it was directly called out that females were "not permitted" to enter the private club area of the college where she was raised...but she snuck into it anyway, ignoring the rules. And this event led to all that followed. She was a clever street smart girl who despite her diminutive size and youth is directly responsible for saving the day. She is the heroine through determination, compassion, and wit.

I felt enough urgency in the plot to want to know "what happens next." It kept me reading.

The Gyptian tribal people demonstrate a certain level of "town hall" democracy in their decision-making process. It was nice to see the sort of communal Q&A between leader and individuals that doesn't happen in our society. Although, they still had a leader, he seemed to rule more by moral strength and fairness than by force or even by convention.

Now to the not-as-good:

I did not get the deep believability from the characters that the best writers manage to create. I never bonded with the main character nor her friends to the extent that they felt real. Neither did the villains of the piece. They seemed even more exaggerated and one dimensional than the rest.

The Gyptian tribe seemed rather like a cross between Gypsies and Native Americans, and they were a bit too "perfect." As in, the noble savage.

Occasionally weak logistics. By that I mean, when a writer needs to create an actual physical experience such as a fight or moving a character through a house, they must deal with logistics. Describing the actions in a way that allows the reader to visualize the event without bogging it down without too many words and mucking up the pace of the narrative. At times, I found Pullman's logistics awkward or vague. Distances were unclear and timing was off.

Some of the relationships felt forced. Lyra manages to convince a warrior bear to join her quest and before you know it she "loves" him (in a platonic way). The build of this love was not very convincing--it seemed more like a device contrived by the author in order to increase the drama and emotional weight of the danger experienced by the bear.

Lastly, I'll comment on the accusation of "anti-Christianity" some have leveled at this book. I was really looking forward to some bold blasphemy but found nothing of the kind. The book seems to actually endorse the premise that literal souls exist although it manifests our souls as visible spirit animals bonded to each human. There is a running theme through the book that the fictional Church is trying to hide certain revelations that might bring into question orthodox religious doctrine. And they are willing to do cruel and violent things to hide them. But this doesn't call into question religious beliefs so much as it simply accuses a religious institution of corruption. Even Roman Catholics recognize that their church has done horrible things in the past such as endorsing the burning of witches and so-on. Popes have fathered kids. Priests have molested kids, and the church covered it up. But all that doesn't necessarily invalidate Christianity so much as certain institutional behavior. So overall, nothing much to get excited about there. Although, I am modestly curious whether Pullman will go further in the subsequent books, I did not find this compelling enough to read further. End of story.
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,644 reviews5,097 followers
August 31, 2016
i am actually assuming that i will be Left Behind, so my concern is more for others. i hate seeing families and friends split apart!

when it does occur, i would like to be someplace like a church where there will be lots of people Raptured... that way, right afterwards, i'll be able to pick up all the wallets and purses that are also Left Behind. you don't need money in heaven, right? and with all the honest folk gone, i also feel confident that post-Rapture will be ripe for money-making opportunities. no more guilt! i can indulge in all the hustles, scams, and grifts i've ever wanted, to my heart's content - but without feeling any sadness over cheating any of the Good People.

yay, bring on those post-Rapture greenbacks! I'M GONNA BE RICH, BITCH!
Profile Image for Jay.
151 reviews41 followers
May 31, 2023
A confession: Owing to my toxic obsession with Harry Potter I never read this when I was in my early youth, like I was supposed to. The logic of that stubborn decision was complex, and was, I believe, probably born from a fear that they might in fact be “better” than Harry Potter (a thought too horrible to comprehend!—No doubt Dumbledore would have a witty one-liner that would whimsically sum me up). However, more recently, I thought that now there’s a nice-looking big-budget TV series with a banging soundtrack to feast my eyes and ears upon, it might just be time to shelve my pride, accept help from Cedric, take my golden egg to the prefects’ bathroom, and see what His Dark Materials is all about. (Silly referential metaphors aside, I do actually read in the bath a lot, I just love a bit of bubble bath and a glass of wine of an evening—we all have our vices.)

