Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The Subtle Knife

Philip Pullman The Subtle Knife (1997)
I took this with me on the plane last time I went back to England, and got some of the way in but hadn't banked on how distracting it can be trying to read something in a foreign country, or what has become a foreign country. Now nearly four months later I return to the book and start again with some of that reluctance which generally prefaces a second attempt on anything left unfinished, for which it turns out there was no need as the re-read is as much a pleasure as was the initial foray.

Obviously this is the second part of His Dark Materials, and with no real sign of the promised atheist diatribe just yet, at least not that I noticed. In fact, weirdly, not much really happens in this one. It just sort of trundles along for a couple of hundred pages mumbling to itself and getting ready for whatever goes down in The Amber Spyglass. Lyra discovers alternate worlds and meets this other kid and they pinch a knife from some geezer with initials similar to C.S. Lewis, and some other stuff happens, and that's it. It's hardly even a story, at least not outside the context of the trilogy. Ordinarily this might be a crashing bore, but Pullman's talents are such that it isn't a problem, and you don't really notice because it's such a pleasure to read. Of course, it isn't that nothing happens, but most of what does is fairly low key, meetings and conversations facilitating the occasional revelation, the stuff which we'll probably need to know so that the last one makes sense.

Significantly we begin to get something more of an idea of what the series is actually about, what with the suggestion of doing Genesis all over again but without the original sin. Specifically it seems to be about human spirit, or religion if you prefer, in contrast to corrupt authority figures having dominated human spirit for the duration of human history; which still doesn't quite read like any sort of build up to an atheist diatribe to me, but I guess we'll see.

Curiously I've noticed that even without the anthropomorphic bears, Oxford colleges, and talkative disembodied heads paralleling elements of That Hideous Strength - which constitutes the absolutely worst kind of Christian diatribe - we have, as mentioned above, the somewhat malevolent Sir Charles Latrom almost sharing initials with C.S. Lewis, albeit in the wrong order; and I wonder if His Dark Materials will turn out to represent some kind of counter to the aforementioned literary monstrosity by the earlier Oxford-dwelling author; although I have no idea why Latrom backwards should read mortal. Maybe it doesn't mean anything. I still don't know quite what any of this is about, but I've thus far had a great time guessing.

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