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From: William Ansley <wansley@warwick.net>
Subject: Re: (urth) more Phillip Pullman
Date: Wed, 18 Apr 2001 22:52:27 

Very good, Matthew. You have provided a reply which nicely balances 
my message. Certainly don't let me discourage anyone from reading the 
books and making up their own minds about them.

>Just to take up a few points raised:
>(from William Ansley)
>>In _The Amber Spyglass_ the whole works just blows up in your face. The
>>plot clanks; endless needless complications and characters are introduced.
>I would say that's a bit strong. Certainly the last book is not so well
>controlled as the earlier ones, but I don't think all the new
>complications and characters are needless by any means. I found most of
>the book very satisfying - the war against heaven, the sequence in the
>land of the dead. I'll give you the sections about the creatures on
>wheels though - didn't do much for me.

I found the sequence in the land of the dead to be the weakest part 
of the book by far. It destroyed the logical cohesion of the multiple 
worlds idea, as far as as I am concerned.

>>The characters, at least some of them, including major ones, start acting
>>unlike themselves.
>I'm wondering who you are thinking of - if it's Mrs Coulter then I have
>to disagree - but I won't go any further down that route in case that's
>not who you're thinking of.

Primarily Mrs. Coulter, yes. I am thinking of some others too, but I 
would have to reread the book to remember exactly who now.

>>And Pullman evidently regards the success of the first
>>two volumes in the series to be a license to turns parts of the third book
>>into a virulent anti-Catholic screed (thinly disguised but unmistakable). I
>>consider myself agnostic, but this aspect of the book made me
>>uncomfortable. A certain anti-church bias is evident in the first two books
>>as well, but nothing like what comes out in the third.
>Here I've got to disagree strongly - the anti-religious bias is explicit
>and obvious from the start. The first book largely concerns a branch of
>the church running a torture centre for children let's not forget. You
>can like or dislike this, but it's not fair to Pullman to say he used
>his success as a platform for his views - they were in the work from the
>very start.

To me, he seem to be obsessed with the anti-religious message of the 
book in the last volume in a way that he wasn't in the first two. 
But, I agree that this aspect of the books was quite obvious from the 

>>In short, I might recommend this series on the merits of the first two
>>volumes, but only to someone who is not likely to be offended by a very
>>anti-Christian message. (This seems to be a real bugaboo for Pullman. He
>>apparently gave an interview some time ago in which he attacked C. S. Lewis
>>and the Narnia books, which garnered him much ill will from their fans.)
>Probably the Interzone interview with Elizabeth Counihan in IZ 161
>Quoting briefly, "I don't like his (Lewis's) fiction and especially
>detest his children's fiction. I think his Christian apologetics are
>dishonest. (...) He has some very sensible ... things to say about
>writing fiction and writing for children in particular, but his work is
>dedicated to propaganda in the service of a form of religion I find
>poisonous and damaging."
>You could reasonably argue that HDM is propaganda in the service of the
>form of religion (essentially humanism) that Pullman finds wholesome and
>rewarding. But it's also a good story, with interesting characters. I've
>read most of the Harry Potter books and enjoyed them, but HDM is a work
>on a much more ambitious level, which succeeds more than it fails imho.

I would go so far as to say that you cannot reasonably argue that 
HDM* is not such propaganda. Let me try to be clear. I also thought 
very highly of HDM. As I said, some of the anti-religious material 
made me uncomfortable, but that was only a very small part of why I 
was disappointed in _The Amber Spyglass_. I made a big deal out of it 
because it apparently bothered some people a good deal (judging by 
some reader reviews I have seen posted) and I felt a warning was in 
order. For the record I have also read and enjoyed the Narnia books 
by C. S. Lewis. But, Lewis's propagandizing in these books also made 
me uncomfortable at certain points; I was much more aware of this 
when I re-read the books after several years had gone by.

My primary complaint about HDM is that it didn't fulfill the promise 
of the first two in many ways. I felt Pullman violated the logical 
framework he set up in the first two books in many ways. The 
revelation of the nature of "dust," such as it was, fell flat for me. 
I don't want to go into any more detail here so as to avoid spoilers.

I entirely agree that HDM was a better and certainly a much more 
ambitious series than the Harry Potter books. Frankly, I think J. K. 
Rowling is becoming a victim of her own success. I felt her fourth 
book was weaker than the third and she still has three more to go. 
Then again, I am really being unfair to Rowling; she hasn't even 
concluded her series and I'm trashing it.

I think I'm in a rut. I don't like the third volume of HDM or the 
Short Sun books and I am afraid I will not enjoy the conclusion of 
the Harry Potter series. Well, conclusions are very, very hard. 
Perhaps I should be a little more forgiving.

>Matt Freestone - matthew@axiomatic.org.uk
>www.axiomatic.org.uk  SF: www.concatenation.org  work: www.mercator.com

William Ansley

*His Dark Materials, the overall title of the series.

*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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