The Amber Spyglass

Pullman, Phillip (1999). New York: Alfred A Knopf. ISBN-10: 0679879269/ ISBN-13: 978-0679879268

By Book III, the plot of the His Dark Materials Series has grown very complicated. Will, who was introduced in The Subtle Knife, Book II, is in search of Lyra. Mrs. Coulter has imprisoned Lyra, whether to use her or protect her is at first unclear. The forces of the Magisterium, who certainly bear some resemblance to various employees of the Vatican, are lining up against Lord Asriel’s assembled army. There is an archangel called Metatron, and there is a race of tiny people, smaller than a hand, called Gallevespians. Also from Book II is Mary, who seems to be in our own world. She is a former nun who has linked to Will through her research. She visits another parallel world populated by elephant-like creatures called Mulefa, and while there she learns more about how the Dust is blowing away through all the holes which have been cut between the different worlds. A culminating battle for control begins, and during it the Authority (God) is revealed—he is a decrepit old prisoner of the archangel Metatron, and soon dies from old age and illness. Lord Asriel, Mrs. Coulter, and the Archangel all perish in their Blakean struggle over the Abyss. Afterward, as Will and Lyra begin to fall in love and awaken sexually, it is learned that they cannot live permanently in each others' world, and must return to their own. It turns out also that all the human types who did not appear to have daemons actually do have them; they are just difficult to see, and some of their daemons begin to appear.

Reader’s Annotation
Book III in the His Dark Materials series unites Will and Lyra, Lyra’s old friend Iorek Byrnison, the armored polar bear, in opposing the power of the Magisterium, but what role will Lord Asriel and Mrs Coulter play in this battle for souls and freedom?

As a culturally Catholic adult, I could not believe what I was reading in Book II and III, and I was very surprised that I had not heard more outcry over these books. I have since read that there have been various challenges to the books, mostly for anti-Catholicism. The presentation of the Vatican-like Magisterium is an obvious target for a religious challenge, but it’s the entire set of religious assumptions—the Gnostic, Manichean cosmology that underlies Milton—that are the most shocking. Even for an adult (maybe more so for an adult), it is unsettling to be reminded that the set of assumptions about Christianity which have so altered our world for 2000 years could easily have developed in another direction. Many younger readers are probably more interested in the details of the battle and the complexities of inter-world travel, but no one could read this book thoughtfully without considering questions about God and free-will, which is wonderful. I loved the references to Milton and wonder if I could winkle any kids into reading a bit of him through discussion of this book. I’m sure I can interest some teen readers in Blake’s illustrations and poetry, which clearly inspire much of Pullman’s imagery.

About the author
See The Golden Compass blog entry. My husband and son went to see Pullman read and speak. My husband said Pullman was very droll. He had received a letter from a child with a cute photo enclosed of a squirrel which lived in a tree outside the child’s room. The letter said “Write another book about Will and Lyra, or the squirrel dies”; he was enjoying that blackmail attempt very much.

Fantasy YA

Curriculum Ties
Certainly could be great for freshman English, except the first two books would need to be read, and the religious challenge issues could be huge.

Booktalking Ideas
God in the Book
Dust and Science
Blake’s engravings/ Pullman’s prose

Reading Level/Interest Age
Grade 6-up (SLJ)

Challenge Issues
Be knowledgeable about the book and prepared to discuss it calmly. Provide complaint form per board policy;
Gather student responses; Share reviews available at Amazon:
Awards summarized at:

Why Included?
Had to read to conclusion, even though I could only count two!

Selection Tools
WINNER 2002 - ALA Best Books for Young Adults
WINNER 2001 - ALA Notable Children's Book

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