"His Dark Materials" Book Discussion - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 35 Old 01-16-2008, 06:48 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I just finished reading His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, which includes The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. I have not (yet?) seen the movie version of The Golden Compass.

I'd like to talk about all 3 books as a unit, and I don't see a need for using spoiler tags here- if you don't want to be spoiled, don't read this thread.


The ending left me with a feeling of satisfaction- all the characters are safe and settled- but I'm still not quite sure how things got that way.

One thing that REALLY disturbs me about the whole trilogy is the concept that children's souls are fundamentally different from adults, and that something significant happens at puberty. Children have as much Dust as objects that adults have handled, not as much as adults have? It's almost as if he's saying that children are somehow less than fully human- yet having the whole Universe hinge on the action of 2 children, and children being the main characters of the story negate that idea.

I still don't quite understand what Lyra and Will did that fixed the hemorage of Dust. They can't possibly be the first couple to fall in love and kiss! (did they ONLY kiss?) I really don't see how they did anything resembling Adam and Eve and the Serpent in the Garden of Eden. Where was Lyra's "choice" or "chance to fail" that the whole Universe was depending on? A couple of kids kiss each other and everything is saved?

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#2 of 35 Old 01-17-2008, 06:31 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Anybody else read this series recently?

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#3 of 35 Old 01-18-2008, 03:20 AM
 
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I just finished reading His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, which includes The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. I have not (yet?) seen the movie version of The Golden Compass.

I still don't quite understand what Lyra and Will did that fixed the hemorage of Dust. They can't possibly be the first couple to fall in love and kiss! (did they ONLY kiss?) I really don't see how they did anything resembling Adam and Eve and the Serpent in the Garden of Eden. Where was Lyra's "choice" or "chance to fail" that the whole Universe was depending on? A couple of kids kiss each other and everything is saved?
I just finished the trilogy about 2-3 weeks ago. It is still swimming around in my mind. I had the exact same thought. How was Mary the serpent??? Where was this huge choice and what did she do?? I kept thinking- is this about falling in love with Will? or deciding that they will live in their own worlds and never see each other again? I guess that was it but after all the profound things that happened I was a bit disillusioned by that. Mary as the serpent still has me scratching my head though.

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#4 of 35 Old 01-18-2008, 04:34 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I figured out the "serpent" thing.

Remember in the other version of Genesis, by those wheeled elephant people? Mulefa or something like that? Their version of Eve and the Serpent was positive: the snake coiled itself out of the center of the wheel-pod, and the Eve person stuck her claw into the center of the wheel pod and learned how to roll and started getting Sraf (Dust) flowing into her and she shared her discovery with the rest of the tribe. So the Serpent simply opened Eve's eyes to the beaty that was already available; it didn't destroy anything and Eve didn't make any "wrong choices."

By telling Will and Lyra the story of the first man she fell in love with, she "opened their eyes" to romantic love and they were able to act on their feelings.

But I still don't understand how two adolescents kissing (or more?) fixed the rift in the world. Remember that the Dust/Sraf stopped flowing out towards the sea after they kissed, and before they learned about the Windows causing damage and the hard choices that they had to make.

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#5 of 35 Old 01-18-2008, 05:31 PM
 
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I figured out the "serpent" thing.

Remember in the other version of Genesis, by those wheeled elephant people? Mulefa or something like that? Their version of Eve and the Serpent was positive: the snake coiled itself out of the center of the wheel-pod, and the Eve person stuck her claw into the center of the wheel pod and learned how to roll and started getting Sraf (Dust) flowing into her and she shared her discovery with the rest of the tribe. So the Serpent simply opened Eve's eyes to the beaty that was already available; it didn't destroy anything and Eve didn't make any "wrong choices."

By telling Will and Lyra the story of the first man she fell in love with, she "opened their eyes" to romantic love and they were able to act on their feelings.

But I still don't understand how two adolescents kissing (or more?) fixed the rift in the world. Remember that the Dust/Sraf stopped flowing out towards the sea after they kissed, and before they learned about the Windows causing damage and the hard choices that they had to make.
Aha! Thank you, I had been wondering about that too. I think that's almost too subtle, though -- I mean, the assassin chasing the temptress storyline occupied a big portion of this book, so I was really expecting something more dramatic and obvious.

