Betsy Speicher

The Amber Spyglass

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15 posts in this topic

In The Amber Spyglass we learn that despite his opposition to the Church – and even in this book there are some great quotes about that – Pullman is a mystic as well as an environmentalist. There are two ways this became clear to me.

Warning: Major Spoilers. Don’t read further if you don’t want to know the ending!

The first way is explicit references to negative impacts of man on the environment. This included:

1) Global warming. There is a brief reference to warming in the “real” world, and we learn the bridge to the other world created in Lyra’s world caused the northern ice cap to melt, driving the bears south to find other hunting grounds.

2) Glorifying primitive cultures. The “mulefa” are an intelligent species of animal that live like primitive man. Dr. Malone observes how they live in harmony with nature, specifically the symbiotic relationship between them and the native trees. The trees drop very thick seedpods, which cannot be broken on their own. The mulefa are able to roll on top of them like wheels until they crack. When this happens, they plant them. Also Dr. Malone notes that they ride these “wheels” on cooled lava flows from long ago, and how these flows appear like roads. These roads, however, fit the landscape rather than cut through it as man’s roads do.

3) Science upsetting the natural order. In The Subtle Knife we’re introduced to “Specters”, which are ghost-like creatures that consume the daemons of people, leaving them hollow shells. We are only aware of their existence in one world. In that world there is a city called Cittàgazze, the home of the creators of the knife that can cut through the barrier between worlds. We learn in the end of this book that the holes created by this knife are responsible for the Specters and for the depletion of “Dust” in the mulefa’s world.

Then there are the anti-scientific revelations of Dr. Malone’s research both in her world and with the mulefa. We already learned that Dust makes the Golden Compass work. However it makes all supposed spiritual insight work, making specific reference to Chinese mysticism. Dust is consciousness. Malone starts to use a Chinese technique using sticks to divine information in a similar way that Lyra uses the compass. Also when the mulefa’s world loses Dust, the trees stop growing in the same abundance. In one scene, the environment itself tries to stop the Dust from escaping through the portals. It is most concentrated in humans, but all life depends on it. He didn’t use the term “Mother Nature”, but…

The Amber Spyglass answers a lot of questions, but in a way we didn’t expect when the story began. Issues of fate vs. free will raised earlier are put to rest. Fate wins. A prophesy was written about Lyra, and when she learns this she accepts it without question. Both her and Dr. Malone consult the omniscient consciousness, Dust, before making any major decisions. Having consulted this entity, they follow its commands blindly.

We learn that the threat posed by the Church is minor when compared to the dangers created by human curiosity and ambition. The explorers of Cittàgazze, in their lust for knowledge, nearly caused the destruction of all worlds. Lord Asriel as well, in his opening of the portal in the North. Will, believing he was using the knife to do good, was also letting loose creatures that kill innocent people. The book did not end when Lord Asriel’s forces defeated the Authority. It ended when the heroes learned that nature cannot be conquered and that man must know his place and stay in it (literally). It ended with Lyra and Will sacrificing their friendship in order to fulfill their destinies.

”He said we had to build something…”

“That’s why we needed our full life, Pan. We would have gone with Will and Kirjava, wouldn’t we?”

“Yes. Of Course! And they would have come with us. But—“

“But then we wouldn’t have been able to build it. No one could if they put themselves first.”…

In my opinion The Amber Spyglass ends in the worst way possible, in an act of selflessness. It completely negates the values presented in the first book. It’s as if it was written by a completely different person, and I would think so had “The Subtle Knife” been a link between the two.

I would still recommend The Golden Compass on its own, but if you’re curious about what happens after that, imagine up your own ending. I give it a 3 for occasionally good quotes about Christianity, and otherwise being a terrible, terrible book.

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I too was really disappointed on how this series ended. I was still enjoying the series at the end of the second book even though I knew any atheistic bent vanished at the arrival of angels. This guy merely has a bent against organized religion. Hardly Earth-shattering.

The anti-science, environmental "storylines" in the 3rd book were not only a bad turn, they were embarrassingly unoriginal. That "noble-savage" type crap has been done a thousand times if once. It was also unnecessary, it was available as an option by the preceding, I guess, but it could have easily been different and should have been.