Overall, I really enjoyed leisurely making my way through these volumes over the course of a few months. Pullman has created a wonderful and unique fantasy (possibly more sci-fi than fantasy) world. He is an especially gifted writer and his imagery glitters off the page in a way that I don’t think J.K. Rowling would be quite capable of replicating. From a writerly point of view, I thought the last few pages of The Northern Lights were particularly breath-taking to behold, and that was the point at which I became fully invested in this series.

Beyond nostalgia, there’s a lot to enjoy in these books as an adult. Post-physics-degree-me loved the clever welding together of quantum physics, astronomy, and Christianity. This gave the story an epic feel of combined mythical, biblical, and high sci-fi proportions.

If we’re talking favourites, I admit I still think Rowling delves into emotional trauma in a way which I find more affecting whereas Pullman doesn’t seem very interested in that aspect of his writing. After all, it’s not until about halfway through The Subtle Knife before Roger’s name is really even mentioned; that seemed like an odd evasion of the emotional meat of the story, to me. Anyway, ultimately, I don’t really agree with the professional critics who believe HDM to be vastly superior to Harry Potter. Both series are brilliant things for children and adults to read alike, but my heart will always veer towards Hogwarts and I think it’s justified in doing so.

I own each of these three volumes as separate books. However, I think this is a series which, like The Lord of the Rings, is best understood as a single large novel. I don’t think any of its composite parts would work as stand-alones, and its quality is broadly similar throughout. Its dramatic structure forms a single satisfying arc, and reaching the end of The Amber Spyglass, I felt as though I’d been on a long single adventure rather than three separate ones.

If pushed, I’d probably say that The Northern Lights is the most iconic and flawless of the three phases, whereas The Amber Spyglass slightly drags in its first half. But whatever, all three books are of a piece, and they’re all very good.

FYI, not rating this in separate instalments is going to cost my reading challenge ambitions dearly. #JustSaying.
Profile Image for Karen.
23 reviews
February 13, 2008
So, I was interested in reading The Golden Compass series by Phillip Pullman (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass) because some parents have asked us to remove it from the shelf at the school library. After hearing the allegations about the books (that they are intended to persuade children to become atheists), I was feeling like people had not given them a chance. I had already begun to read The Golden Compass before I had heard about any of the controversy, after all, and there was nothing that I could find that was questionable. So I continued to read. Even after the second book, it seemed as though he was only speaking out against corrupt religion, which I think is a good thing. Not too far into the third book, however, it was clear that he believes all religion is corrupt.

The premise of the books is essentially that there was an angel a long time ago that put himself above the other angels and called himself God and the Creator (even though he was not) and that his goal is to keep people from gaining knowledge(that's why gaining knowledge was the original sin). The rebel angels (you know, that 1/3 from the war in heaven) have been fighting against him ever since and trying to help humans learn. And they enlist the help of two children to help them destroy God and create the Republic of Heaven (rather than the Kingdom).

There's a lot more to the stories, of course, and they are well written and interesting, but they still really hurt my feelings. In his books, the only religious people are either power-hungry hypocrites or fearful and ignorant. He writes about love and accepting people even with their faults (his main characters are flawed on purpose, I think) and the power of human relationships and following your instincts and the great value of learning. I am in complete agreement with pretty much everything he writes about those things. He seems to have a good understanding of how we all interact with and need each other. But the major flaw I see is that his goal is to show that religion is the antithesis of all of those good things; it is only useful for repressing people. So, while he may know a lot about life, he is quite ignorant about religion and people's reasons for being religious. Maybe he should stick to writing about things with which he is familiar.

For the record, I still don't think it should be removed from the shelves at school. As my sister said to me, "Nothing good ever came from censorship." I agree. It would probably create more problems than it would solve. And I want to have my freedom of expression protected, so I can't take away someone else's. Still, I think parents should be making informed decisions about what their children are reading.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Lisa Vegan.
2,760 reviews1,218 followers
January 13, 2008
I got this edition containing all 3 books in the trilogy because of the author's lantern notes at the end of each of the three books. As of the first book, didn't find the notes worth reading; the second, they were slightly more interesting but not essential. I did appreciate those that came after the third book.

I do not understand how I missed knowing about these books until late in 2007, but I’m really glad that I found them.

