Synopses & Reviews
Published in 40 countries, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy – The Golden Compass
, The Subtle Knife
, and The Amber Spyglass
– has graced the New York Times
, Wall Street Journal
, San Francisco Chronicle
, Book Sense
, and Publishers Weekly
The Golden Compass forms the first part of a story in three volumes. The first volume is set in a world like ours, but different in many ways. The second volume is set partly in the world we know. The third moves between many worlds.
In The Golden Compass, readers meet 11-year-old Lyra Belacqua, a precocious orphan growing up within the precincts of Jordan College in Oxford, England. It quickly becomes clear that Lyra's Oxford is not precisely like our own—nor is her world. In Lyra's world, everyone has a personal dæmon, a lifelong animal familiar. This is a world in which science, theology and magic are closely intertwined.
The Subtle Knife is the second part of the trilogy that began with The Golden Compass. That first book was set in a world like ours, but different. This book begins in our own world.
In The Subtle Knife, readers are introduced to Will Parry, a young boy living in modern-day Oxford, England. Will is only twelve years old, but he bears the responsibilities of an adult. Following the disappearance of his explorer-father, John Parry, during an expedition in the North, Will became parent, provider and protector to his frail, confused mother. And it's in protecting her that he becomes a murderer, too: he accidentally kills a man who breaks into their home to steal valuable letters written by John Parry. After placing his mother in the care of a kind friend, Will takes those letters and sets off to discover the truth about his father.
The Amber Spyglass brings the intrigue of The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife to a heartstopping close, marking the third and final volume as the most powerful of the trilogy. Along with the return of Lyra, Will, Mrs. Coulter, Lord Asriel, Dr. Mary Malone, and Iorek Byrnison the armored bear, The Amber Spyglass introduces a host of new characters: the Mulefa, mysterious wheeled creatures with the power to see Dust; Gallivespian Lord Roke, a hand-high spy-master to Lord Asriel; and Metatron, a fierce and mighty angel. And this final volume brings startling revelations, too: the painful price Lyra must pay to walk through the land of the dead, the haunting power of Dr. Malone's amber spyglass, and the names of who will live—and who will die—for love. And all the while, war rages with the Kingdom of Heaven, a brutal battle that—in its shocking outcome—will reveal the secret of Dust.
Here is the highly anticipated second installment of Philip Pullman's epic fantasy trilogy, begun with the critically acclaimed The Golden Compass. Lyra and Will, her newfound friend, tumble separately into the strange tropical otherworld of Cittàgazze, "the city of magpies," where adults are curiously absent and children run wild. Here their lives become inextricably entwined when Lyra's alethiometer gives her a simple command: find Will's father. Their search is plagued with obstacles--some familiar and some horribly new and unfathomable--but it eventually brings them closer to Will's father and to the Subtle Knife, a deadly, magical, ancient tool that cuts windows between worlds. Through it all, Will and Lyra find themselves hurtling toward the center of a fierce battle against a force so awesome that leagues of mortals, witches, beasts, and spirits from every world are uniting in fear and anger against it. This breathtaking sequel will leave readers eager for the third and final volume of His Dark Materials.
FOR THE FIRST time, the hardcover editions of Philip Pullman's awardwinning His Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass) with the original, classic covers by Eric Rohmann, will be available in a boxed set.
“The most magnificent fantasy series since The Lord of the Rings.” --The Oregonian
Lost in a new world, Lyra finds Will--a boy on the run, a murderer--a worthy and welcome ally. For this is a world where soul-eating Specters stalk the streets and witches share the skies with troops of angels.
Each is searching--Lyra for the meaning of Dark Matter, Will for his missing father—but what they find instead is a deadly secret, a knife of untold power. And neither Lyra nor Will suspects how tightly their lives, their loves, their destinies are bound together . . . until they are split apart.
A #1 New York Times Bestseller
A Newsweek Top 100 Book of All Time
An Entertainment Weekly All-Time Greatest Novel
“The story gallops with ferocious momentum.” --The New York Times Book Review
“Pullman’s imagination soars. . . . A literary rollercoaster ride you won’t want to miss.” --The Boston Globe
“Destined to become a classic.” --Detroit Free Press
“The Subtle Knife is as absorbing and irresistible as The Golden Compass--and even more so, as powerful forces are set in motion. A brilliantly conceived work.” --Lloyd Alexander, author of the Prydain Chronicles, and Newbery Medalist for The High King
About the Author
Philip Pullman was born in Norwich, England and was brought up in Rhodesia, Australia, London and Wales. Philip graduated from Oxford University in 1973 with a degree in English, and has taught middle school at Westminter College. He is the author of many highly-acclaimed books for young readers, from contemporary fiction to Victorian thrillers, and has written plays and picture books for readers of all ages. Philip's current book, The Golden Compass
, has been hailed as "a rich combination of high fantasy, high drama, and intense emotion" by author Lloyd Alexander, and "extraordinary storytelling at it's very best" by the Detroit Free-Press
Philip currently lives in Oxford with his wife, Judith, and children.
Reading Group Guide
1. What is wrong with Will's mother? Are her concerns real, imagined, or both? Why and how does Will protect her?
2. What does it mean when Lyra assumes Will's daemon is "inside"? Do the people in Will's world, our world, have daemons at all?
3. Why does Will's being a murderer enable Lyra to trust him? What characters do Serafina Pekkala and Lee Scoresby decide to trust, and is their trust warranted? In what other ways does trust play an important role in this novel?
4. How has Will learned to make himself unnoticed by others? Relate this to the witches' ability to make themselves invisible.
5. How do the Shadows that communicate with Lyra through the computer relate to dark matter and/or Dust? If Lyra can understand the Shadows as she understands the alethiometer, then is the computer also acting as a truth-giving device? What is the real origin of the Shadows' messages?
