– by Campbell Clark

It’s not the norm for LRM to cover book reviews, though we certainly do dabble in the written word of comics. However when as important a book as this comes along, it seems only right to cover it for our readers.

You may or may not have heard of British author Phillip Pullman, along with many other books Pullman is the author of the critically acclaimed His Dark Materials Trilogy, consisting of The Golden Compass (or Northern Lights as it was known outside of the US), The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. Even if you have never read the series of novels you may well have heard of that it has an upcoming adaptation from the BBC (one of the reasons this book may be a good fit). Of course, you may have also heard (or seen) the movie The Golden Compass which was released in 2007 and directed by Chris Weitz.

Unfortunately if the movie is your only experience of these stories then you may be left wondering what all the fuss is about, despite some phenomenal casting of the roles the film failed to capture the magic of the books and for me, a large part of that was due to the film trying to steer away from some of the more controversial aspects of the story in order to try and find a US audience. Let me explain without spoiling.

About His Dark Materials

His Dark Materials challenges the readers perceptions of religion and faith. Pullman himself is an atheist and his own thoughts on the subject are prevalent throughout the trilogy as he portrays the Church in his fantasy world as being the evil force trying to prevent the world from asking too many questions about the universe and the inconsistencies of the teachings of the Bible.

Now being from the UK myself, I guess we don’t really see this as being very controversial. After all it’s a fantasy story, and in no way should this be censored or condemned for the way the story is told. However, as I am sure you are aware, there are far more extreme religious groups and communities in the US than there are in my part of the world. Ironically, the need for these groups to try and suppress the novels, paints them in the same light as the antagonists of the story itself. It’s telling that only in the US were certain passages of The Golden Compass edited for readers to avoid too much controversy, and it remains a ‘banned book’ in certain parts of the US.

It is not my place to comment on the practices of anyone’s faith, but it does explain perhaps why the movie was very much neutered when compared to the source material, and it also explains its poor box office showing, as in many parts of the US, the film was not shown or communities were encouraged not to go and see it.

Personally, I would count His Dark Materials as the greatest reading experience of my life, it affected me more than JR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or GRR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. I love it so much to the point where my daughter’s middle name is the same as the main character from the books, Lyra (My Wife wouldn’t let me call her Lyra as a first name? Spoilsport). So, it is not that hard to see why Pullman’s trilogy has not caught on in many places across the US, although make no mistake, the book has sold well in the US and has a great many Americans as fans.

As mentioned above, we should also be getting a televised version of His Dark Materials eventually from the BBC in the UK, who have purchased the rights. My only concern here would be how a publicly funded company can afford the kind of production values I’d expect to see from this series. I would have been much happier to hear that Netflix or Amazon had picked up the rights, but those are the breaks.

Now, going back to the realm of the novel. For years, fans have wanted Phillip Pullman to release more books about his fantasy world, or perhaps I should say “worlds,” one of which being our own. And despite the novellas called Lyra’s Oxford and Once Upon a Time in The North coming out, we have yet to revisit this world properly. There had also been talk of a new trilogy in the works called The Book of Dust, which Pullman has been teasing for the better part of a decade. It would be safe to say that fans have been extremely excited to see this come to fruition and this October the first book of this new trilogy (The Book of Dust) was released and titled La Belle Sauvage.

Let’s go ahead and move on to the review!

Page 2:

La Belle Sauvage Review

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  • Aline

    Maybe because I really dislike Narnia’s books or maybe because I’m atheist myself, but I have HDM in high regard. I’m glad that this companion book is good as the originals.

    And maybe the BBC miniseries makes the books justice.

    • We can only hope they get it right. And hopefully get some US funding as well?

      • Aline

        Hopefully, yes.

      • Brafdorf

        BBC has done some really good stuff as of late. I wouldn’t write it off yet!

        Having it in British hands too could be a blessing

        • British hands are fine as long as we have some US money. I don’t want to see them saying things like. ‘Well we had to cut this part due to budgetary constraints.’ Etc

          The BBC don’t make much money and are limited on how much they are allowed to spend. Now if they negotiate with HBO let’s say for US rights. Then this could work?

          • Brafdorf

            I prefer the acting chops of the Brits over American special effects though, if that makes sense.
            HBO would probably want to expand the stories if they got involved.

          • Well other than Lee, there shouldn’t be any American actors unless they can do a good accent I guess. Sam Was such a great Lee as well. But the cast of the 2007 version was never the problem.

          • Brafdorf

            Agreed on that yeah.
            It took too much influence from the Narnia movie IMO and the director was the issue I think. Special effects weren’t really the issue either
            I feel like tv is at such a level it’s arriving at a better time this time.

          • Joseph Jammer Medina

            That’s what kills me. The cast was nearly perfect in that film, and they were wasted on a subpar script.

          • It’s such a shame isn’t it. I felt if they had given them some leeway and pushed ahead with subtle knife then it could have worked out ok. But yeah it just wasn’t good enough ultimately.

            TV is perfect for it. IF they get it right

          • And the Subtle Knife was my favourite book of the three as well.

    • I think Narnia was written in a different time by a deeply religious man. However I’m not a huge fan of Narnia myself.

  • newscynic

    So cool about your daughter’s name! HDM was brilliant and on par with Narnia and Middle Earth, although all three are very different and HDM the most different of them all (coming many years later and from a non-Christian worldview). HDM may be thought of as kids books but they are anything but. From the complex morally ambiguous characters (one of the heroes siphons the souls out of children (turning them into zombies) in order to fight God!?!) to the powerful and alluring idea that rules don’t apply to those who are “special” (this idea coming right out of the Garden). Pullman’s HDM echoes the best “sympathy for the Devil” ever written as it turns traditional values on their heads and sees things from a different perspective where, for example, being a liar (Lyra) is a superpower. There is so much mindless entertainment out there. HDM does NOT fall into that category.

  • Brafdorf

    HDM is an excellent trilogy. Thanks for the heads up on this I had no idea