I did not like the separation at the ending. I don't know what the addiction to fatalistic endings is nowadays. There was also no necessity in it. It was completely arbitrarily put in there that you couldn't survive outside your world. Why? Just is and that is going to keep them apart. And they explicitly had to renounce themselves and stoically study to build some Republic of Heaven. I don't know what that is and I don't know if was explained in the book.

I also don't really know what happened that made everything all well again. I think the Mary lady told some story about renouncing her faith and deciding to live in this world (don't worry Pullman soon contradicts this as well) that gave Lyra her first feeling of horniness, and that was the temptation and the fulfillment of the prophesy. I don't know why it had to be those two, couldn't any 2 adolescents have foot the bill? I think, but I had stopped caring by this point and was trying to get to that part of the book that says: THE END.

And I agree with bborg above. You just can't believe its the same author. It was like he was getting progressively more sick as the writing went on. By the time the third book is underway it is all so thoroughly confused as a whole, it falls apart.

Two more things.

1. Lyra's need to go to the world of the dead because she had to tell Ralph (or whatever the kid's name was) she was sorry was unconvincing especially for the length of the book that it took up. They may as well have spent time trying to find a really good ice cream cone, at least that would make sense.

2. I was actually really excited about 100 pages into the 2nd book. I was thinking he was going to throw everything in there like making me a giant salad with everything in it. He did, but I didn't know the dressing was going to be a bunch of confusing BS, and rancid meat (the ideas).

I am thoroughly peed off at being gypped twice in the last 2 fantasy series I've read. This one and Goodkind's. Goodkind's at least has the virtue of keeping its argument and story unbetrayed, just wasn't wrapped up very well.

I've talked a long time about writing a series where everything is in there. My fantasy/sci-fi/mystery/western series. These people don't know what they're doing. I'm starting it tonight.

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Oh, yeah. SPOILERS ABOVE! But it doesn't really matter.

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And they explicitly had to renounce themselves and stoically study to build some Republic of Heaven. I don't know what that is and I don't know if was explained in the book.

I don't think it ever was explained, which makes it all the more offensive.

I also don't really know what happened that made everything all well again. I think the Mary lady told some story about renouncing her faith and deciding to live in this world (don't worry Pullman soon contradicts this as well) that gave Lyra her first feeling of horniness, and that was the temptation and the fulfillment of the prophesy. I don't know why it had to be those two, couldn't any 2 adolescents have foot the bill? I think, but I had stopped caring by this point and was trying to get to that part of the book that says: THE END.

I think the kiss was supposed to be the cause of the change in the Dust. Of course, the connection was not explained. Lyra's role in the prophesy was as the new Eve, and yet it isn't clear how her actions mirrored Eve's at all. Eve ate from the tree of knowledge, and Lyra...kissed a boy. Nice.

1. Lyra's need to go to the world of the dead because she had to tell Ralph (or whatever the kid's name was) she was sorry was unconvincing especially for the length of the book that it took up. They may as well have spent time trying to find a really good ice cream cone, at least that would make sense.

Well first, his name was Roger. :huh:

Lyra was consumed by guilt because Roger was her best friend and she unwittingly led him to his death. She risked life and limb just to rescue him, and then lost him to her Uncle/Father's ambitions. I think it was very like her character to want to move the universe to right a wrong, but the problem is by this time in the story I stopped caring. She was no longer a character I could admire.

Just think about the bizarre character transformation that takes place. In The Golden Compass, Lyra is driven to the North partly by her desire for adventure and partly to rescue a dear friend. She never gives up and faces and conquers the odds stacked against her. She is clever, resourceful and brave. More than that, she is independent and has a very benevolent view of the universe. Because of this she attracts the best of people around her and the dialogue is full of values and humor.

Two books later, she has grown into adolescence and loses everything about her that made her heroic. She is completely dependent on others for judgment, she is dull, humble and helpless. Rather than make her own future, she is content to be guided by the prophesy of witches long dead. If you notice, everything about the story suffers. The quality of the dialogue is much worse, the moral lines become blurry (I have no idea what happened to Mrs. Coulter) and the original purpose - the defeat of the Church - becomes a secondary plot. What began with moral absolutes degenerates into one shade of gray. The Subtle Knife was slow, but I really had to force myself through the second half of The Amber Spyglass. All of the vibrant energy of the story was gone, replaced with bromides of destiny and self-sacrifice.