6. On page 188, Giacomo Paradisi tells Will the rules for bearing the subtle knife. Why do you think Will must "never open without closing"? What did Paradisi mean by "a base purpose"? Compare these formal guidelines to the instinctive rules Lyra obeys when using the alethiometer.
7. Why is it significant that the possessors of the alethiometer and the subtle knife are children? What is the difference between innocence and experience? What has happened to Mrs. Coulter's solders who have undergone intercision?
8. Lord Asriel is mentioned several times throughout the story, yet we never directly see him. He is planning a war that he cannot win without an object that he does not know exists. What does Lord Asriel symbolize in The Subtle Knife?
9. What did the "Cave" mean when it told Dr. Malone that she must be "the serpent"? Where do you think she is at the end of the story? Where is Lyra?
10. In what way can a knife that divides pathways between worlds and can sever bone, rock, and steel be called "subtle"?
11. DISCUSSION TOPICS IF YOU HAVE READ THE GOLDEN COMPASS AND THE SUBTLE KNIFE
In Book One, Lyra is clearly a leader. In Book Two, she seems to have become a follower, a servant to Will's cause. Who is more powerful, Will or Lyra? Whose cause is more important? Is it the same cause?
12. Is the "psychic death" caused by severing the same as that caused by the Specters? Compare Tony Makarios and the servants at Bolvangar (Book One) to Tullio's actions after Will takes the subtle knife and the final thoughts of Lena Feldt (Book Two). Relate these to the "natural" deaths suffered by Lee Scoresby and John Parry.
13. Armored bears, witches, severed children and adults, cliff-ghasts, Spectres, and angels are beings with spiritual qualities different from humans. Why does the authorintroduce so many creatures with alternative soul-states?
14. By the end of The Subtle Knife, we have learned that both Will's father, John Parry/Stanislaus Grumman, and Lyra's father, Lord Asriel, are powerful men who have traveled between worlds. Yet one is called a shaman while the other is preparing to be a general. What is the relationship between these two men? Compare it to the relationship between Will and Lyra.
15. The Golden Compass takes place in a "closed" world where Lyra finds guidance through her newly-found alethiometer. In The Subtle Knife, boundaries between worlds have been broken, Lyra loses her alethiometer, and Will becomes the reluctant bearer of the knife. Explore the many parallels and opposites established between The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife. How is the dualistic imagery of Lyra's and Will's worlds counterpointed by Cittaágazze?
16. Citing a passage from John Miltons Paradise Lost, Philip Pullman has named his trilogy "His Dark Materials." How might this citation, and the novels' emerging themes, relate to the following quote:
"The prince of darkness is a gentleman." - William Shakespeare (King Lear)
The questions, discussion topics, and author information that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of The Subtle Knife
. The Subtle Knife
is Book Two of Philip Pullman's trilogy "His Dark Materials". In Book One, The Golden Compass,
young Lyra Belacqua journeys through "a universe like ours but different in many ways." The most striking difference between Lyra's world and ours is the existence of daemons. These spirit-creatures, physical manifestations of the human soul, can change shape until their human companions reach adolescence. Then each daemon settles into the animal form that best reflects the inner nature of its human counterpart.
In The Golden Compass, Lyra discovers that her mother, Mrs. Coulter, is conducting experiments in which children are severed from their daemons, turning them into emotionless, almost inhuman beings. Mrs. Coulter and her colleagues are doing this to learn more about a substance called "Dust, " which seems to accumulate on humans when they reach maturity. While many fear Dust, both Mrs. Coulter and Lyra's father, Lord Asriel, see it as the source of great power. The Golden Compass concludes with Lord Asriel harnessing the power of Dust to create an opening in the atmosphere of his world, forging a bridge to another universe. This he fearlessly crosses, leaving Mrs. Coulter behind. Lyra perceives that Dust is good and vows to discover its secrets with the help of her "golden compass", or alethiometer, a truth-seeking device. And so Lyra and her daemon, Pantalaimon, follow Lord Asriel into the other world.
The Subtle Knife begins in our own world, where Will Parry, driven by curiosity about his mysterious, missing father and concern for his vulnerable, disturbed mother, accidentally kills an intruder. While fleeing, he finds a "window" into a sunlit otherworld. What could be a better refuge than a hidden universe? But this universe is a strange, empty place: a city that seems to have been abandoned in such haste that food is left rotting on plates at a sidewalk cafe. The inhabitants of the city, Cittágazze, have fled from the invading Specters, ghostlike creatures that devour the souls of adults. But Specters are harmless and invisible to children, and soon Will meets another fugitive child in Cittágazze: Lyra. Although he does not know it, their lives are soon to become forever intertwined when Lyra's alethiometer gives her one simple command: Help Will find his father.
The richly imagined world of Book One seems almost quiet and simple when compared to the turmoil of Book Two. Here "Dust" is called "dark matter" and has been joined by a myriad of other complex phenomena, including the Specters and bene elim (angels). One protagonist has been replaced by two, Lyra and Will. Most significant of all, Lyra's truth-giving compass seems to pale in comparison to the power of Will's new acquisition, the subtle knife, the Æsahættr, the knife that will cut ANYTHING. What can it mean to be the bearer of such an instrument?
"More than fulfilling the promise of The Golden Compass, this second volume starts off at a heart-thumping pace and never slows down....The grandly exuberant storytelling is sure to enthrall."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"The intricacy of the plot is staggering...There is no doubt that the work is stunningly ambitious, original, and fascinating."--The Horn Book (starred review)
"The character development as well as the relentless pace...make this a resoundingly successful sequel...it will leave readers desperate for the next installment."--Booklist (starred review)
From the Trade Paperback edition.