The Amber Spyglass
by Philip Pullman
Come from caverns deep,
View’d the maid asleep.”
These three lines by William Blake from his poem The Little Girl Lost preface the first chapter of The Amber Spyglass, the final volume of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Aficiandos of Blake will know that his maid is Lyca, not Lyra, yet the lines do seem appropriate to the scene.
The Amber Spyglass is undoubtedly the most controversial of the three volumes, being concerned as it is with Death, Afterlife, God, Satan and Sex, not necessarily in that order. Many religious people found it uncomfortable, even blasphemous, but one should remember that it is a STORY and not a treatise on religion or philosophy.
Lyra is being held drugged and a prisoner in a cave by Mrs Coulter who, we have learned, is actually the girl’s mother. A strange way for a mother to behave, you might think. However, we are seeing here the beginnings of tiny maternal feelings in the former cruel agent of the Magisterium. In her own perverted way, she is trying to protect Lyra from what she believes is an unpleasant fate.
Will has seen a witch kill his father, the shaman Stanislaus Grumman. He now has as his companions two angels sent by Lord Asriel, but he refuses to go with them until he has found Lyra. The Magisterium wants Lyra too and are quite prepared to kill her to prevent her fulfilling her destiny as a second (sexual) Eve. Meantime, Oxford physicist Mary Malone is trying to discover why the worlds are dying and why they are instead infested with the Spectres. In the universe of the Mulefa, she has built the spyglass to enable her to see Dust, the fundamental particle essential to the wellbeing of the Cosmos.
“When she looked through it, she saw those drifting golden sparkles, the sraf, the Shadows, Lyra’s Dust, like a vast cloud of tiny beings floating through the wind.”
The Amber Spyglass introduces us again to the good witch, Serafina Pekkala, and to Iorek Byrnison, king of the great bears. Both have their part to play in protecting Lyra from her enemies though neither can go where she must. There are some new characters too, and new intelligent species. The latter are among the most original creations of Philip Pullman’s imagination: the Mulefa are diamond-shaped vertebrates with trunks and claws who live in symbiosis with the seedpods of their world’s gigantic trees; the Gillivespians are tiny people with poisonous spurs on their heels who ride giant dragonflies.
The Amber Spyglass is a complicated story with many narrative strands which at times wander from the main plot and seem incapable of resolving into a satisfactory conclusion. Yet they do. In order for the balance of the worlds to be restored, Will and Lyra must travel through the underworld to release the spirits of the dead. The evil forces of the Magisterium must be defeated; the Mulefa trees must be saved; the bears must return to their arctic homeland; and Will and Lyra must decide whether their future lies together or apart.
In his description of the final battle, the author draws from Biblical mythology and from Milton. The ending may not be one the reader wants but it does prove not only the power of love but also that a spark of redeemability remains even in the darkest of souls.