His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

Northern Lights CoverHis Dark Materials is children’s fantasy trilogy written by Philip Pullman, consisting of the novels Northern Lights (1995), The Subtle Knife (1997), and The Amber Spyglass (2000). This trilogy tells the coming of age story of Lyra Belacqua, who goes on fantastic adventures across the world investigating Dust. The series is both highly popular, and has won numerous awards. The first book in a series trilogy, The Book of Dust, was published just a couple of months ago.

I got into this series quite late, reading the first book seven or so years after the last book had come out (in fact, soon after the movie had come out, and which I had seen the posters of everywhere). Despite that, the series quickly became (and has remained since) one of my all time favourite series. I have waited eagerly for the sequel trilogy to finally arrive, and now that I have time away from university during Christmas break, I’ll finally be able to dive in to it. But before that, I thought I would revisit His Dark Materials here first.

The Subtle Knife Cover

The first thing that struck me about this series is the writing. The writing is absolutely beautiful, and among the best that I have ever read. More than once I have taken out the first book to just read just a couple pages of to get a taste of the language again, only to find myself re-reading the whole trilogy because the writing is so good I can’t put it down anymore. It is that good. It’s hard for me to pin down exactly what it is about the writing that works so well for me, especially because at this point (though I got into the series quite late, it has been ten years now) it’s impossible to view the writing objectively. But the sense that I always get from the writing is that it flows like silk, and that the narrator can be trusted completely not to disappoint you with the story.

The second element of the story that I would like to touch on is the fantasy world. Specifically, the concept of the daemons, a shape-shifting animal familiar which accompanies each person. This concept is, of course, wonderfully satisfying (who hasn’t dreamed of having a similar being to them), but the execution of it here is fantastic: not only is the relationship between Lyra and her daemon, Pantalaimon, fleshed out in a wonderfully realistic way, that relationship between person and daemon becomes one of the driving forces behind the whole narrative for the series.

The Amber Spyglass Cover

Which brings us to the characters specifically. This trilogy features absolutely unforgettable characters (such as Iorek, the armoured bear), and each character is characterised exquisitely. The absolute best example of this is Lyra herself, who has a wonderfully strong personality. Her characterisation at the beginning of the series feels like very accurate to her age, and her maturing through the series is done realistically and meaningfully.

At this point I realise that this review is basically me just gushing about how good this series is, so I’ll keep this paragraph about the plot as short as possible by just saying that it is wonderfully exciting, and the escalation between novels works beautifully.

Now, to address the controversy surrounding this trilogy. These books have been challenged for their portrayal of the Christian Church. And it is true that the books produce a strong argument against such establishments, and that it doesn’t hold back its punches while doing so. At the same time, however, I think that, even if you don’t agree with all of Pullman’s arguments, from a reviewer’s point of view you have to admire the skill with which Pullman makes them. Moreover, even if you don’t agree who the target of Pullman’s arguments are, you have to appreciate the values which Pullman advocates for. This was certainly the case for me when I first read the books: at the time, I couldn’t agree with Pullman’s arguments, but I loved the series nonetheless. Moreover, I appreciated the way in which these novels gave me food for thought concerning the topics it discusses, something which I always find highly valuable. That has been one of the reasons these novels have stayed with me for so long–while I was figuring out who I was during my teenage years, these novels were absolutely pivotal, and I changed much as a result of the conversations I had with these books.

 

So, in the end, I cannot recommend these books highly enough. This is a perfect opportunity to get into the series, no matter your age, seeing as there are finally more books coming out to continue the story. For those who are considering getting into the story, I would strongly advise against the US edition of The Amber Spyglass, which bafflingly censors out a key passage in the latter half of the story.

‘The Call of Cthulhu’ by H.P. Lovecraft

Call of Cthulhu Weird Tales Cover‘The Call of Cthulhu’ is a short story written by H.P. Lovecraft in 1926, and first published in Weird Tales in 1928. Forming one part of Lovecraft’s larger Cthulhu Mythos, this story tells the tale of Francis Wayland Thurston, who discovers notes left by his grand-uncle about a cult surrounding a monstrous being part octopus, part dragon. This leads him on a quest to find out more about both the cult and the monster, but he is made morbidly horrified of what he finds out.

