I’ve come to realize that there are certain books I seem to hover around for a long time, actually trying to avoid them, before they travel home with me. And then I put them off, hide them in the back so as not to be tempted. When we finally do meet, the time couldn’t be riper.
I’ve had this affair with Edward Rutherfurd’s London, I’ve had it with George R.R. Martin several times (and am still having it), but the one that really proved itself life-altering is the one with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, a story which opens so innocently that you would never believe where it will take you.
A colleague of mine told me once that he was reading this interesting book, about a little girl who has a pet companion, only he’s not a pet really, he’s kind of a part of her, but really isn’t, and he is a shape-shifter. That is how I learned about daemons.
I knew the books he was talking about, I’ve seen them a hundred times – three snug little things, blue, red and orange covers, talking about travels to mysterious lands in search of powerful weapons and saving the world. Needless to say, I bought them.
On a summer evening three years ago, I started reading them, and when I got to the end of the first one, I knew that THIS was just what I was looking for. THIS was the greatest story I’ve read. Well, not THE greatest, but it was right up there in the top five.
Pullman introduces his readers to a young girl named Lyra, who lives in a world much like ours, yet quite different from it – a world where every human has his/her own daemon (to be pronounced as demon), an extension of their being; a world where polar bears fight for kingdoms and where witches fly in the night sky. All perfectly adventurous until an explanation is given which will turn the reader’s world upside-down, shoving him through worlds adjacent to our own, following the footsteps of a boy whose task is to kill a god. Not any god, but the god Christians call their own. A false god, as it will transpire, making you reevaluate reality once more. When evil dwells where good is meant to, where does that leave those who reside in between?
His Dark Materials, a modern Paradise Lost, will make you think very, very long about what you know and what you think you know about truth, religion and the devil himself. It will reshape your beliefs and rethink history for you.
It is one of those novels you simply have to get to the end of as fast as you can, and when you get there, you have to go back to the beginning to make sure you got it right. It will make you choose a side in the war between heaven, earth and hell, in a world where heaven is not necessarily populated by angels. It will make you wonder why humans have d(a)emonic companions, and lead you all the way back to Milton and his own Satan, forcing you to make up your mind – is he a hero, or is he a devil?
Controversial as it may seem, and might as well be, His Dark Materials is NOT a book you should hide from. Quite the opposite, it is the book you should run towards and find as fast as you can. It will make you think, it will make you cry, it will take your hand and lead you on an adventure, and like Bilbo Baggins, if you don’t keep your feet, it will take you to places you’ve never dreamed of.
What are you reading today?
Write and let me know.