The Golden Compass: 5 stars:

I don’t consider fantasy to be “my” genre, although I’ve certainly enjoyed my fair share of fantasy books. I do enjoy books where the author has been able to create a fascinating “whole other world” and that is certainly been done here.

This book was a rollicking good ride. I’m not sure that I would have gotten through the first 20 pages if it had not been recommended (thanks Ken!) but by page 50 I was hooked. Terrific story. After book 1, what is to happen remains a mystery to me, but one I am eager to read. Lyra is a wonderful character. I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, but it’s fun to read a fantasy book with a girl as the main protagonist.

The Subtle Knife: 5 stars:

The book is engrossing, suspenseful, with wonderful storytelling. It’s very, very dark. (This darkness reminded me of book 2 of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy; the first book was dark in many places also. This series might not be for everybody, but I’m loving it.) I especially appreciate how the child characters question the authority of the adults and of their worlds. Lots of fully fleshed out characters that I care about and that makes me especially eager to read book 3 of the series.

The Amber Spyglass: 5 stars:

This series is really fine fantasy fiction. Until toward the end of The Amber Spyglass, I was thinking how I had enjoyed the first book the most. But, by the time I finished reading The Amber Spyglass, I realized that all that happens in the 3 books of the trilogy come together so beautifully that what I now most appreciate is the whole story. Lyra, Will, Mary, and too many other characters to name will really stick with me.
Profile Image for Bruce.
55 reviews1 follower
May 5, 2011
Remember how, when the film version of "The Golden Compass" came out, evangelicals told their followers not to see it because the book is about a battle against God, and that God is defeated in the end?

They were right. And it's really sort of childish. In the bad way. And I'm about as far to the left of the right wing religious nut cases as you can get. I'm all for a critique of how religion has hobbled civilization. I firmly believe that the church (pick your religion, not just the Christian church, but the mosque as well) has been responsible for atrocities that would never have happened without its existence and for a finite amount of good that could easily have been accomplished without its existence.

But "His Dark Materials" is not that critique. It's just nastiness in the guise of fantasy--and poorly accomplished fantasy, at that.

The first book is quite enjoyable, the parallel history fascinating, the world well-imagined, the climax compelling, the characters engaging and well-iimagined. The concept of all humans having a "daemon," an animal familiar that's a physical projection of aspects of their personality, which can talk with them and accomplish certain tasks, is quite brilliant. It's that concept that dominates the plot of the "Northern Lights" (called "The Golden Compass" in the U.S.), and the book is a good read.

Then Pullman starts to expand his fantasy world, with "The Subtle Knife," and each addition tends to water it down and make the cosmology both more complicated and more incoherent. Bringing in the world we know seems smart, at first, but then he decides there has to be an infinite number of worlds, and each is imagined with considerably less aplomb than the last, until they become as two-dimensional as "Star Wars" planets.

At the same time, the cosmology becomes both more twisted and more blatantly diadactic, even childishly vindictive, pretty much as rabidly anti-religion and anti-church as the right wingnuts would have you believe. It finally seems conceived not with wit and clarity of vision, just with bitterness and anger. The third book is long and winding (and long-winded) and poorly structured, and Pullman just keeps inventing more creatures and more worlds and more cosmological twists and more, more, more that results in a clatter of silliness as the series finally reaches its silly and unsatisfying climax.

If ever there was a popular fantasy series with a "making it up as he went along" feel to it, it's this one (moreso even than the "Star Wars" movie series and the "Twilight" books). If I were to rate the "Dark Materials" books separately, I'd give "Northern Lights" four stars out of five, "Knife" two or three and "Spyglass" zero or one, but taken as a whole, the awfulness of the third book poisons the intelligence and good storytelling that has come before and the whole series comes crashing down.
Profile Image for Zala.
308 reviews53 followers
May 23, 2023
Northern Lights 5☆

The Subtle Knife 5☆

The Amber Spyglass 3☆

Some spoilery musings:
- Lord Asriel is just as scary and cool adventurer uncle as I remember him, and up to now he's only been described as "a tall man with powerful shoulders, a fierce dark face, and eyes that seemed to flash and glitter with savage laughter" which leaves open the question of where Lyra got her hair color from.