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You're right, of course. I found, as has to happen, that as I began to lose interest in the story I found it harder to follow. I knew the reason she wanted to go to the world of the dead, but it wasn't an aim nor a reason that compelled me - it just screamed DETOUR. The transformation of Lyra's character was sensical in the sense that it followed the dismal premise he concluded with. You may start off strong and full of personal pursuits, but to grow up means to tear yourself from your values and serve selflessly. Maybe he's a fan of Comte.

Crappy thing to give us after the promise of the first novel. I haven't felt this inspired since the 2nd Flintstones film.

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Lyra was consumed by guilt because Roger was her best friend and she unwittingly led him to his death. She risked life and limb just to rescue him, and then lost him to her Uncle/Father's ambitions. I think it was very like her character to want to move the universe to right a wrong, but the problem is by this time in the story I stopped caring . . .

I'm about half way through The Amber Spyglass. Not sure I'll bother reading the rest, given the comments about it.

What really bothered me about Roger's death was Pullman's trying to characterize it as a betrayal of him by Lyra. She had no idea she was leading him into danger - in fact, she thought she was rescuing him from danger. And Pullman has Lyra feel guilty of betraying him. Ridiculous. Betrayal implies deliberate treachery. Nothing of the kind was present.

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Lyra was consumed by guilt because Roger was her best friend and she unwittingly led him to his death. She risked life and limb just to rescue him, and then lost him to her Uncle/Father's ambitions. I think it was very like her character to want to move the universe to right a wrong, but the problem is by this time in the story I stopped caring . . .

I'm about half way through The Amber Spyglass. Not sure I'll bother reading the rest, given the comments about it.

What really bothered me about Roger's death was Pullman's trying to characterize it as a betrayal of him by Lyra. She had no idea she was leading him into danger - in fact, she thought she was rescuing him from danger. And Pullman has Lyra feel guilty of betraying him. Ridiculous. Betrayal implies deliberate treachery. Nothing of the kind was present.

Warning: There are spoilers about this book in this post.

Ok, I will try not to spoil the series, which I happened to enjoy greatly. I'll just say that, Do not assume that the "betrayal" of Roger was "The Betrayal." Pullman likes reversals and changes of understanding and perspective and this is one of those.

Not to ruin the ending, let's just say that it was somewhat of a Larry McMurtry ending. If you know what that means, then you've read McMurtry to the end and may well like this sort of ending. I don't. But I still enjoyed reading the books for their excellently imaginative rendering of alternate worlds and strong and likeable characters. And Good may not unequivocally triumph over Evil, for all time, but that goal is acknowledged as a morally right one and a good one and our hero and heroine (and supporting cast) work mightily and often successfully to accomplish that goal.

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But I still enjoyed reading the books for their excellently imaginative rendering of alternate worlds and strong and likeable characters. And Good may not unequivocally triumph over Evil, for all time, but that goal is acknowledged as a morally right one and a good one and our hero and heroine (and supporting cast) work mightily and often successfully to accomplish that goal.

I think this is just one of those stories where if you can look past all the faults, more power to you. The problem I had is that it began with strong and likeable characters and moral absolutes, but ended with a clash of grays.

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For anyone who may still be put off from fantasy series after the Golden Compass disappointment, I'd like to recommend a really good read in the genre. I'd offer it up for review, but I don't know if anyone has read it.

It is the Mordant's Need series by Stephen R. Donaldson. It is two volumes: The Mirror of Her Dreams, and, A Man Rides Through. I have just finished them and they are excellent. It's main virtue is plot, and an intricate weaving of seemingly inexplicable events, motives, and monarchal intrigue. At the close of the first book you are not left clear who is on what side, or why they are doing what they are doing. All the weaving of the first book is nicely tied up at the end - and clearly too.

For those that don't like too much magic, this is about as light as it comes. The only magic in this world is a certain number of people have the ability to "translate" things from other worlds into their own. The rules are light, and even when I got lost in it, it didn't matter too much.

A couple of drawbacks. I think it could have been a single book of about 800 pages, but I didn't find any of it a chore to get through; not even the chapter called: "A Few Days with Nothing To Do". The author seems addicted to the word lugubrious. I did think it took too long for the female lead to get over her insecurities. The male lead ends up strong, but the supporting cast is the real meat of the story.