And while I did like the fact that Will and Lyra fell in love, and I got teary when they sacrificed their love to save the worlds, I admit that in the back of my mind, I was thinking, "But they're only twelve! What do they know about really being in love?" Perhaps I'm just a cynic.
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#6 of 35 Old 01-19-2008, 12:02 AM
 
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I figured out the "serpent" thing.

Remember in the other version of Genesis, by those wheeled elephant people? Mulefa or something like that? Their version of Eve and the Serpent was positive: the snake coiled itself out of the center of the wheel-pod, and the Eve person stuck her claw into the center of the wheel pod and learned how to roll and started getting Sraf (Dust) flowing into her and she shared her discovery with the rest of the tribe. So the Serpent simply opened Eve's eyes to the beaty that was already available; it didn't destroy anything and Eve didn't make any "wrong choices."

By telling Will and Lyra the story of the first man she fell in love with, she "opened their eyes" to romantic love and they were able to act on their feelings.

But I still don't understand how two adolescents kissing (or more?) fixed the rift in the world. Remember that the Dust/Sraf stopped flowing out towards the sea after they kissed, and before they learned about the Windows causing damage and the hard choices that they had to make.
Thank you for that Ruthla!
Somehow that swept by me, I really was expecting something more profound. I loved the series but I felt a bit disappointed by the way he wrapped things up.

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#7 of 35 Old 01-19-2008, 12:04 AM
 
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I also don't understand why the dust stopped pouring out before they closed all the windows....

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#8 of 35 Old 01-20-2008, 06:01 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thank you for that Ruthla!
Somehow that swept by me, I really was expecting something more profound. I loved the series but I felt a bit disappointed by the way he wrapped things up.
I was also expecting something more obvious. As far as being "profound"- maybe he was trying to say something profound about adolescent love? Something about falling in love and "losing that childhood innocence" and suddenly being thrust into adulthood, spiritually?

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#9 of 35 Old 01-20-2008, 06:52 PM
 
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But I still don't understand how two adolescents kissing (or more?) fixed the rift in the world.
When Mary is talking about it to Serafina, she says, "Something happened today . . . Something tiny but crucial . . . If you wanted to divert a mighty river into a different course, and all you had was a single pebble, you could do it, as long as you put the pebble in the right place to send the first trickle of water that way instead of this. Something like that happened . . . And then the Dust was attracted to them, very powerfully, and it stopped flowing the other way."
It sounds to me as if Lyra and Will just happened to be in the right place at the right time to act like that pebble. It could have been any two kids falling in love and kissing; it didn't have to be them, but because it turned out that it was them, Lyra became another Eve.
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#10 of 35 Old 01-20-2008, 07:04 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I guess I'm still having trouble with the underlying concept that falling in love for the first time changes you from a "child" to an "adult". The whole concept of Dust being attracted to adults but not children just seems weird to me-as if children "don't matter" on a Cosmic level.

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#11 of 35 Old 01-21-2008, 04:57 AM
 
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I also thought it was more that Lyra and Will's kiss/relationship stopped the flow of dust because she was destined to do it, and also maybe because of the 'right place right time' idea (are my two thought mutually exclusive? They made sense in my head...).

Also, I dont' know that the difference between children's souls et adult souls make the children seem less human. To me, it made the adults seem not really less human, but less, I don't know, pure? Innocent? Less aware of nature and self? To me, it seems that the child's soul is better; but as with all growing up, when we become older we become more aware of what is going on and lose some of our innocence and wonder. That was what the kiss, the permanence of demon shape meant to me. Eating the apple to eve was like growing up to Lyra (or any of us). Knowledge comes at a price.
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#12 of 35 Old 01-24-2008, 03:48 PM
 