- Ah yes, this is what they got so very wrong in the HBO series; Coulter isn't so obviously fake-nice. She actually seems kind and angelic to the children. As much as I dislike the movie adaptation, it did have better casting for her.

- Gotta love Lyra. She's proud and stubborn, a liar and storyteller all in one. She's steet-smart but also clever, and she genuinely cares for others. And she runs away on the stairs, unlike the weird elevator they put in the series.

- "Ma Costa was a powerful woman with gray hair and hands like bludgeons" and terribly, terribly miscast in the series.

- All this planning and preparation with the gypsies, plus the hall they convene in, is so much grander than what they did in the series (leave it to HBO to downgrade great source material).

- “If you want my service, the price is this: get me back my armor. Do that, and I shall serve you in your campaign, either until I am dead or until you have a victory.”
I thought so. The scene where they meet Iorek is so much better here.

- Lyra is so clever; she slips the fake alethiometer tin into her boot while tied up and scared, convincingly gives a false name to her captors, acts dim-witted because she judges that will benefit her, and spins this whole tale about her parents being traders with some truths slipped in (like that she's from London) to make it more convincing.

- Good thing the goose (who they changed into a falcon in the TV series - a goose just isn't cool enough, huh?) followed them.

- “Human beings can't see anything without wanting to destroy it, Lyra. That's original sin. And I'm going to destroy it. Death is going to die.”
Do you not hear the irony in your own words, Asriel.

- Curious that some witches are helping the church.

- So the spectres come and go and the residents of Citagazze also come and go; and the kids say they sort of like it when the specters come so they can do what they want without the grownups. They obvs got used to the spectres being part of their world to some extent.

- Will and Lyra also spend more time there and even play with some of the kids, unlike the painfully awkward meeting in the series.
Profile Image for Annelies.
161 reviews3 followers
March 12, 2017
Defenitely a winner! Normally this sort of fantasy books is not my cup of tea but I adored reading this book. The themes it handles are very grown-up (I don't understand how a child could understand all what is in the book). It never becomes trivial or laughable. Everyone thinks very logically. The plans are well taught over and everyone handles according to this plans. I don't know what to say more about the book. Just read it!
Profile Image for Ashley Marie .
1,238 reviews383 followers
November 2, 2017
Northern Lights / The Golden Compass - 12Nov16
4 stars

Breathtaking and smart and utterly brilliant. Reading several of Pullman's interviews has made me decide to re/read the Chronicles of Narnia at some point in 2017; the misconception that His Dark Materials is a direct rebuttal of Narnia has interested me for years, and then to finally read this and hear from Pullman himself that it is NOT said rebuttal makes it that much more interesting. I love the idea of the church being the ruthless/villain entity, much like the Library in the Ink and Bone series. And the daemons! Such a fantastic idea :) The ending was a sucker punch and I can definitely say I wasn't expecting it. I loved meeting the ice bears and I'm looking forward to the next book!

I liked the film adaptation for its effects and the cast. The script just suffered unendingly, poor thing, and that made it utter crap overall.

The Subtle Knife - 18Oct17
4 stars

First of all, I'm amazed that I didn't make mention in my Golden Compass review of how fantastic the full cast audiobook is. If anyone wants to do a reread or even pick it up for the first time, it's really easy to follow. Pullman does the overall narration himself, and I swear to god he sounds like Liam Neeson. (Score!)

This book follows the dark tone of the first; as in the real world, villains never look like villains and they're everywhere. No more ice bears in this one, but we are introduced to Will, and Serafina Pekkala and Lee Scoresby are back :) The idea of church/religion vs science breaks through a little more clearly in this book, so we can see that an inevitable war is brewing.

And then it had to end on a goddamn cliffhanger, and it threw all my reading plans out of whack. (But I'm sure Amber Spyglass will be worth it, so whatever.)

The Amber Spyglass - 1Nov17
4 stars

The final chapter brings sadness, as final books always do. I wasn't able to start this as quickly as I wanted to, but once I did I actually found it tough to keep up in places. Between the angels and the Authority and using the subtle knife EVERYWHERE (or so it seemed), I think I lost the thread of the story for a short while early on. Venturing into the Land of the Dead brought me right back though; I definitely cried when Lyra had to leave Pan. And the ending wasn't the happiest we all could have wished for, but I think it gives the best closure. This is, after all, a story about growing up, and growing up means you have to do things you don't always want to do. Something about facing a choice between what is right and what is easy... different series, same idea ;) I'll be ever glad to have visited this world (worlds?) and I'm looking forward to the new Book of Dust series so I can come back!