On the plus side there is no weird pet ideas of the author coming in here. It is just story, story, story, which is the best for this genre. But there is no Objectivism here so don't even look for it. But there are virtues and heroes, and vice and villains.

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One of those sentences was supposed to be ... have the ability to "translate" things from other worlds into their own through mirrors. Trivial fix, but it gives the books' titles their "mystical Charm".

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For anyone who may still be put off from fantasy series after the Golden Compass disappointment, I'd like to recommend a really good read in the genre. I'd offer it up for review, but I don't know if anyone has read it.

It is the Mordant's Need series by Stephen R. Donaldson. It is two volumes: The Mirror of Her Dreams, and, A Man Rides Through. I have just finished them and they are excellent. It's main virtue is plot, and an intricate weaving of seemingly inexplicable events, motives, and monarchal intrigue. At the close of the first book you are not left clear who is on what side, or why they are doing what they are doing. All the weaving of the first book is nicely tied up at the end - and clearly too.

For those that don't like too much magic, this is about as light as it comes. The only magic in this world is a certain number of people have the ability to "translate" things from other worlds into their own. The rules are light, and even when I got lost in it, it didn't matter too much.

A couple of drawbacks. I think it could have been a single book of about 800 pages, but I didn't find any of it a chore to get through; not even the chapter called: "A Few Days with Nothing To Do". The author seems addicted to the word lugubrious. I did think it took too long for the female lead to get over her insecurities. The male lead ends up strong, but the supporting cast is the real meat of the story.

On the plus side there is no weird pet ideas of the author coming in here. It is just story, story, story, which is the best for this genre. But there is no Objectivism here so don't even look for it. But there are virtues and heroes, and vice and villains.

I meant to write this earlier, and it's nice to see a Donaldson fan on here. After reading his (then) six-volume series "The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever", he became my favorite fantasy novelist next to Tolkien. (I haven't read his two additions yet.) Donaldson has his faults. As you noted, he seemingly goes out of his way to use obscure words (readers will remember sundry examples, like "roynish" or "condign" or "crepitation"). You kinda have to have a good dictionary handy. And Covenant's unwarranted and accentuated self-loathing and hand-wringing is very, very hard to put up with. But Donaldson rewards the reader with stunning creativity in plot, fantasy settings and characters, and dramatic, gripping scenes that often made me shake my head in wonder at how he came up with this incredible stuff.

So, do you think someone that liked the Covenant trilogies, for these reasons, would like "Mordant's Need"?

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So, do you think someone that liked the Covenant trilogies, for these reasons, would like "Mordant's Need"?

Sorry, didn't notice your post. To answer your question - Absolutely.

I also like how he is able to make unintelligibly lunatic behaviour end up as utterly rational. Rational, that is, once you know the reasons behind the action(s).

I liked that series so much, he's probably in my top ten all-time, and that is a cutthroat list.

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So, do you think someone that liked the Covenant trilogies, for these reasons, would like "Mordant's Need"?

Sorry, didn't notice your post. To answer your question - Absolutely.

I also like how he is able to make unintelligibly lunatic behaviour end up as utterly rational. Rational, that is, once you know the reasons behind the action(s).

I liked that series so much, he's probably in my top ten all-time, and that is a cutthroat list.

Good deal -- thanks for the suggestion! I'll definitely read them. There's also some terrific news for Donaldson fans. Audiobooks narrator Scott Brick (who is awesome!) is narrating the entire Covenant series, through the Last Chronicles books when they're done. He's completed two books so far: "Lord Foul's Bane" and "Fatal Revenant". That link also has the first chapter of "Lord Foul's Bane" as a sample. Good stuff!

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For those of you who are Donaldson fans, I just wanted to say that the third book in the Last Chronicles is about to come out next month. It is called "Against All Things Ending." Preview here

Donaldson is one of the few writers I sometimes have trouble following, and I've never been sure whether the problem was in me or in him. I had a very hard time getting past Covenant's self-loathing and refusal to acknowledge the reality of the Land in the first Chronicles, but enjoyed the Second Chronicles and what I've seen of the Last Chronicles very much.

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