Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass

Philip Pullman's The Amber SpyglassI have always been a sucker for sad and bittersweet endings, and landing on my list of stories with pretty and bittersweet endings, if not on top of it, is The Amber Spyglass.

The Amber Spyglass is the concluding volume in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. If you found the first two volumes, The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife, full of action, you will get dizzy with it in this the last volume. The book continues the story of Will Parry and Lyra Belacqua, dubbed Silvertongue, and it begins with the search of Will for Lyra, who was kidnapped by her mother, Marisa Coulter. With some force, Will solicits the aid of two angels, Baruch and Balthamos, in his quest to find Lyra. But in this quest, he is not alone. Lyra’s father, the Lord Asriel, is also looking for Lyra because she may be important in his attempt to challenge and perhaps overthrow the Authority, one we know as God Almighty, among many other names. The Church of Lyra’s world, on the other hand, also seeks to find Lyra, but this time to kill her for the danger she represents not just to itself but to the Authority whom they serve.

Where is Lyra? While the world outside is at chaos, Lyra is kept in drugged sleep by her mother in a cave at the Himalayas of Lyra’s world. Mrs. Coulter had discovered that she is capable of tremendous and overflowing love for her own daughter; when she found out exactly what the Church that she served wanted to do with Lyra upon finding her, she hid her away.

With the help of the king of the armored bears, Iorek Byrnison and the village girl Ama, Will finally finds Lyra. In the midst of cutting a doorway into another world with the subtle knife, however, Will is distracted and enchanted by Mrs. Coulter, and he breaks the knife. They escape nonetheless while the forces of Marisa Coulter’s Church and Lord Asriel’s men duked it out just outside Mrs. Coulter’s cave.

Will and Lyra manage to convince Iorek Byrnison to repair the subtle knife even if it was against the bear-king’s will to do so. Once the knife is fixed, Will and Lyra then travel to the land of the dead, where they free the ghosts of the dead – including those of Roger, Lee Scoresby and John Parry – from the prison they are in, thus allowing them to dissolve into oblivion with their essences absorbed back into everything that is living. It is in the journey to the land of the dead that Lyra commits the prophesied betrayal, which is leaving her daemon Pantalaimon behind while she travels through the land of the dead. (I thought it was the deliverance of Roger into death in the hands of Lord Asriel that was the great betrayal; I was wrong.)

In the meantime, the forces of Lord Asriel and the Authority engage, with many casualties. Marisa Coulter, who ended up siding with Lord Asriel, had managed to stop the Church from killing Lyra, but the process ended up in a great explosion that created cracks in the fabric of the worlds, causing more of the Dust to seep through these cracks. Aside from this, Mrs. Coulter had also chosen to use her innate deceitfulness in the service of her daughter: to buy Lyra more time for her tasks and to help Lord Asriel, Mrs. Coulter played the temptress to Metatron, the Regent of the Kingdom of Heaven and the right hand man of the Authority. The three of them fell into the abyss and were destroyed.

Meanwhile, Dr. Mary Malone, who traveled to the land of the mulefa, which are elephant-like creatures on wheels, crafted the amber spyglass that enabled her to see the Dust. It was through the mulefa that she learns of the true nature of the Dust. However, it was not this knowledge that made her play the snake to Lyra’s Eve; rather, it was her knowledge and experience of how it is to love, to be loved and to choose to be loved that opened Lyra’s eyes and caused her to change.

With this change is the realization that Lyra and Will are in love, but they cannot be together. All the windows to other worlds that the subtle knife opened have to be closed because it lead to the birth of the Spectres – all except for the opening to the land of the dead. This meant that while Lyra and Will love each other dearly, they cannot be together because they have to stay in their own worlds. If one attempts to live in the other’s world, his/her daemon will die and so will his/her body. They were charged to build the Republic of Heaven in their respective worlds; to give in to the love they have for each other is to defeat this purpose and waste their lives, knowing that if one dies, the other will certainly follow.

The Amber Spyglassaffected me in a big way, partly because the way it portrayed the Church echoes my own belief about it. It is also interesting the way Philip Pullman depicted the Authority – a decrepit and senile angel who deceived all into believing that he is the creator and left all of his work to his churches and to his archangel Metatron. In the end, he just wanted death, like everyone else.

But as I said, I am a sucker for sad endings. I keenly felt the despair of Lyra and Will; I’ll go ahead and say that it struck a sore nerve in me. The situation is so desperate and so pitiful. In a way, Lyra and Will’s situation is comparable to that of Lord Asriel and Marisa Coulter. Where the love between Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter had to be sacrificed to their own personal ambitions out of their own choice, the one between Lyra and Will had to be set aside because there is nothing else that can be done.

In all honesty, I did not expect The Amber Spyglass to turn out into a love story. It is a perfectly fine and fantastic adventure book; the love angle just added a pleasant layer into it. I may gush at this love angle, but that is not the point of the entire trilogy. It is not even about religion, I think, for all that it calls the concept of God a lie. It is about the choices you make and how each choice that you make should be your own. It is not supposed to be something that is pounded or indoctrinated into you by any church or authority or anything else.

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Anna Sibal-Gonzaga is a freelance writer based in the Philippines. She likes reading books and watching movies and TV shows in the sci-fi, fantasy and historical genres. She is also a casual gamer and an all-around nerd.

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1 comment

  1. Cleo

    By God, after reading a combined condensed version of Amber Spyglass and editorial, who needs to read the book! Great job, Anna! A real time saver for someone like me who can’t find time to read a work of fiction.

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