Trilogy overall - 5 stars
This is one of those series everyone should read. It's brilliant.

Sidenote: Funny how it took me exactly a year to read this trilogy.
Profile Image for Michael.
278 reviews363 followers
August 18, 2010
Never has a book/series had such an impact on me as His Dark Materials, specifically The Amber Spyglass. It still stands as the only book that has ever made me cry. I was a wreck after finishing it, to the point where I literally could not sleep because I couldn’t believe it was over. Not only was the ending beautifully heartbreaking, but I had to accept the fact that these characters' journeys had come to an end, the series was over, and it was time for me to move on in my life. I just couldn't accept that, because I had become so unbelievably attached to these characters over the span of the trilogy. And because of that, this is the best reading experience I've ever had in my life.

I'll admit it, I read this series because of the movie release of The Golden Compass, and, of course, the appeal of how "controversial" it is. The film was incredibly disappointing (they stopped two-thirds of the way through the book, for God's sake) and wanted to see if the books helped clarify some of the plot holes in the movie. What I found was an incredibly absorbing and inventive world that the filmmakers only skimmed the top of. The alternate universe Philip Pullman has created is much darker than the movie (especially as you move into The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass).

I know everyone's heard of how controversial this series is. Most prominently in The Amber Spyglass, Pullman subtly (and in other places, not so subtly) deals great blows to the Christian faith, or religion in general. He reacts to the Church's view of the afterlife, free will vs. obedience, the portrayal of God, and even gay rights. But he does this so unabashedly that it's hard not to appreciate (or in my case, adore) his declarations on religion.

Through it all, though, this is simply a story about growing up. It is truly a masterpiece, and deserves to be more widely read. This is one set of books I will never part with for as long as I live.
Profile Image for Stuart.
718 reviews266 followers
January 1, 2022
His Dark Materials: Works on Many Levels, A Modern Fantasy Classic
This is a trilogy that is best enjoyed as a single epic tale with three parts, much like The Lord of the Rings. It may have a superficial resemblance to Chronicles of Narnia in that its protagonists are children in a fantasy world, but its explorations of morality, consciousness, and its subversive view of the Catholic Church and religious dogmatism make it an anti-Narnia tale that must have C.S. Lewis turning cartwheels in his grave. It also has a lot more dark elements, especially in the portion set in our world, which reflects the far more conflicted and morally-confused world of today.

I won't describe the plot or characters as that's been done by many others well. Suffice to say that I think the books work equally well as YA fantasy in terms of the plot and adult fantasy in terms of the cosmological and religious and moral themes. The story is absolutely packed with ideas and challenging contents that elevate it far beyond a mere fantasy adventure. It also manages to take many familiar fantasy tropes like magic, witches, talking animals, quests, and a massive war in the heavens for the fate of the world, and somehow make them feel fresh and reinvented, rather than derivative.

I listened to the trilogy on audiobook, and have been watching the BBC miniseries His Dark Materials, which certainly has captured the tone of the books better than the earlier film The Golden Compass. It's a high-quality work of the imagination that has captured modern readers like the Harry Potter series, and is much superior in my opinion.
Profile Image for Catherine.
415 reviews136 followers
June 25, 2019
I can't believe I never read this trilogy when I was a child, but at the same time I'm glad I read it as an adult because I wouldn't have appreciated the different themes. However, it must be amazing to get both readings: the one when you're a child and the one when you're an adult. I highly recommend it for readers of all ages, children, teenagers or adults. This is a new favorite. Full review to come.
Profile Image for Pearl.
244 reviews18 followers
August 11, 2021
Fourteen is pretty grown in every fourteen-year-old's mind.

I had experienced a lot o things by the time I turned fourteen. Mostly good. Some bad. A few ugly enough to make me cling to childhood's cloak more insistently than ever. I could tell I wasn't to be a 'successful teenager'. I didn't speak the language of this strange new country. There were whole libraries worth of knowledge that seemed to be passing straight over my head.

