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review of Amber Spyglass

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  • Donovan & Lillian Mattole
    Here s a review a friend just forwarded me on Amber Spyglass. ... From: Drew Wiest To: Sent: Thursday, October
    Message 1 of 4 , Oct 13, 2000
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      Here's a review a friend just forwarded me on Amber Spyglass.

      ----- Original Message -----
      From: Drew Wiest <dwiest12@...>
      To: <mattole@...>
      Sent: Thursday, October 05, 2000 7:37 PM
      Subject: review of Amber Spyglass


      > Donovan,
      > This could have been ghostwritten by Molly Gloss, huh? I find it ironic
      > that these kinds of opinions are put forth by women writers. It wasn't
      that
      > long ago (125 years?) that women writers were viewed by the literature
      > establishment much in the same way that the SF/Children's writers are now.
      > Still, I guess she ended up liking the book--that's something. And I
      would
      > wager that Pullman is a far better writer than she is, regardless of the
      > material.
      >
      > Drew
      >
      >
      > It was not easy to persuade me to embark on Philip Pullman's His Dark
      > Materials trilogy. Pullman's two main characters, Lyra and Will, are
      > children, there are talking animals, and--worst of all--there are other
      > worlds, worlds in which humans are shadowed by animal familiars called
      > dæmons, or are small enough to ride on dragonflies, or can power a kind of
      > helicopter simply by their intentions. His books are generally stocked in
      > two sections I seldom visit on my own behalf--science fiction and
      > children's--and when I did find them, their covers were far from
      reassuring.
      > Maybe they would make good gifts, but I felt quite sure that I myself did
      > not want to read them.
      >
      > The friend who had recommended Pullman, however, was both eloquent and
      > tenacious. He's a terrific writer, she insisted. And a master storyteller.
      > Finally, facing a transatlantic journey, I succumbed and bought "The
      Golden
      > Compass," the opening volume of the trilogy; after all, I could always
      leave
      > it on the plane. During the first couple of hours of the flight, I
      finished
      > a completely worthy adult novel, which I read with interest, even
      pleasure,
      > and of which I've now forgotten every detail.
      >
      > Somewhere over Greenland, I turned to Philip Pullman. Within half an hour
      I
      > knew that nothing would persuade me to leave Lyra, the loquacious,
      > passionate, gifted heroine of this and the subsequent two installments.
      Was
      > this children's literature? Was this fantasy? Science fiction? I no longer
      > knew the answers, but that no longer seemed to matter.
      >
      > Flannery O'Connor claimed that to read a good story is to undergo an
      > experience. Sitting on that plane, I underwent a profound experience. As
      > soon as I encountered Lyra's dæmon, Pantalaimon, I began to understand the
      > remarkable intelligence that informs Pullman's many imagined worlds.
      > Everyone in Lyra's world has a dæmon, and in the case of children, these
      > dæmons can metamorphose at will; they only become fixed when one grows up.
      > Pantalaimon can take the form of a stoat, a swallow, a wolfhound, a wasp;
      he
      > accompanies Lyra almost everywhere and is, like her, courageous,
      inventive,
      > stubborn, and loyal.
      >
      > But wait. Isn't this precisely the sort of fantasy that makes children's
      > literature fit only for children? What does the adult reader do with so
      > obviously unbelievable a phenomenon? Believe it. As soon becomes apparent,
      > the dæmons are no mere piece of whimsy but a profoundly illuminating
      > metaphor, one that takes root in our own imaginations by virtue of its
      > absolute rightness; if we don't have dæmons, we ought to. In a
      surprisingly
      > short space of time they become no more far-fetched than gentleman callers
      > and quadrilles in Jane Austen.
      >
      > As soon as I finished "The Golden Compass," I turned to volume 2. In the
      > equally enthralling "The Subtle Knife," Lyra meets a companion worthy of
      her
      > great quest. Will, a boy from our world, stumbles upon her in a third
      > universe and becomes the bearer of a knife with magical properties.
      Together
      > they set out to discover the secret of Dust--a mysterious substance that
      > acts as both a manifestation and a conductor of spiritual life.
      >
      > Now, for several months, I've been waiting for volume 3 impatiently but
      also
      > with trepidation. Could Pullman bring the complex tale he had been weaving
      > to a satisfactory conclusion? Could he make good on the prophecy of the
      > first two books that Lyra has an extraordinary destiny? Could he maintain
      > the acute level of invention?
      >
      > Happily, yes. "The Amber Spyglass," with its witches and angels, ghosts
      and
      > demons, makes clear in splendid detail just how large an enterprise
      Pullman
      > has embarked on. It is no accident that from the trilogy's opening pages
      > Lyra seldom stays still; only at the beginning of the third book, when she
      > is imprisoned in a drugged sleep in a cave high in the Himalayas, is she
      > motionless. Lyra is on an epic journey, and in the best tradition of the
      > picaresque--"The Odyssey," "The Inferno," "The Pilgrim's Progress," "The
      > Adventures of Tom Sawyer"--she encounters many vicissitudes. Pullman is
      > working in one of our oldest narrative traditions, and the great argument
      of
      > his work is the age-old struggle between good and evil.
      >
      > So why are his novels in danger of being kept only for children? Nothing
      in
      > this author's robust, vivid prose suggests that he is writing for a
      younger
      > audience. The single biggest factor must surely be the choice of children
      as
      > main characters, which--by a kind of perverse reasoning--seems to be taken
      > as the hallmark of a book fit only for children. But Lyra and Will are as
      > full-blooded and complex and subtle as the characters in the best "adult"
      > fiction. In one trait only do they differ from their grown-up
      counterparts;
      > they are almost entirely devoid of irony. That, for me, is part of
      Pullman's
      > accomplishment. He is not afraid of sincerity.
      >
      > With its exuberant sense of story, Pullman's work undoubtedly does appeal
      to
      > younger readers. Thankfully it does not follow that older readers are
      > excluded. Don't we, too, deserve passionate, larger-than-life characters,
      > intricate, exciting plots, deep moral questions?
      >
      > We do. Read Philip Pullman.
      >
      >
      > --Margot Livesey lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in London. Her
      > novels include "Criminals" and, most recently, "The Missing World." She is
      > also the author of the collection "Learning by Heart."
    • Sophie Masson
      Isn i it just so patronising! I think this person fails to realise that the greatest writers of the20th cent have been those who wrote for children--and those
      Message 2 of 4 , Oct 14, 2000
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        Isn'i it just so patronising! I think this person fails to realise that the
        greatest writers of the20th cent have been those who wrote for children--and
        those who wrote that despised fantasy!
        Sophie
        Author site:
        http://www.northnet.com.au/~smasson

