Friday, May 27, 2011

His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman Audiobooks

Title: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass
Author: Phillip Pullman
Publisher: BBC Audiobooks
Reviewed from: Checked out of the library
Stars: Five, Two, and Three and a half.

Back in February I started an* (friendly!) internet fight with some friends about this series saying how much I really disliked it. My friends' impassioned defense of this series inspired me to reread it and I'm very glad I did. I still have issues but a girl can have issues with a book and still enjoy it, right?

*side note, what is the rule for a/an when there is a parenthesis between the article and it's partner? Should I have stuck with an or gone with a?

For this book ramble I'm going to assume yall have read these books because I'm going to be talking about all three, what I liked, what I loved, and what I didn't like.

To begin with, these audiobooks are fantastic. They are full cast and Philip Pullman himself is the voice of the narrator. I tend to be wary of authors who are also narrators of their book but Philip Pullman is really good. He's got a great voice. Sean Barrett is both Lord Azreal and Iorek Byrnison and he is also phenomenal (Ooh! Wikipedia tells me that Sean Barrett was also a goblin in Labyrinth! Score!). Really the whole cast was perfect but those two stood out. The overall audiobook has some sound effects/voice effects but they're subtle and don't take you out of the story. I highly recommend going for the audiobook if you've got the time/inclination!

When I started the internet fight I started it by complaining about the theology of His Dark Materials. I don't care what the theology is, I hate when a book so obviously pushes a message. I remembered the plot as going severely downhill in the second and third books culminating in, as my friend Duckandpenguin said, "It’s as if Pullman kind of gave up on his manuscript and passed it on to Richard Dawkins and said 'here, see what you can do with it, I’ve had it with this story.'" On reread the message didn't bother me as much - maybe it's because I've become so much less of a Catholic and more of an Agnostic (although that is not a discussion for the blog but a point I feel is relevant) - or maybe it's because I had built it up so much in my mind that what actually happened seemed like so much less? I still find the second and especially the third books preachy but it wasn't overwhelming this time. I could let it slide and enjoy the storyline.

When I first read The Golden Compass I remember being so excited about what it was. I've always been a fantasy fan but I was also always acutely aware that there was girly fantasy (basically anything with a girl as a main character) and then there was fantasy that boys could like too. The Golden Compass seemed to me to be a fantasy book with a girl main character that wasn't a book just for girls. I found the adventure and the armored bears and the war and the daemons thrilling and was especially excited that it was a GIRL who was allowed to be the action hero and who got to go out and kick butt and take names and really just be as awesome as she can be. Then the Subtle Knife came along. Rereading these books all the feelings that I felt when reading them the first time came flooding back and I found myself getting more and more frustrated as the second book wore on. The book opens with Will (a more insufferable twat I've rarely met). When Lyra meets Will she is told pretty explicitly by the alethiometer that she needs to abandon her quest and her desires and help Will. Every time Lyra indulges in trying to research the Dust or talk to Mary or pause in a museum everything goes wrong and she ends up completely contrite that she dared to try and have a will of her own. One of the problems with reviewing from an audiobook is that I can't pull up quotes as easily as I could from a print book but there is a part where Lyra pledges to Will that she's abandoning everything to go with him to help find his father. She even goes so far as to deny herself the use of the alethiometer unless Will asks her to ask it a question. I don't think I can explain how devastated I was by this in college. I had discovered these books after the first two were out but before the third was out and I had hung so much hope on Lyra - she was going to be the one, you know? She was going to make it acceptable for boys to read fiction about girls without getting teased (Yes, I know, hegemonic systematic problems will not be brought down by one book but I'm a bit of a Polly Anna)! I had planned on going home and sharing these books with my best guy friend who I had shared the Redwall books with as a child. After he had embraced Lyra I was gong to give him Dealing with Dragons and The Princess and Curdie and all those other great adventurous girls I had loved that I knew he would too if only he'd give them a chance! And then reading the Subtle Knife I felt like that was all taken away from me (again, please don't mock. The ideals of a college feminist, ya know? Don't we all think, at one point or another, that every choice is world changing?). Lyra was being pushed into giving up herself because there's this annoying boy around who takes over and becomes the focal point. They share the spotlight in the third book but Lyra is still annoyingly willing to acquiesce to all of Will's choices and Will continues to be the most demanding obnoxious boy ever.

Can I talk for a minute about my dislike of Will? He's obsessed with who's stronger. When at a standoff he tends to say something like, "Well I'm stronger than you angels/Gallivespian/whatnot so you have to do whatever I say. Plus I have the knife so nyah!" He's the hero of the thing so what he's trying to force everyone else to do is, in fact, the "right" thing but DAMN, boy! Stop and listen to other people's points of view for once! And he has no inner monologue! At the end when they're meeting with the angel and he asks the angel what his future holds and then he says (again - reviewing without text in front of me so this is a paraphrase), "no, don't tell me. I want to make these choices myself. If I do what you say I will I'll always wonder if I did it because you told me to or if it was my choice. If I choose something else I'll always wonder if I messed up and am doing something wrong." Dude, just stop after "I want to make those choices myself." We all understand the rest! And he does that for ALL OF HIS CHOICES! He gives a quick one sentence explanation of why and then he elaborates for a year about that explanation. HUSH UP ALREADY! And then this is the guy that MY Lyra falls in love with? Pfft.

So overall I give the first book five stars the second book two and the third three and a half. I'm glad I read them, I'm glad I reread them, but oof. Issues.

Edit: My awesome internet-friend Parliament Books just directed me to her review here that I had somehow missed that is awesome and y'all should read as well. She goes more into the problematic racial/sexual/etc issues than I did and it is lovely.

Silly side note to end this on - I've become obsessed with Adele recently and her song Turning Tables? Probably because I became obsessed while also listening to this audiobook but I hear "Close enough to start a war/All that I have is on the floor/God only knows what we're fighting for/All that I say, you always say more/I can't keep up with your turning tables/Under Iofur Raknison." Somehow I don't think that Adele was singing about the ex panserbjørn king. I'm going to have to look up the real lyrics one of these days.


Anonymous said...

I felt pretty much the same way about the trilogy! Blown away by Golden Compass, increasingly bothered by ISSUES with the other two. I think Phillip Pullman suffers a bit from thinking he is smarter than everyone else. (Actually, he mostly bugs me in interviews. Something about the way he talks just makes me want to VEHEMENTLY ARGUE against everything he says).

Abby said...

Librarian Pirate you are back!!!