This wouldn't have been so bad if I hadn't been, in my own mind, such a successful child. I was good-natured and just rebellious enough to entertain my family. I let myself be dressed up, I was never bored and excellent at inventing my own games and stories. I was the cleverest and the funniest of my friends. Basically, like all children, I was full of possibility.

So when adulthood beckoned, I retreated into reading, and in between the wait for some Potter book, I stumbled across HDM. I loved Northern Lights. I loved the half-wild child Lyra, and the frozen country she explored without the slightest bit of caution.

The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass teenage me did not enjoy. I chalked it up to all sorts of things. Pullman gets fairly metaphysical in parts of the later volumes, references a lot of work I'd never heard of, my favourite character Mrs Coulter was barely present, and I thought, like so many other YA books, that the series had just lost focus.

I was wrong.

Northern Lights was a child's journey. An excellent one, but a child's one nonetheless. But Subtle Knife and Amber Spyglass are books about growing up. Where Northern Lights is 'innocence' they are 'experience'.

I had no patience for experience. It didn't come naturally to me, so I tried to avoid it for many more years. I wanted to stay little and loved and move through the world without taking responsibility. This is getting very deep for a book review, but I honestly feel these books came back to me right when I needed them most.

I'm twenty-eight now. I don't think I'm very grown, but at the same time I feel more grown than ever. I'm far away from home, I could cry every day, but at the same time I'm right where I'm meant to be. I feel like if I had a daemon, now is when he would have settled, or I would have come to appreciate his form.

This might be the first 'young adult' book that has grown richer since I read it first.
Profile Image for J. Bryce.
367 reviews29 followers
January 16, 2018
One of those books you don't want to finish.


I could recommend this to literally ANYone, and if they have the gumption and persistence, they would get a helluvalot out of it. WHAT DO I HAVE TO SAY TO CONVINCE YOU?!? Just read it, think about it, enjoy it.
Profile Image for steph.
217 reviews
November 21, 2016
In three words: epic, heartbreaking, imaginative.

"'But I stopped believing there was a power of good and a power of evil that were outside us. And I came to believe that good and evil are names for what people do, not for what they are. All we can say is that this is a good deed, because it helps someone, or that's a evil one, because it hurts them. People are too complicated to have simple labels.'"

Challenge: #MyEverymansLibrary

Note: This Everyman's Library edition contains all three books of the trilogy (Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass), so some of this review might be a bit spoilery.

I first read the His Dark Materials books a good few years ago, so, naturally, I barely remembered anything from books two and three. I was more familiar with the first book simply because I've watched the film in recent years (I think I might even have seen it twice, not because it's a great film but just because it happened to be shown on TV!).

When I first read this trilogy, I remember not really liking the religious references - I found them quite heavy, a bit boring to read, and I can't say I really understood them either. While rereading the books, I did find that I still didn't particularly like to focus on this aspect of the story, and there were points where I found myself skimming a little bit just to get through the especially dense parts. There is a lot of detail in these books, and so many different themes are covered - religion, science, adolescence, death, and others - that I think there's probably something to interest everyone. Pullman does an incredible job weaving all these together in a way that is (mostly) very readable and thought-provoking.

You might be wondering why I've still given this trilogy five stars (rounded up from 4.5) despite not liking the heavy-handedness of some of the subject matter, and the reason for this is simple: the characters. I've probably said it before, but characters will absolutely make or break a book for me.

I'm a complete sucker for cute non-human characters, so although I loved the protagonist Lyra anyway, I of course completely adored her dæmon, Pan. And speaking of dæmons, I thought that Lyra's world (in which a part of everyone's soul is in the form of an animal called a dæmon, whom they can talk to and interact with) was so well imagined and richly detailed. (We've had the Patronus test... I need the dæmon test now, please and thank you.)

Each book gets more complex than the last. Firstly, they start to move between worlds: book one is set in Lyra's world; book two introduces us to Will, who lives in a world like ours, and follows their adventures in these two worlds; and book three moves between several different worlds. And as well as the settings changing and increasing in number, Will and Lyra are growing and changing, and encountering all sorts of challenges. The finale of The Amber Spyglass is so heartbreaking but I also think it was really well done and a great end to the series.

