Note: I recently decided to read the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman and to write reviews on the three books. You can read about the reason why here, and you can read my review of the first book, The Golden Compass, here.
The Subtle Knife is the second installment in atheist Philip Pullman's trilogy, His Dark Materials. This fantasy starts off by introducing another young hero into the mix, Will Parry. Like Lyra Belacqua, the heroine in the series, Will is mature beyond his years, and has charged himself with caring for his mentally ill mother and finding his father, an explorer.
Lyra has located her father, for whom she had been searching, but they have parted ways once again. Now that she and Will have crossed paths while hopping from world to world through various "windows," she vows after a slight deviation to use her knowledge and her magical truth-telling device to help Will find his father.
Gone- at least for now- is the threat of the Gobblers, who stole children. Now adults live in fear of the Specters of Indifference, who devour adults by sapping the life blood from them, leaving them, well, indifferent to their surroundings.
Together, Lyra and Will jump between two worlds to meet with scholars and find people who can help them find Will's father. Lyra briefly loses her magical device to a man who offers to return it if she and Will bring him the Subtle Knife.
This mystical knife can slice through anything and can create windows into other worlds, as well as protect adults from the Specters.
This book has more religious undertones, and the Watchers, who are angels, become part of the cast of characters. It also becomes clear that Lyra's father, Lord Asriel, is working toward some sort of confrontation with God.
Warning- consider this your spoiler alert.
Toward the end of the book, we learn that Lyra has another role to play besides the heroine in this trilogy. She apparently is destined to be Eve. Only this time, she won't fall, unlike the Biblical story of Eve in the Garden of Eden, where she is tempted by the serpent and eats from the forbidden tree.
We also learn that in addition to its previously mentioned uses, the Subtle Knife can defeat God. The "rebel angels" cast out of Heaven didn't have anything like this knife, so the door is opened to the possibilities that lie ahead now that there is such a knife.
The controversy in these books has been the idea that Pullman is trying to kill God in the minds of children. Previously, others have mentioned that The Golden Compass is the tamest of the three books and based on The Subtle Knife, I agree. This second book is far more graphic and violent, in my opinion. People are attacked by Specters, characters are killed, others are maimed. It becomes clear that there is a belief among characters in the book that God can be defeated.
There are some touching moments in this book, where Will and Lyra realize they are the best friends either has had. There is a comical moment when Lyra confronts the thief who stole her device and she's so angry, she barely can contain her rage. Will learns a great deal about his father, and the pride he has in his father increases enormously.
But beneath all of this, I finished this book feeling disturbed by the notions presented, and almost dreading what will be introduced in the final book, The Amber Spyglass.
I still mostly hold to my belief that a book based on fantasy could not succeed in killing God in the minds of children, but now I think that it holds true for children raised in Christian households, and maybe not so much for children who are not taught about having a personal relationship with God.
I tend to agree, at this point, with some of the concern about The Golden Compass movie coming to theaters Dec. 7. I can see where a movie based on the book might lure children into reading all of the books. I'm not sure yet if I would want my children reading The Subtle Knife.
I'm now reading The Amber Spyglass. I hope to have it completed and a review written by Dec. 7.