        -----Original Message-----
        From: Donovan & Lillian Mattole <mattole@...>
        To: mythsoc@egroups.com <mythsoc@egroups.com>
        Date: Saturday, 14 October 2000 13:10
        Subject: [mythsoc] review of Amber Spyglass


        >Here's a review a friend just forwarded me on Amber Spyglass.
        >
        >----- Original Message -----
        >From: Drew Wiest <dwiest12@...>
        >To: <mattole@...>
        >Sent: Thursday, October 05, 2000 7:37 PM
        >Subject: review of Amber Spyglass
        >
        >
        >> Donovan,
        >> This could have been ghostwritten by Molly Gloss, huh? I find it ironic
        >> that these kinds of opinions are put forth by women writers. It wasn't
        >that
        >> long ago (125 years?) that women writers were viewed by the literature
        >> establishment much in the same way that the SF/Children's writers are
        now.
        >> Still, I guess she ended up liking the book--that's something. And I
        >would
        >> wager that Pullman is a far better writer than she is, regardless of the
        >> material.
        >>
        >> Drew
        >>
        >>
        >> It was not easy to persuade me to embark on Philip Pullman's His Dark
        >> Materials trilogy. Pullman's two main characters, Lyra and Will, are
        >> children, there are talking animals, and--worst of all--there are other
        >> worlds, worlds in which humans are shadowed by animal familiars called
        >> dæmons, or are small enough to ride on dragonflies, or can power a kind
        of
        >> helicopter simply by their intentions. His books are generally stocked in
        >> two sections I seldom visit on my own behalf--science fiction and
        >> children's--and when I did find them, their covers were far from
        >reassuring.
        >> Maybe they would make good gifts, but I felt quite sure that I myself did
        >> not want to read them.
        >>
        >> The friend who had recommended Pullman, however, was both eloquent and
        >> tenacious. He's a terrific writer, she insisted. And a master
        storyteller.
        >> Finally, facing a transatlantic journey, I succumbed and bought "The
        >Golden
        >> Compass," the opening volume of the trilogy; after all, I could always
        >leave
        >> it on the plane. During the first couple of hours of the flight, I
        >finished
        >> a completely worthy adult novel, which I read with interest, even
        >pleasure,
        >> and of which I've now forgotten every detail.
        >>
        >> Somewhere over Greenland, I turned to Philip Pullman. Within half an hour
        >I
        >> knew that nothing would persuade me to leave Lyra, the loquacious,
        >> passionate, gifted heroine of this and the subsequent two installments.
        >Was
        >> this children's literature? Was this fantasy? Science fiction? I no
        longer
        >> knew the answers, but that no longer seemed to matter.
        >>
        >> Flannery O'Connor claimed that to read a good story is to undergo an
        >> experience. Sitting on that plane, I underwent a profound experience. As
        >> soon as I encountered Lyra's dæmon, Pantalaimon, I began to understand
        the
        >> remarkable intelligence that informs Pullman's many imagined worlds.
        >> Everyone in Lyra's world has a dæmon, and in the case of children, these
        >> dæmons can metamorphose at will; they only become fixed when one grows
        up.
        >> Pantalaimon can take the form of a stoat, a swallow, a wolfhound, a wasp;
        >he
        >> accompanies Lyra almost everywhere and is, like her, courageous,
        >inventive,
        >> stubborn, and loyal.
        >>
        >> But wait. Isn't this precisely the sort of fantasy that makes children's
        >> literature fit only for children? What does the adult reader do with so
        >> obviously unbelievable a phenomenon? Believe it. As soon becomes
        apparent,
        >> the dæmons are no mere piece of whimsy but a profoundly illuminating
        >> metaphor, one that takes root in our own imaginations by virtue of its
        >> absolute rightness; if we don't have dæmons, we ought to. In a
        >surprisingly
        >> short space of time they become no more far-fetched than gentleman
        callers
        >> and quadrilles in Jane Austen.
        >>
        >> As soon as I finished "The Golden Compass," I turned to volume 2. In the
        >> equally enthralling "The Subtle Knife," Lyra meets a companion worthy of
        >her
        >> great quest. Will, a boy from our world, stumbles upon her in a third
        >> universe and becomes the bearer of a knife with magical properties.
        >Together
        >> they set out to discover the secret of Dust--a mysterious substance that
