Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"The Subtle Knife" Book 2 of "His Dark Materials" by Philip Pullman

"The Subtle Knife"
Book 2 of "His Dark Materials"
by Philip Pullman
Multicast performance
Produced by Listening Library

Continuing in my quest of trying to figure out why some folks are up in arms about the "His Dark Materials" books I gave this audio book a listen. To be honest, I'm still not seeing what the fuss is about. There are some minor mentions of organized religions stifling independent thought, and maybe towards the end of the book something that may be a threat to some religious zealots, but still the series seems to be just a fun adventure. Especially more so in this book as the main characters are travelling to alternater worlds/dimensions.

The story begins with Will Parry killing a man after hiding his OCD mother with a friend and setting off to find his father. The man was searching for information on Will's father. In his efforts to escape the police, he discovers a portal that leads to CittĂ gazze, a city in another world. The city looks recently deserted, and Will chooses a house to find food. It is here that he meets Lyra Belacqua and her daemon Pantalaimon, who came here after entering the hole in the sky that her father, Lord Asriel, created at the end of "The Golden Compass."

In Will's world Lyra uses her alethiometer to instruct her what to do. She is told to find a scholar in Will's world who is experimenting with dark matter, which is equal to Dust in Lyra's world. The scholar, Dr. Mary Malone, has created a computer to communicate with dark matter trying to prove her hypothesis that dark matter is intelligent. Lyra uses the system to communicate with the dark matter as she does with Dust through the alethiometer. This proves to Dr. Malone, who lost funding for the project and was about to be shut down, that she was on the right track. During this time a man from Lyra's world steals the alethiometer and recruits Lyra and Will to steal the Subtle Knife in return he'll give back the alethiometer. The knife can cut through any material and more importantly cut through the veil between worlds allowing the user to travel between worlds.

This story branches out in from there following the witch Serafina Pekkala, who was separated from Lyra during a battle in "The Golden Compass,"and is searching for her. She discovers that the Magisterium and Lyra's mother, Mrs. Coulter, have learned of the prophecy surrounding Lyra and plan to destroy her. She calls a meeting of the witches council. The witches vote to band together and join Lyra's father, Lord Asriel, in his fight against the Magisterium.

The Aeronaut Lee Scoresby ventures out to find the explorer Stanislaus Grumman, who is rumored to know of an object that gives protection to whomever holds it. That object is the Subtle Knife.

The book follows the separate adventurers as they travel and fight their way back together to leave a huge cliff hanger as the end of the book. Along the way people die and get hurt, but in order to leave you with something to read I'll leave it at that. Trust me this one is just as good, if not better, than the first book in the series and will leave you wanting more. Again religion is not yet threatened and the concept of free will is emphasized. So read away my friends.

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posted by Gil T. @ 9:30 PM Comments: 0

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"His Dark Materials, Book I: The Golden Compass" Written by Philip Pullman

"His Dark Materials, Book I: The Golden Compass"
Written by Philip Pullman
Read by Philip Pullman and Full Cast
Produced by Listening Library 2004

Back in 2007 I was intrigued by the Movie based on this book "The Golden Compass," and had to go see it. What intrigued me most was that churches were protesting this fantasy story. Anytime organized religion says a movie is dangerous or in any way harmful, I have to go see it. I'm one of those folks that cannot fathom that arts and entertainment can warp a mind so badly that it will cause one to harm oneself or others. Art may reflect life but I don't think that art can bend life to its will. So began my journey into the worlds created by Philip Pullman.

After watching this wonderfully imaginative movie I couldn't figure why all the fuss. After discussing it with some folks I heard that the producers of the movie cut out much of the obvious anti-religion material discussed in the book. Well....that meant I now had to read the books. I got the books and was prepared to read them, I'm talking about the actual physical books here, with pages and all, but I ran across these audio books being narrated by the author and a full cast of performers and had to give that a listen. After all who better to read a book than the author. His voice could add emphasis to areas he wrote where he felt it was more important. Thus giving his intentions rather than something that could be misunderstood. I'm glad I did. The production was very well done with a cast of voices that fit into the characters voices perfectly. There are no sound effects or incidental music like some full cast production audio books, but that's what made this a better experience.

To answer the question about what has this book got to do with religion, well the book does not say at any point that religion is bad, merely that organized religion is power hungry and that could be a bad thing. Two simple examples as to how religion could be too powerful are "The Inquisition" and Reverend Jim Jones. Without getting into a debate about religion let's just say that religion CAN be used for bad as well as good.

In this book the religious negativity comes in the form of the church wanting to reclaim original sin and harnessing the potential power held within. After all without original sin we could all live in the Garden. However the evil way the church tries to harness that power is to create zombies out of children so they may never be touched by original sin. In this book original sin is represented by Dust. The Dust seems to settle on adults but not children, at least not until the child reaches puberty and their daemon settles on a permanent form.

In the world created by Pullman all humans have a daemon. The daemon is best described as the human soul taking and animal companion form. For children the daemon can shift it's shape into any animal form but once the child has hit puberty the daemon settles on one shape for the rest of the human and daemon's life. The daemon's form seems to reflect somewhat the soul of the person but that would require more research on my part to fully explain, in fact any aspiring students looking to write a thesis on these books could look into that aspect. For right now just understand the daemon's are best explained as being an outward expression of the soul. They can comfort the person during times of stress and can help with many tasks. The daemons also have the ability of speech.

"The Golden Compass" (originally titled "The Northern Lights") introduces us to the main character of Lyra Belacqua, supposedly orphaned and left in the care of the academic staff of Jordan College, Oxford. Lyra's "uncle" Lord Asriel is researching Dust in the north and finding the link between Dust, the soul, multiple universes, particle physics and the Northern Lights. The church does not want Asriel to continue his experiments and investigations. When Lyra discovers a plot to kill her uncle she warns him and saves his life. She then finds out, by hiding in a wardrobe, about Dust through a lecture given to the academ by Lord Asriel.

Lyra's journey begins when children start to go missing. These children vanish without a trace and when one of Lyra's good friends, Roger, disappears she feels the need to find him. The children all tell stories of the disappearances but most stories circle around the "Gobblers" who take the children and do all manner of unspeakable things to the children including eat them. The truth is actually more sinister.

Before Lyra can begin her search she is taken in by Mrs. Coulter. But before she leaves Jordan College the headmaster gives Lyra an alethiometer. Resembling a golden, many-handed pocket-watch, it can answer any question asked by the user. Although initially unable to read or understand its complex symbols, Lyra takes it with her to Mrs. Coulter's. Lyra learns that Mrs. Coulter is the head of the General Oblation Board, a.k.a. the Gobblers, and that she is the one abducting the children. Lyra is to be used to abduct more children. Upon finding this information Lyra runs away. She is then rescued by a group of Gyptians, a nomadic folk who live on boats. The Gyptians take Lyra to meed the King of the Gyptians and discover that Lyra has more to her life's mission, but cannot be told of her mission. Leaving the outcome to freewill.

In an adventure that leads Lyra to meet with Witches, Armored (intelligent) Bears, and seeking to rescue her uncle, Lord Asriel, from his imprisonment by the church, Phillip Pullman creates a novel of epic proportion that in this audio book form is an exhilarating listen.

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posted by Gil T. @ 9:59 PM Comments: 0