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Also, I dont' know that the difference between children's souls et adult souls make the children seem less human. To me, it made the adults seem not really less human, but less, I don't know, pure? Innocent? Less aware of nature and self? To me, it seems that the child's soul is better; but as with all growing up, when we become older we become more aware of what is going on and lose some of our innocence and wonder. That was what the kiss, the permanence of demon shape meant to me. Eating the apple to eve was like growing up to Lyra (or any of us). Knowledge comes at a price.
I agree with your interpretation. I always thought Pullman was trying to say that children's souls - like their daemons - are not *fixed* yet - they haven't settled into the story of their own identity, they are still fluid and changing, they haven't decided "this is probably what my whole life is going to be like." I thing their innocence, their lack of self-awareness, allows them to believe in magic and fantastic things - it allowed Lyra to tell her stories/lies and make them believable, it allowed Will and Lyra to believe they could undertake this massive quest to save the world. I think as we get older, we are more aware of our limitations as individuals - from the hard lessons we learn along the way, like falling in love for the first time. And because of this, we are less likely to believe that all things are possible in the world.

Falling in love for the first time - that kind of experience marks us, makes us different, makes something about us permanent and lasting, changed by the experience in a particular way - having been known so intimately by another, or knowing someone else so intimately, leaves an indelible mark on our souls, in my opinion.

And I also think Pullman was trying to say something about intentionality - that having explicit intentions makes someone a grown-up. Lyra kind of bobs along being Lyra, and because she is a child that works for her, to her advantage - she can read the compass, tell her tales, etc withing much forethought. But when we form deliberate intentions, and act upon them despite the fact that they may be painful - such as leaving your first love forever - then you are an adult. Does that make sense?

Sorry to just jump in like that! I just finished re-reading the whole series last month. I first read them about 7 years or so ago? I still loved it as much as I did the first time, although the ending didn't tear me apart as it did then. I think I cried for like the last 1/4 of the book!

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#13 of 35 Old 01-24-2008, 04:40 PM
 
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Thank you Ruth (and others) for asking these questions! I'd had those questions floating around in my head but hadn't put them into words.

It's significant that many cultures have rites of passage when a child gets to be 11, 12, 13 y.o. We universally acknowledge that there is a difference between childhood and adulthood. In Pullman's world it seems that sexual awareness marks the beginning of adulthood. Still, why would that affect a person's dust and/or daemon? I don't think he explains why, in his world, a first sexual encounter would fix a person's- personality? identity? soul?

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#14 of 35 Old 01-30-2008, 12:27 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Looking back on my adolescence, and being the mother of two adolescents right now, I strongly disagree with Pullman's idea that one moment marks "growing up"- I see it as a much longer, more drawn-out process. According to Jewish Law, my oldest daughter is "an adult" but she's certainly not finished growing up yet!

I also wonder if Pullman thinks that having a "first kiss" is ONE WAY to grow up, or if it's the ONLY way for this to happen. Would somebody's Daemon not select a form until having a romance?

I just thought of something else. By having "intentionally touching your lover's daemon" be a sexual act, it gives another dimension to all those times when Mrs. Coulter or her cronies handled somebody else's daemon in violence. It's akin to rape or molestation. And that kind of touching didn't cause the daemons to become fixed- it wasn't sex, it was violence. Is he saying that victims of molestation are just as pure and innocent as non-victims?

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#15 of 35 Old 01-30-2008, 12:59 AM
 
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I didn't get the impression that kissing was what made Will's and Lyra's daemon's settle. I imagined that was something that just happened at a certain age, the same age where a kid would start getting interested in romance. I assumed their daemons would have settled once they reached that age even if they had never had any kind of actual romantic experience, and that it was just coincidence that they happened to kiss and fall in love just when they were at the point when their daemons were about ready to settle.
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I didn't get the impression that kissing was what made Will's and Lyra's daemon's settle. I imagined that was something that just happened at a certain age, the same age where a kid would start getting interested in romance. I assumed their daemons would have settled once they reached that age even if they had never had any kind of actual romantic experience, and that it was just coincidence that they happened to kiss and fall in love just when they were at the point when their daemons were about ready to settle.
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#17 of 35 Old 01-30-2008, 02:10 PM
 
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I didn't get the impression that kissing was what made Will's and Lyra's daemon's settle. I imagined that was something that just happened at a certain age, the same age where a kid would start getting interested in romance. I assumed their daemons would have settled once they reached that age even if they had never had any kind of actual romantic experience, and that it was just coincidence that they happened to kiss and fall in love just when they were at the point when their daemons were about ready to settle.

Okay, I can see this.