        >> acts as both a manifestation and a conductor of spiritual life.
        >>
        >> Now, for several months, I've been waiting for volume 3 impatiently but
        >also
        >> with trepidation. Could Pullman bring the complex tale he had been
        weaving
        >> to a satisfactory conclusion? Could he make good on the prophecy of the
        >> first two books that Lyra has an extraordinary destiny? Could he maintain
        >> the acute level of invention?
        >>
        >> Happily, yes. "The Amber Spyglass," with its witches and angels, ghosts
        >and
        >> demons, makes clear in splendid detail just how large an enterprise
        >Pullman
        >> has embarked on. It is no accident that from the trilogy's opening pages
        >> Lyra seldom stays still; only at the beginning of the third book, when
        she
        >> is imprisoned in a drugged sleep in a cave high in the Himalayas, is she
        >> motionless. Lyra is on an epic journey, and in the best tradition of the
        >> picaresque--"The Odyssey," "The Inferno," "The Pilgrim's Progress," "The
        >> Adventures of Tom Sawyer"--she encounters many vicissitudes. Pullman is
        >> working in one of our oldest narrative traditions, and the great argument
        >of
        >> his work is the age-old struggle between good and evil.
        >>
        >> So why are his novels in danger of being kept only for children? Nothing
        >in
        >> this author's robust, vivid prose suggests that he is writing for a
        >younger
        >> audience. The single biggest factor must surely be the choice of children
        >as
        >> main characters, which--by a kind of perverse reasoning--seems to be
        taken
        >> as the hallmark of a book fit only for children. But Lyra and Will are as
        >> full-blooded and complex and subtle as the characters in the best "adult"
        >> fiction. In one trait only do they differ from their grown-up
        >counterparts;
        >> they are almost entirely devoid of irony. That, for me, is part of
        >Pullman's
        >> accomplishment. He is not afraid of sincerity.
        >>
        >> With its exuberant sense of story, Pullman's work undoubtedly does appeal
        >to
        >> younger readers. Thankfully it does not follow that older readers are
        >> excluded. Don't we, too, deserve passionate, larger-than-life characters,
        >> intricate, exciting plots, deep moral questions?
        >>
        >> We do. Read Philip Pullman.
        >>
        >>
        >> --Margot Livesey lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in London. Her
        >> novels include "Criminals" and, most recently, "The Missing World." She
        is
        >> also the author of the collection "Learning by Heart."
        >
        >
        >
        >
        >
        >The Mythopoeic Society website http://www.mythsoc.org
        >
      • Stolzi@aol.com
        In a message dated 10/14/00 5:13:36 AM Central Daylight Time, ... Ah, but it represents a conversion, and we should be welcoming of such, no? Mary S
        Message 3 of 4 , Oct 14, 2000
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          In a message dated 10/14/00 5:13:36 AM Central Daylight Time,
          smasson@... writes:

          > Isn'i it just so patronising!

          Ah, but it represents a conversion, and we should be welcoming of such, no?

          Mary S
        • Ted Sherman
          I started The Amber Spyglass just the other day, and I must say that it is much more poetic than the other two books, at least that s true for the first 70
          Message 4 of 4 , Oct 14, 2000
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            I started The Amber Spyglass just the other day, and I must say that it is much
            more poetic than the other two books, at least that's true for the first 70
            pages or so. The opening paragraph is simply wonderful.

            Ted

            Stolzi@... wrote:

            > In a message dated 10/14/00 5:13:36 AM Central Daylight Time,
            > smasson@... writes:
            >
            > > Isn'i it just so patronising!
            >
            > Ah, but it represents a conversion, and we should be welcoming of such, no?
            >
            > Mary S
            >
            >
            > The Mythopoeic Society website http://www.mythsoc.org

            --
            Dr. Theodore James Sherman, Editor
            Mythlore: A Journal of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams and
            Mythopoeic Literature
            Box X041, Department of English
            Middle Tennessee State University
            Murfreesboro, TN 37132
            615 898-5836; FAX 615 898-5098
            tsherman@...
            tedsherman@...
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