Last night I stayed up to finish The Amber Spyglass, the third book in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. I have two reactions:
Just end it already!
The consensus of others who've read the books seems to be that the third book fails to meet the expectations of the previous two books, and I have to agree. If HDM is any example, Pullman doesn't know how to bring a book to a satisfying and swift conclusion. The first two essentially didn't end, and the third had what seemed to be the final denouement about three quarters of the way through, a final fight of good versus evil in which the main characters were curiously absent.
No, Lyra and Will were off holding hands, in a prolonged courtship that, frankly, was about as believable as another plot development, where Mary learns to communicate with the mulefa within three days.
One or two all-too-convenient plot points is forgivable, but Pullman pulls them out of his hat like a tired magician. And there were also several plot inconsistencies I noticed, even when my eyes were drooping and begging for sleep. (Two of them, incidentally, having to do with sleep.)
But about that all important religious aspect, in which these books are characterized as somehow putting religion in its place. I said before I didn't see the books as anti-religious, or at least anti-faith. Yes, organized religion is the enemy, yet at the end of the book, I was left feeling as if the characters had merely substituted one religion for another. Conscious Dust? Really? If this is the best an admitted atheist can do to combat the spread of religious doctrine through children's literature, I think atheism is in trouble.
But then, here's my problem: As I've mentioned before, I have a real problem suspending disbelief, which is why I don't enjoy fantasy or science fiction. It's also why I don't believe in an all-powerful God. I have no faith in what I can't see or feel or understand on some basic level. Yet, it hasn't escaped my notice that lots of atheists are sci-fi and fantasy fans. Huge fans.
So what am I missing?
Admittedly, this is glossing over many elements of fiction writing I don't want to deal with this morning—world building, plausible character development, consistent plotting. Perhaps I should stick to the inconsistent plot points and leave it at that. I will say, I enjoyed the first two books very much, which is why I persevered with the third. But in Amber Spyglass there were just one two many fantastic wheeled creatures, one two many harpies, for my taste. (When Lyra's "death" appeared I seriously considered throwing the book at the nearest wall. But I didn't want to have to explain to the landlord why a chunk of the wall was missing.)
(Mild spoiler ahead.) I should also note that I had different expectations (see my last post) on the role of Lyra as the Eve figure. She is not Eve, the mother of the human race, but Eve, the tempted. Not quite as satisfying, for me. I think he could have done a lot more with this idea. Perhaps he was too busy figuring out the physiology of the mulefa.
All in all, I'm glad I read the books, just to see what the fuss was all about. And they were good reads, especially the first two. But I don't think I'm ready to delve into fantasy or sci-fi any time soon.
I'll stick with mulefa-free fiction in future, thank you.
(Although it's no longer Sunday, at least in my world, I'll go ahead and post the link to the Sunday Salon portal here.)