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The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman


I really enjoyed this book, as I did the first one in the Dark Materials trilogy, The Golden Compass. The new character, Will, is a nice addition, as is the weapon thrust upon him, the subtle knife itself. The story moves into two more worlds besides the one explored in The Golden Compass. One of them is our world. I loved the way that the three worlds were all similar to each other (Lyra and Will both live in an Oxford, which share many similarities, but also have many differences). I also still very much enjoy the idea of the daemons, and the way the concept is expanded and clarified here.

One question on this: If Grumman's daemon (soul) become visible upon entering Lyra's world, why didn't hers disappear upon entering our world? Certainly it would have been difficult for her to take, and probably Pullman didn't want to deal with the issues surrounding her reaction to losing Pantalaimon, but wouldn't it have made more sense, internally?

This one is a lot more explicit in its religious references than the first one was. In one way, I'm glad about this. I don't have to wonder what Pullman is getting at, or who he's mad at. On the other hand, he is clearly anti-Church, even in the first book, and in this one, anti-God. But I don't yet know if he's truly against the true God, or what he believes the organized Church (specifically, it seems, the Roman Catholic Church) has made of God. Because if the true Church and the true God really do what he accuses them of, then I would agree with him. But I don't believe that they do. Certainly, the Catholic Church hasn't been upright all the time. No human or human institution is. But I don't think Pullman has made a good enough case against the Biblical portrayal of God to make the statements that he does. Thus I can, in a sense, still enjoy the books without getting worked up over their anti-Christian message, because I know that Christianity is not what he claims it to be. But I would still hesitate to unequivocally recommend the books, because I think this view of Christianity is prevalent in many circles, and the trilogy is subtle enough about it that those with little faith or weak faith could be swayed by it. It also adds to the multitude of poor portrayals of the Church in modern literature and film. I would want to be very sure of who I was talking to before giving them these books to read.

The interesting thing is, that Pullman does seem to understand, on some level, what it really means to trust and follow God, but does not apply it to God. Note this paragraph, from near the end of the book, when Lee "flies" with the witch's eagle daemon: "And Lee felt whatever bird nature he was sharing respond with joy to the command of the eagle queen, and whatever humanness he had felt the strangest of pleasures: that of offering eager obedience to a stronger power that was wholly right." This is what Christians feel following God--the pleasure of offering eager obedience to a stronger power, that is wholly right. I don't know what to make of Pullman yet. Let me finish the trilogy.