Saturday, October 08, 2005 ______________________________________________________________________________

Long Weekend Reading 

This is the first long weekend since school began. Eternally frazzled of late, you cannot possibly begin to understand how nice it is to have a breather. Now technically, there's plenty of UBC-related work for me to do (homework, TA work, fixing the online course work and grant application work) but I'm not going to do it.

In fact, to make sure that I only do this weekend what is due on Tuesday I've invited Brian (Jim's Dad) and Ronny (big Norwegian guy who taught me about safe sex) to a no-holds-barred Thanksgiving dinner. This entry is not about the dinner, which I'm sure I'll end up blogging about (13lb(~6kg) turkey, my potato speciality, three veggie dishes and a 2 tiered cake for desert)it's about what I think you should read should you also find yourself in the enviable position of having a 3-day weekend.

A good three-day read is His Dark Materials trilogy (by Philp Pullman). I wish I had these books in my youth when I read slower because they were over far too quickly for my liking (first two books completed in a day each, third book in two days - around my schedule...ahh ok I admit I skipped one class to read book two). The pacing of the stories are unparalleled, the concepts introduced are complex but presented simply and the plot - it's been a month since I've finished reading these books and thinking about the plot still leaves me breathless.

The first book in the series is called The Golden Compass. It begins by thrusting you abruptly into the world Pullman has created. Most novels set in a different world have some sort of preamble acquainting you with the world, introducing and defining the various terms (e.g. "muggle"). Granted, the way authors do this is either by introducing a character from another world into their world (Ray Bradbury does this alot, Luke Skywalker helped introduce us to the Jedi, etc.) or by having a character reminisce about a world more akin to ours and make comparisons (ala Larry Niven's Ringworld). Pullman begins in the middle of an event in the heart of his world. Admittedly, it's a little frustrating to not exactly know what he's talking about, but one gets initiated quickly enough.

It starts with 11 year old Lyra in a place she's forbidden to enter, witnessing something no one was supposed to see. The story snowballs from there. Being that the protagonist is so young, it really is a children's book. The action, no matter how sinister it is, is not as fully realized as it could possibly be. Still, you can't skip this book if you want to fully appreciate the next two.

The penultimate novel, The Subtle Knife, starts not in Lyra's now familiar world, but ours. With starkly different writing style to match the dramatically different setting, I almost thought that the trilogy was a collection of unrelated stories. Seeing as how I was dying to read the continuation of Lyra's story, the thought that crossed my mind was that Will (the charater from our world) had better be riveting enough to excuse the distraction from Lyra. Thankfully, he is and Pullman also sagely pulls out of our world just before we tire of its familiarity.

Lyra and Will are at the heart of extraordinary events. The action is now squarely in the PG-13 category as the two are thrust into very real and very threatening danger. The well-loved friends Lyra accumulated in the first book are also active in this one, ensuring that Will and Lyra are not abandoned in their unique quest.

With literally everything hanging in the balance at the end of the second book, I ran to a bookstore to buy the The Amber Spyglass. Being that us readers are now fully acquainted with all the characters and worlds, this book (quite a bit longer than the first two) starts immediately where the last book left off. Pullman does this very skillfully, revealing small bits of information such that the cliffhangers from The Subtle Knife are not resolved until the novel is well underway. Even though the pressing questions that were left by the second book are answered in the middle of the third, one almost doesn't even notice because there are so many other pressing things to uncover. Just a note of caution, this book is probably on the far end of PG-13.

It would have been so easy to seamlessly tack on a happy ending that would leave readers with a warm fuzzy feeling. Instead, Pullman puts far more thought into how he ends his epic series. His ending, while not wholly happy, is satisfying in its realism and is anything but contrived. I dislike the ending only because it signalled the end of my three-day sojourn into fantastic worlds. I feel like I grew with Lyra and Will. Indeed the books cover several years in their span and the two protagonists' journey into puberty is written so gracefully that one has to look back to realise how far they have come. I still miss Will and Lyra.

So there you go. The books I would read on my three-day weekend. I hope you do too because I'm dying to discuss the books with someone. I would also very much like to receive the book "Lyra's Oxford" for Christmas, or even a belated birthday gift. :)


posted by Joie! at 2:14 PM

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