I think His Dark Materials deserves a place in my library because its epic scope and cast of vividly drawn and memorable characters means that it is well deserving of being called a 'modern classic'. It's definitely a trilogy that I want to reread again in the future - because it is so complex and detailed, I think I'll find something new each time I go back to it.

Recommended for: people who wish to read a wonderfully imagined fantasy with a lot of heart and profound themes.

Review also posted here.
Profile Image for Sara the Librarian.
748 reviews323 followers
September 11, 2013
Add me to what I'm sure is a very short list of people who didn't get the whole "anti-god" sentiment that this series is supposedly laden with.

I read this series for the first time several years ago while working in a book store and madly searching for something to tide me over until the next Harry Potter came out. I became a dedicated Pullman fan within a few pages of "The Golden Compass."

I like young adult fantasy that doesn't pander and Pullman wouldn't dream of doing that to his readers. He assumes you're smart enough to understand where he's taking you and how you're going to get there and he's smart enough to let you draw your own conclusions.

The arc of Lyra "Silvertongue" Belacqua is a wonderful and satisfying one and her story is one of the few really strong ones for young female characters in young adult fantasy fiction. She grows gradually and beautifully through the course of a harrowing but never the less exciting adventure from an almost feral child into a breath taking young woman. Her's is every child's painful journey to adulthood.

Pullman's wonderful world is based upon our own and there are strong elements of "steam punk" throughout though he doesn't get bogged down in fancy contraptions and top hats the way others do. His characters are the real story here and they are painted wonderfully and with incredibly detail.

Its his daemons that I love the most and every time I pick these books up to read again, and I do often, I spend a considerable amount of time wondering what form my own would take. I also find myself wondering every time how a man who views the soul in such a wonderful way could be called godless.

Profile Image for Yeany Dahlan.
12 reviews25 followers
October 14, 2007
If Harry Potter series were considered heretic by some groups of people, I don't know what will they say when they read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials as the books do reflect anti-Christianism with God portrayed as vindictive and authoritarian figure growing ..dare I say it? ...senile and need to be ousted (Oh my God)..

His Dark Materials is a trilogy beginning with the shocking The Golden Compass, and followed by The Subtle Knife and ends with The Amber Spyglass. And if we disregard the anti-christian feeling, it's a fast paced and fantastically imaginative fantasy story.

The heroine is Lyria partnered with a young boy as the solid companion - where they battle dark angels, facing encounters with the talking polar bears and brave many near death experiences in their quest to save the world from Armageddon.

It's interesting to read the metaphors and philosophies in the books - in Lyria's world, everyone has "daemons" or in our world "souls" which resemble animals and keep changing until a person reach adolescence and losing one's "daemons" is a catastrophy. Very much like losing one's soul I guess where a person is like losing his essence or being.

Then the battle of good and evil and the shaking of our belief of what has always been considered good may not necessarily be good.

His Dark Materials delight and entertain as a fantasy novel even though there are some parts which I think wander too much out of the story...however, regardless all that - it's an interesting read.

Profile Image for HP Saucerer.
83 reviews31 followers
February 27, 2019
Having heard that His Dark Materials was seen as being a scathing attack on religion and its indoctrinated practices, I'd always wondered if this was truly the case, and having faith only made me all the more curious to delve in and see for myself. But to say this series is anti-God is a great disservice and entirely unjust. Sure, the Magisterium - the antagonist in the series - is an omnipotent, oppressive authority, symbolising organised religion, but the series is about so much more than that. It is about a little person taking on her world’s biggest authority, and not destroying it – but setting it free. It is about the innocence of youth, the longing to find a sense of purpose in the world, and ultimately, it is a story filled with great hope.

His Dark Materials cannot easily be compartmentalised: it changes its guise as quickly as a child's daemon, seamlessly switching from fantasy quest to political thriller, murder mystery to love story. In many ways, it is radical reading, particularly given that it is supposedly a story written for children. It is a series that speaks many truths: about how the world is, and how children are. It will grip you from the very start, draw you in, tug at your heart and challenge your thinking. This remarkable series is truly one for the ages. Now on to the Book of Dust!
Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,623 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.