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#18 of 35 Old 01-30-2008, 05:33 PM
 
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yesterday ... and found the books to be as captivating as the Harry Potter series. I read this trilogy in three weeks (one a week).

To add to the conversation about the daemons ... I recall that there was mention (I think in The Golden Compass) of some people who had daemons of the same gender. To me, the theme of homosexuality was not touched on in books ... but it leaves room for speculation as to whether a 'first love' experience rather than leaving the world of childhood is the catalyst for the daemons settling.

In The Amber Spyglass, the metaphor of "Eve" and the fruit and the kiss ... seemed, to me, to parallel the Biblical story in which humans gain knowledge and then are changed. Of course, Biblical knowledge has implications of sexuality as well. Then, we find that Will and Lyra must leave the world of the sea-pods (there Eden) and remain apart forever .... somewhat similar to the Biblical account of the sword-armed cherubim barring a return to Eden.
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#19 of 35 Old 01-30-2008, 05:53 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I also wondered about same-sex daemons and homosexuality. Is the daemon the gender of person you're attracted to? But then what about bisexual people?

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#20 of 35 Old 02-01-2008, 11:58 AM
 
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I just thought of something else. By having "intentionally touching your lover's daemon" be a sexual act, it gives another dimension to all those times when Mrs. Coulter or her cronies handled somebody else's daemon in violence. It's akin to rape or molestation. And that kind of touching didn't cause the daemons to become fixed- it wasn't sex, it was violence. Is he saying that victims of molestation are just as pure and innocent as non-victims?
Wow, what an intense statement. I felt like what Mrs Coulter and her crew were doing was rape/molestation when I was reading it. I was moved to tears during the description of that "school" and when the children were hooked to the machine that would remove their daemons. Some of those children were "lost" and I think that could easily be transfered to sexually abused children and how some children are completely destroyed by the violence and abuse of adults while others are incredibly resilient and are able to move on.

I truly loved these books. I felt they were much more thought provoking than any other youth literature I have read in a long time. I believe the religious tones are so open to interpretation based on your own upbringing and spiritual experiences. I believe Pullman did this on purpose because it forces us all to examine ourselves while we are reading his stories. He certainly left me with more questions than answers and I am ok with that.
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#21 of 35 Old 10-14-2008, 01:34 PM
 
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I also wondered about same-sex daemons and homosexuality. Is the daemon the gender of person you're attracted to? But then what about bisexual people?
I find the whole daemon thing to be similar to the Jungian anima/animus. I suppose if you had a same sex daemon you could be homosexual. I don't know how that would work with bisexuals, though.

And for your original question: I think Will and Lyra, in discovering their love for each other and becoming adult like, attracted just enough Dust to "change the tide", so to speak. They didn't stop all the leakage of Dust but I think because of their sudden change in that world, at that specific time, they were able to keep enough of it from escaping into the Abyss. The mulefa were described as more slow witted than humans and other than Mary, Will and Lyra there were no other intelligent species inhabiting their world. Therefore, we can speculate that the mulefa did not attract enough Dust to divert the flow from escaping. That's just my take, anyway.

As a side note, I really did not like the movie. They totally butchered the original, IMO.

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#22 of 35 Old 10-14-2008, 01:43 PM
 
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And for your original question: I think Will and Lyra, in discovering their love for each other and becoming adult like, attracted just enough Dust to "change the tide", so to speak. They didn't stop all the leakage of Dust but I think because of their sudden change in that world, at that specific time, they were able to keep enough of it from escaping into the Abyss. The mulefa were described as more slow witted than humans and other than Mary, Will and Lyra there were no other intelligent species inhabiting their world. Therefore, we can speculate that the mulefa did not attract enough Dust to divert the flow from escaping. That's just my take, anyway.
That makes a lot of sense with the whole pebble thing.

I also think they did more than merely kiss and that their love was very real and thus perhaps attracted more dust than might be exactly average.

I love these books. Nothing like a group of children on a quest to kill God. So right up my alley.

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#23 of 35 Old 10-14-2008, 03:42 PM
 
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I love these books. Nothing like a group of children on a quest to kill God. So right up my alley.
Exactly.

And.......

I was really happy with the ending. However, I'm still so, so sad that Will and Lyra will never see each other again!

