“So Lyra and her daemon turned away from the world they were born in, and looked toward the sun, and walked into the sky.”
I have already reviewed Northern Lights as a Recommended Read, and yes, technically I have again chosen a Desert Island Book that actually comprises of more than one novel. But when it comes to the Philip Pullman trilogy His Dark Materials, there really is no way of separating them. And there is no way I could live on a desert island without them.
As I said in my review, I read these books fairly regularly – after I have finished them, I feel for a while like I have fully absorbed everything they have to offer, but it doesn’t take long for me to start thinking that I can’t quite remember everything that happened in each of the stories, and that there must be something I missed. This to me illustrates how rich these novels are. You can read into them as much or as little as you like, with themes including religion, heaven and hell, the soul, and loss of innocence being quite complex, but the story of a young girl searching for a lost friend and navigating her way through magical lands has its own simple pleasures.
“He dared to do what men and women don’t even dare to think. And look what he’s done already: he’s torn open the sky, he’s opened the way to another world. Who else has ever done that? Who else could think of it?”
I could never decide on a favourite between these three novels. Northern Lights is a fabulous introduction, with so many varied characters it’s hard to know where to begin describing them all, living in a world with as many striking similarities to our own as there are differences. The middle book, which in many cases can be the weakest in a series, but not here, simply explodes into a giant universe of many worlds, including our own, and a young boy called Will is enlisted to join Lyra’s adventure before unwittingly becoming the master of the Subtle Knife. And then finally the third instalment, The Amber Spyglass, and the character I most identified with, Mary Malone. As an adult thrust into a magical world, Mary has much more difficulty at first than Will or Lyra in accepting what has happened, but embraces her journey as much as the two children do. I could just imagine being her, discovering a new world, meeting strange creatures, learning how to communicate with them, helping them to survive.
This is an epic adventure story, and the first time I read it, I had no idea where it would take me next. And every time I have read it since, I have discovered something new. Basically, this could probably sustain anyone on a desert island for an extended period of time. There isn’t much more to say – I don’t think anyone would ever get bored of these books.
“What work do I have to do then?” said Will, but went on at once, “No, on second thought, don’t tell me. I shall decide what I do. If you say my work is fighting, or healing, or exploring, or whatever you might say, I’ll always be thinking about it. And if I do end up doing that, I’ll be resentful because it’ll feel as if I didn’t have a choice, and if I don’t do it, I’ll feel guilty because I should. Whatever I do, I will choose it, no one else.”