Saturday, November 24, 2007

book review: The Subtle Knife

If you read here regularly, you will have seen mention of The Golden Compass, a movie that's slated to be released in theatres December 7th. It's based on a book of the same name, written by Philip Pullman, an outspoken atheist.

Though the anti-Christian message in The Golden Compass movie has supposedly been toned down from how in-your-face it is in the book, it's well known that movies spawn interest in the books from which they were taken.

The Golden Compass is the first in a trilogy of books - His Dark Materials - by Philip Pullman. The second book is The Subtle Knife. Hollywood is planning a movie about it too. Below is a review of The Subtle Knife, written by Ken Kilback, a local Kindergarten teacher. He first posted it in a forum to which we both belong. He has given permission for me to post it here. (Thanks so much, Ken!)


Title: The Subtle Knife
Author: Philip Pullman
Publisher: Scholastic, 1998
Genre: Fantasy
ISBN: 0590112899

I mentioned last week during the previous discussion that I had just started The Subtle Knife, the second book in the His Dark Materials trilogy, of which The Golden Compass is the first book in the series.

Well, I finished the second book today, and as someone else mentioned before, it was definitely much darker and much more disturbing than the first book.

In the series, there are multiple earths with doorways, both natural and human-made, that connect them with one another. The title of the book refers to a knife that humans on one earth created, not knowing that it can slice through anything, including the fabric of space and the smallest of elementary particles.

We also find out that the dark matter of the universe is not only conscious and sentient, but is/are also the rebel angels of the original Fall. The boy, Will, has become the new knife-bearer and he is also given a new task by a number of characters, including angels, and that task is to kill the authority, God. the girl Lyra, is also part of the plan and she is now being referred to as the new Eve, the one who disobeys and brings new life.

The first book in the series speaks a lot against the church in particular and Christianity in general, focusing a lot on all the evil things that have been done in the name of God. What makes this second book in the series so disturbing is the value it places on disobedience.

All the characters that we meet, in addition to the boy and girl, are being called to the side of the rebel angels -- to what is being referred to as "the right side" in the book -- and the direction in which the book is pointing is that a great war is coming (in the next book) and this time "the right side4 will win."

As one character in the book points out to another, the war is "...between those who want us to know more and be wiser and stronger, and those who want us to obey and be humble and submit." The emphasis in this book is the need for humans to take control of their own destiny and not allow God to "dictate" what he thinks their destiny should be.

It's been said that Pullman wrote this trilogy in response to the Narnia stories. I read on his website that he admits this. One thing he points out on his website is that he hated the ending of the series. He hated the fact that the children die at the end of Narnia. From his website and from this trilogy it becomes apparent that he blames God for everything bad, not even trying to consider that maybe the bad things that have been done in His name have been done by people making a choice to follow sin rather than God.

I'm not sure whether people are aware of this, but Pullman recently won the Carnegie of Carnegies. The Carnegie is already an important prize for children's literature. The Carnegie of Carnegies means his books were voted the best of children's books in a ten-year period. His books received the first of these Carnegie of Carnegies.

If you were to read his books, though, you would find them completely driven by ideas rather than plot or characters. The plot and character development seem secondary to the idea itself and so the characters have never seemed real to me.

The other thing I've found about his writing is how confusing it is in point of view reference. There is lots of lack of POV consistency, even within the same paragraph and even often within the same sentence.

In nearly every way the book doesn't read as a children's book, at least not for what seems to be the target group. It's much more of an upper YA novel, I think, than anything for younger children and yet it's the younger children who will be reading it and being directed to hate everything associated with God.

And once again, there was no balance in the book either. Everything associated with god is being shown as "impure" and "evil" while everything associated with the rebel angels is shown to be "pure" and "just." It is indeed a very disturbing series.

Read also The Golden Compass Has No Moral Compass - a review of the movie by Matt Barber - Canada Free Press.


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