The Amber Spyglass - Philip Pullman i just decided to copy-and-paste a response i wrote regarding this book in one of the GR groups. that is inexcusably lazy. so sue me! also, it is full of SPOILERS.

- i think one of the most unique things about this book is the fact that one protagonist is a liar and the other is a murderer. not only is that uncommon, particularly in YA lit, it is transgressive. i like how the tools that help these two in their amazing adventures are ones that are normally displayed by villains. and without their ruthless abilities to lie and to kill, they wouldn't have survived. to put these abilities in the hands of the protagonists is one way of showing that despite having negative attributes, a person can still be good and still be heroic. the characters are as complex as real people in that they are not all good. and in many ways, both the ability to lie and the ability to kill come back to haunt both children (particularly the latter) - they don't just get a free pass by the author. but nor are their flaws portrayed in a black-and-white way. many children lie. many people in the world have killed. but doing either does not make them automatically villains. i like that as well.

- as far as the author's atheism goes, it doesn't bother me and i think the series is quite separate from his point of view. the "God" that is destroyed is not actually God, he is a despot angel gone to seed, an imposter. i actually found the book to be exceedingly spiritual and very much connected to the ideas of love for humanity, love for nature, even love for spirituality in its own way. now obviously pullman is a curmudgeonly atheist...but i don't see those views shoved down readers' throats during the series. what i see is an ability to use ideas of 'angels' and 'heaven' without sentiment and to even subvert Christian paradigms....without actually saying 'There Is No God or Heaven'. that may be implied, but i think it can be argued that the opposite is also implied....that there may be a God and a Heaven that is above all of these angel hierarchies, all of the warfare.

- as a God-lover myself (i would hesitate to call myself 'Christian'), i am always on the look-out for sneaky, nihilistic, anti-spirituality tracts. those kinds of things annoy me just as much as the display of judgmental religious rhetoric. despite the author's personal perspective, i didn't notice that in this series, and i was looking for it. angels warring and a False God Angel to me do not amount to a renunciation of faith. if anything, it illustrates a critical stance towards current organized religion. i can deal with that. it is not all-or-nothing or black & white, it is a grey scale. and as i've mentioned, overall i found the novel to be deeply spiritual - pullman may be a curmudgeonly atheist; the morality of the book itself is not.

- personally, i thought the Chronicles of Narnia (one of my favorite series) was far more overt in its religious teachings than Golden Compass was in its 'question what you have been taught' lessons. Chronicles was a wonderful adventure AND a clear religious allegory. Golden Compass is a wonderful adventure AND a lesson in not blindly following faith - with the ultimate lesson that a person can still find their own personal way to faith & spirituality. i think that is a good lesson for kids. for everyone!