His Dark Materials was one of the great literary series for children and young adults. Through three volumes we followed Lyra’s incredible journey, cried with her at the end when the realisation that it was all over. Still dust hung in the air all these years, a couple of snippets in the publishing of companion volumes expanded the world slightly, but I yearned for another real story in this world, along with a decent film production 😉
So early this year I was delighted to hear that Philip Pullman was bringing back the world he faultlessly created, a world not much different from ours, but in other ways totally alien. Would he be able to create the excitement of the originals after so long, but more important would i, now older, be able to relate as well as I once did? Would the magic and wonderment still be there? There’s always the thought that it might not live up to expectations, that in a way it would tarnish the reputation of the original series.
The Book of Dust, the new series moniker, is split into three sections. The first called La Belle Sauvage centered on the main character Malcolm. We are taken back around ten or twelve years from the original. Lyra is a baby taken to an abbey near Oxford for safe keeping. Malcolm, a ten-year old boy with an old head on his shoulders, lives nearby at the Trout Inn with his parents. Throughout the book a wide variety of characters appear, along with reappearing ones from the first series. They populate a world that is like our own but maybe a hundred years before in character. A world where the church is king and they suppress heresy with vigour.. It’s a calm world for most, a life very ordinary.
Pullman brings this world alive, mundane as it is, breathing life into the characters. Malcolm is an inquisitive child whose thirst for knowledge brings him into Lyra’s path. His encounter with Hannah Relf turns his world upside down and soon we’re dragged into a story that runs as wild as the flood that hits the Thames Valley. Lord Asriel, Mrs Coulter both pay a visit bringing a touch of coldness to the proceedings.
As with all Pullman novels, the characters are the mainstay. They are the ones who question the world in which they live. Alice, a fifteen year old pub helper has a strained relationship with Malcolm plays an important role in the story although at first it appears that they’ll never be civil to each other. Malcolm is a wonderful character, strong and moral and with an inquisitive nature. Gypsums make an appearance helping the story along and the dark character of Gerard Bonneville is one that has no redeeming qualities. Not wanting to give too many spoilers out, he is the darkest person apart from the terrifying Mrs Coulter and her monkey daemon.
A truly marvellous book which tells more about the world and the origins of Dust. The characters of Malcolm and Alice are resourceful and firm in their quest. We meet mythical creatures and a sinister organisation that encourages pupils to report teachers for alleged heresy. In a way it’s similar to the Hitler Youth and in today’s world of Brexit where universities are being asked to explain what they are teaching, a sobering thought. Once again Pullman manages to weave current affairs into his works.
All in all a very welcome return, the sad bit being it’ll be a year before we see more.