Has anyone read Lyra's Oxford or Once Upon a Time in the North? If so, are they good?
There's also another psuedo-sequel coming out in 2009 called The Book of Dust!!

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#24 of 35 Old 10-15-2008, 11:59 AM
 
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I'm halfway through The Amber Spyglass. Must. Not. Read. Spoiler. Thread! I will return when I have finished it.

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#25 of 35 Old 10-17-2008, 01:19 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I also think they did more than merely kiss
I was wondering the same thing as well! That scene is written so vaguely that it's not clear if they kissed, or if they "kissed and...." Plus they were described as lovers after that.

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#26 of 35 Old 10-17-2008, 01:52 PM
 
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I think Pullman left it intentionally vague about whether they had sex, so the reader can choose, based upon their perspective, and maybe based upon their comfort level.

I think they had sex. I think acknowledging and legitimizing sex is something Pullman wanted this story to do. His intention is to poke holes in the Church's take on original sin, which is ALL about sex. I think he objects to the way sex, and therefore women, are considered sinful and bad. I really think this was one of the main themes of the story.

What do people think about the way God was portrayed when we finally see him?

He was this shriveled up thing imprisoned in a royal cage, wasn't he? He was already close to disintegration, wasn't he? It's been quite a while since I read the story.

Were we supposed to feel sorry for him?

============

Edited to say, this is what Wikipedia had to say about it:

The Authority himself dies of his own frailty when Will and Lyra free him from the crystal prison wherein Metatron trapped him, able to do so because an attack by cliff-ghasts kills or drives away the prison's protectors.

I was disappointed with how little was made of it when they finally met God, how little was made of the fact that God died. Shouldn't that be momentous, that God died?? I know it was significant that Lyra and Will were responsible for his death.

The same Wikipedia entry said,

Mrs. Coulter enters the Clouded Mountain, citadel of the Authority, where she meets Regent Metatron. She offers him Asriel's life, hoping that he will destroy himself taking it. When Asriel arrives, Mrs. Coulter confesses her scheme to him, whereupon he attacks Metatron. All three fall into an 'Abyss' and cease to exist. Here, Mrs. Coulter's trick resembles that used by Lyra to defeat the renegade bear Iofur Raknison.

Wow, that's very cool. I hadn't caught that parallel.

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#27 of 35 Old 10-17-2008, 10:09 PM
 
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I was disappointed with how little was made of it when they finally met God, how little was made of the fact that God died. Shouldn't that be momentous, that God died??
I kind of liked it that it wasn't momentous - that it was just this unnoticed little thing that happened off at the edges of the action and didn't really have any effect. His death would only be momentous if he were really God, as people usually think of God. But he wasn't. In this book, there is no real God.
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#28 of 35 Old 10-18-2008, 08:35 PM
 
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I kind of liked it that it wasn't momentous - that it was just this unnoticed little thing that happened off at the edges of the action and didn't really have any effect. His death would only be momentous if he were really God, as people usually think of God. But he wasn't. In this book, there is no real God.
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At that point in the story, Metatron had pretty much already taken the Authority's place and I think all of the focus (of most of the characters anyway) was on him.

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#29 of 35 Old 10-20-2008, 01:03 PM
 
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I kind of liked it that it wasn't momentous - that it was just this unnoticed little thing that happened off at the edges of the action and didn't really have any effect. His death would only be momentous if he were really God, as people usually think of God. But he wasn't. In this book, there is no real God.
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At that point in the story, Metatron had pretty much already taken the Authority's place and I think all of the focus (of most of the characters anyway) was on him.
Ah, good point. The Authority had never been the god of creation that he claimed to be, anyway (there was no god of creation). He had only ever been an angel, a very ambitious one.

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#30 of 35 Old 10-20-2008, 07:43 PM
 
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I finished The Amber Spyglass today. I flew through The Subtle Knife and it took me a lot longer to read this one. It felt drawn out. I'm curious as to how things worked after Metatron was defeated. I know he mentioned that the church cracked down, then kind of fell apart. What then? What was the whole point of Lyra and Will's quest to increase Dust? Was it just to teach people to be nice to each other? The whole ending kind of confused me.

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