Friday, October 9, 2009

The Brave Brat: Lyra in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy

Ok, junkies, here's the deal, some people got their panties in a wad a few years back when a mediocre movie was made out of The Golden Compass and some churchy people were protesting/boycotting the film because of Pullman's anti-christian message.

I really don't want to spend a lot of time on this, and I know plenty of eighth graders who love the books and are oblivious to Pullman's critiques of organized religion, but I just want say two things.

1) I think that it's important to engage with, not boycott, media that presents a viewpoint different from our own. That's how we learn and grow. (Except for Fox News, there's no way I'm watching that crap.)

Also, I think it's pretty ridiculous when parents let their children watch R rated movies full of violent murders, but then don't let their kids read Harry Potter because it has witchcraft, or read The Golden Compass because it makes churches look bad.
2) John Milton wrote a great epic poem, Paradise Lost. Philip Pullman wrote His Dark Materials as a reaction/critique/inversion to that poem. It would be great if we could read and talk about these things as literature without the hoopla.
Kay, one more disclosure, then junkies, I'm hankerin' for my heroine, so we gotta get down to business.

FTC: (In case anyone besides my mom ever reads this) I get almost all the books that I discuss here for free. From my dad. Hope I don't get a fine.
Let's talk Lyra. His Dark Materials trilogy is comprised of The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman.
Pullman cleverly never divulges Lyra's age, but in the beginning of The Golden Compass she is a child and by the end of The Amber Spyglass she is closer to a young woman.

Lyra lives in a world parallel to our own, where people's souls are kept in their animal companions, daemons. Daemons change their shape at will when their humans are children, but a sign of sexual maturity is a daemon settling into one animal form. Pullman uses Daemons as the ultimate characterization tool. The type of animal of each daemon reveals the personality of its associated human and daemons exhibit fierce emotions, which are hidden by the faces of their human counterparts.

Lyra is no girly girl. She fights with the neighborhood boys and skips along the roof of the college she lives in. Like any good YA protagonist, she has no parents. Lyra is raised by a handful academicians.
The thing is, I don't really like Lyra. She's bossy, pretentious, and just, I don't know, unfriendly. Now don't get me wrong. Just because I don't want her to be my BFF, and I'm not secretly wishing I was her while I'm reading, like with some heroines, that doesn't mean she doesn't kick ass. She's smart, and brave, and makes some very hard choices without being a ninny about it. And I'm rooting for her throughout the series.

SPOILER ALERT! Keep reading at your own peril.

But really, you can't blame the girl for being a bit of a brat. You see, actually, she does have parents. They've just abandoned her. They're each leading a side of a brewing war over parallel universes, souls and, you know, the future of existence and stuff. And when it comes down to it, both her mother and father worry more about winning the war than the well-being of their daughter.

So what if she's a brat? She saves the multiverse and all of existence. She's pretty damn heroic.

You see, in The Subtle Knife, Lyra teams up with Will, a guy from our world. Together, they travel through parallel worlds, saving people, and falling in love. All sorts of creatures are trying to kill Lyra for various reasons and Will and Lyra discover that she's the key to this whole war.

SPOILER ALERT! I'm serious! I'm not pulling any punches.

The church is trying to kill Lyra because essentially, she is Eve. They figure if they can kill her before she eats that apple, then they can prevent the second fall.

The choice Lyra is presented with is that she can stay with the boy she fell in love with, Will, and watch the multiverse disintegrate. Or she can go back to her world, and Will to his, and preserve all of existence. She makes the right choice.

As always, I haven't come close to doing these books justice. So read them! There are some awesome battle scenes with polar bears, zeppelins, and witches. Mrs. Coulter is a female antagonist that will chill you to the bone. The Amber Spyglass also has some wickedly good stuff with Angels and the World of the Dead. Pullman also does a great job with non-humanoid creatures from parallel worlds. Again, beating my head against the wall because I'll never be creative enough to think up something like the Mulefa. And, I gotta say, Pullman's concept of Dust is pretty cool. So get reading!

1 comment:

  1. Love the entry, although it's a good thing I'm not a conspiracy theorist or really paranoid, cuz now I'm sure you've put us both on an NSA/FTC watchlist of some sort. How about The Red Librarian's Brigade bent on world domination through coded messages based on the Dewey Decimal System.