His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

Published by Minnesota Atheists on

By Jeannette Sorensen

While reading Philip Pullman’s, His Dark Materials, you need to remind yourself that this book was marketed toward children. There are some strong themes, including violent death which are uncharacteristic of children’s novels. However, with references to physics, philosophy and theology, it is easily enjoyed by adults. While I won’t talk about the plot of each book there were some interesting themes that I thought worth discussing:

Daemons: This is the physical manifestation of one’s soul as an animal. What I found interesting is that when a person’s daemon dies, the person dies or becomes catatonic. Is there something inside people who make them people? If Terry Schiavo had a physical daemon the decision to starve her to death would have been easier to make. Unfortunately, for her, her family, and her insurance company seeing is believing, at least when it comes to human consciousness.

Dust: This is Dark Matter in our world. Dust is conscious. The church believes it is the manifestation of original sin making it the target for ultimate destruction. One character says, “for all the church’s history it’s tried to suppress and control every natural impulse. When it can’t control them, it cuts them out. It tries to obliterate every good feeling.” Maybe our universes aren’t so parallel after all. The church makes a big deal of separating children from their daemons because Dust is less attracted to children. Thus, by cutting the child away they would never know original sin and live their lives as mindless servants to the Magesterium. That would NEVER happen in our world. Finally, we get to the controversy….

If people thought the Golden Compass was controversial than wail until they make a movie about The Amber Spy Glass. First off, this book reveals the Christian Heaven to be a lie. The children visit the land of the dead, only to find out that every one that has ever died lives in a bleak, bland world… kind of like Indiana without the racism. Then there is the criticism of organized religion. Mary Malone, the character I related most to, says of Christianity, “The Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing lie, that’s all.”

Mary Malone could possibly be my number one literary hero. Her character left the Church and described it in a way every atheist can relate to. It was hard for her because she let down her family. “It felt as if something they all passionately believed in depended on me carrying on with something I didn’t.” Those atheists out there that have a supportive family, I envy you. For the majority of us, we are made to feel as if we did something horribly wrong, and the only way to right our crime is to lie about the way we feel. However she also describes the relief, the huge weight off her shoulders with my favorite line of the book, “Now I can do something with my whole nature, and not just half of it.”

I recommend His Dark Materials not only to atheists, but to people who simply like a good book. The story is suspenseful and there is love, redemption, and all those other good things that make something worth reading.

Categories: Reviews

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