Friday, February 08, 2008

Book review: The Subtle Knife

"The Subtle Knife" follows "The Golden Compass" in the "His Dark Materials" trilogy by Philip Pullman.

This book wasn't nearly as insulting and obviously intended for little kids as the first book. As way of review and summary I'm going to focus on the controversy of these books. Christians are very upset by these books. I'll get to why quickly.

The world of these books contains multiple dimensions or alternate worlds.
The first book focuses on something that looks a bit like England before the invention of the automobile. Each person has a being that is never far from their side their whole life. It can change shape when you're a kid but when you reach puberty it picks one shape that is indicative of your personality and stays that shape until you die. This creature, a Daemon, is basically a manifestation of your soul.
In this world the church is pretty much still in control of everything. They monitor all scientific research, make sure people obey them, and aren't above assassinating people that piss them off. They're researching a substance called Dust while making sure that nobody else researches it. They fear Dust without really knowing what it is. They know it's attracted to adults but not kids. They've found that Dust loses interest in people once they've had their Daemon's cut away. But that makes the people effectively zombies (voodoo, not braaaainnns). They find this out by experimenting on children. They've already cut away the souls of their staff who mindlessly continue their given tasks.

In the second book our heroes have made their way into another dimension where people don't have daemons, but there are spectres that are invisible to kids but not to adults. When you reach puberty you can see them and they come eat your soul.
From there our heroes make it into a third dimension that is much like our own world. They're researching dark matter which is the same as Dust. It's established that the Dust is really fallen angels. So, the church is really the good guys right? Fighting those who rebelled against God? I started wondering what the churchies were objecting to. Sure, the church is running experiments on kids and cutting out people's souls but if it's to help fight God's enemies then it's good, right? Lord knows that the real world church has a history of being much nastier and repressive than the one in the book.
The Dust caused people to evolve into intelligent beings, not God. The Dust wants to use us in in the next war against God. So... thanks, but no thanks.
The Subtle Knife is a tool that can kill the spectres in the second world and open passages into alternate dimensions.
Meanwhile, back in the first dimension the church has been busy cutting out people's souls to raise an army of mindless soldiers. The zombie soldiers are to be used to fight the army that is being raised by the hero's father to fight God.

So really, the question of who is good and bad depends on your point of view and whether you think the ends justify the means.

At the end of the book we find that Dust and the people working for it call God "The Authority" and view it as an oppressor who cares only for obedience from everyone. From my own reading of the Bible I can't really say that this view is out of line. God always seemed like a real self important jerk to me.

So aside from the obvious bit where the fallen angels talk about the oppressive nature of God (what else would you expect them to say about God?) I think the big objection that the Christians would have against this book is that it encourages people to think about issues. Christian leaders have never been big on people thinking about stuff.

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