His Dark Materials (3): The Amber Spyglass (Philip Pullman)

Well, it took me a while, but I’m finally through. Whew. His Dark Materials concludes its trilogy in the Amber Spyglass, and it shows: this book is about double the size of The Subtle Knife, part two of the trilogy, and about five times as many things seem to happen. Which is not necessarily a good thing.

Authority’s End

The third book doesn’t really try to hide it anymore, and swiftly fills us in on what’s actually going on: the Authority – aka God – is an old dictator sitting atop a huge mountain, trapping the dead in the underworld. And this has to stop. And that has to be done by Lyra and Will. And so on, and so on. Other than Lyra and Will, there’s also the story of Mrs. Coulter, that of Lord Asriel, the one with Serafina Pekkala, the other concerning Mary Malone and then some more spread around here and there.

That’s quite the story – even if you’ve got nearly five hundred pages to tell it in. The storylines jump all over the place, but they still come together more or less at the end. It’s a miracle how Pullman even came close to pulling this feat off: I was under the impression that he made most of it up while he went along (except for the whole “death of God” thing), but he still did have an ending in mind.

The end of the end

The ending – and by that, I mean the last twentysomething pages of the book – is easily the best part about it: it’s bittersweet; I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything more bittersweet than this. And, to be honest, it’s just about the only part in the Amber Spyglass that comes even close to the brilliance of the Golden Compass. It’s too much of everything, there’s too many things going on, so I don’t know whom to care about still.

So I end up caring for no one.

It’s a shame, because the characters are beautiful. Mary Malone is a dear – it’s just that I had her a nibble of her for breakfast and then was stuffed the rest of her down my throat in the end. It doesn’t work that way. Father Gomez seemed like an interesting character, but I guess looking inside the oven made the cake look a lot bigger than the crumb it was. I never really got to know anyone, except for Will, Lyra, Mrs. Coulter and Lord Asriel. And even then: the bombastic effort at which the latter two flung their storyline at me was way too plot-oriented. If only there had been a bit of a breather now and again.

In all…

Sooner or later, you’ll have to admit it: there’s a lot of stuff lacking in the Amber Spyglass. The story’s all over the place, there’s too many characters around to even remember all of their names… and then, when it comes down to it: the end of the authority is pretty much an empty shell, an anticlimax.

I’m trying to find out where it went wrong. Should Pullman have toned down his story, so that he could make it into a more coherent whole? Or did he simply need more time to tell it? To be honest, I think Pullman started losing focus on what was important partway through The Subtle Knife. Maybe he just needed to have planned it all a bit better?