Since his death, Lovecraft and his short stories have gained an immense cult following, to the point that Lovecraftian horror is its own sub-genre. I have thus been, for many years, curious to read some of his writing so that I could judge it for myself, but until now I have just never got around to doing it. I am, however, glad that I did so now.

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Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie

Peter And Wendy CoverPeter and Wendy is the 1911 children’s fantasy novel by J.M. Barrie based on his earlier 1904 play Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. It tells the story of Wendy Darling, and her two yougner brothers, John and Michael, who are visited and taken to Neverland by Peter Pan, the one boy who does not grow up, and his fairy Tinker Bell, whose dust allows the Darling children to fly. The children join the Lost Boys in Neverland, and together they have multiple adventures involving mermaids, American Indians, and Captain Hook’s pirate crew.

Of course, the fame of the characters Barrie created is so great that it is impossible to not be aware of them; in fact, Peter Pan seems more famous than either the play or the novel, or even Barrie himself. Because of that, I was very excited to read the novel so that I could see where it all started from. To some extent, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the novel; but, on other fronts I was also quite disappointed with what I found there.

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Five Children and It by E. Nesbit (Psammead Trilogy Book 1)

Five Children and It CoverFive Children and It is a 1902 children’s fantasy novel by E. Nesbit, and the first in a trilogy of books about concerning the core five children. The book tells the story of Cyril, Anthea, Robert, Jane, and their baby brother Lamb, and how they find a Psammead (a sand-fairy) after they move to the countryside, who agrees to grant the children one wish every day. The plot consists of a series of adventures concerning those wishes.

Despite the immense fame of E. Nesbit, before this book I had actually never read any of her works. This made me particularly excited to finally read something of hers. Despite my awareness of her, however, and the fact that she wrote children’s novels, I had no idea what to expect from this story.

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Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees

Lud in the Mist CoverLud-in-the-Mist is a 1926 early fantasy novel by Modernist author Hope Mirrlees. It is set in the city of Lud-in-the-Mist in the land of Dorimare, who shares a border with Fairyland. Following a brief but bloody revolution in the city’s past, the Duke of the city was replaced by the merchant class, and fairy fruit was made illegal and taboo. Somehow, however, to the present day fairy fruit keeps creeping into the city, and the novel focuses on the mayor of the town, Nathaniel Chanticleer, who gets caught in a fairy fruit-related controversy and must get to the bottom of who is behind it.

On many fronts, this novel has always been well-regarded: it was reprinted in the 1970s in the highly influential Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series, and in the 2000s in Orion Books’s Fantasy Masterworks series; furthermore, many notable contemporary fantasy authors, such as Michael Swanwick and Neil Gaiman, are active proponents of the book. Despite this, however, the book has never reached a particularly wide readership. Knowing all of this, I was particularly interested to see how I would like the book.

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Everything Change: An Anthology of Climate Fiction, edited by Manjana Milkoreit, Meredith Martinez, and Joey Eschrich

Everything Change CoverEverything Change: An Anthology of Climate Fiction is exactly what the subtitle says that it is. The short stories are the twelve best stories submitted to the 2016 Climate Fiction Short Story Contest held by the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative at the Arizona State University. Perhaps best of all, the anthology is freely available from Arizona State University’s website (a google search of the title will lead you to the right page easily enough).

I went into this anthology wanting to love it. I feel strongly about climate change, considering it a disgrace that it is not being taken more seriously, and as I had yet to read any stories about the topic, I was excited to fix that now. With that excitement came, admittedly, rather high expectations: I wanted to be blown away. Which is why it saddens (and, to be honest, angers) me to say that this anthology was a big let-down.

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The Wood Beyond the World by William Morris

The Wood Beyond the World CoverThe Wood Beyond the World is an 1894 novel written by William Morris. This novel is one that could be called pre-fantastic, as it was originally published before the modern genre was born, but was later re-published in 1969 in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series (the series which, arguably, formed the modern genre). The Wood Beyond the World tells the story of Golden Walter, who leaves home after finding out his wife has cheated on him, and the story of how he eventually gets lost at sea and has adventures in the fantastical place that he finds himself in.

The first thing that any reader of the story is going to notice is the language. Morris intentionally attempted to emulate English as it was written in the late Middle Ages, around the turn of the 16th century. Having heard that, I expected the language to be more of a challenge than it actually ended up being: while the language is definitely archaic, it is highly readable, and it didn’t take me long until I was immersed enough in it that I hardly noticed it.

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