His Dark Materials Trilogy Book Review (Author: Philip Pullman).

I’m Impressed

Philip Pullman is a master in the literary genre. I have rarely read novels with such beauty and depth. His Dark Materials is a trilogy of works including the books The Golden Compass1Recently made into a feature film which does no justice to the work. This is mainly due to its less-than-epic nature. It needed Peter Jackson’s treatment and willingness to push the boundaries of acceptable movie length. It was simply too short to express the richness of Pullman’s vision, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. These works are rather recent but already deserve to be considered among the classics fantasy genre (alongside J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia).

The Golden Compass Summary

The first volume, The Golden Compass introduces us to Lyra in a world parallel to our own. In this world a Roman Catholic-like church rules with a dictatorial grip and the scholars are a rebellious yet subdued group. There are witches, armored bears, and all sorts of fantastical creatures – including the presence of daemons – visible creatures which accompany each individual throughout their life in a visible manifestation and represent the human spirit. Lyra becomes entangled in grand adventures and must liberate a friend from a secret group that is separating children from their spirits.

The Subtle Knife Summary

The cover of the book The Subtle Knife.
The cover of the book The Subtle Knife. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The second volume, The Subtle Knife brings a grander scale to the tale (one might thing of Tolkien’s The Hobbit in comparison to his Lord of the Rings trilogy) and introduces our second main hero – a young lad named Will Parry. Eventually our two heroes’ tales intertwine and we follow as they explore not only their own worlds but many parallel universes.

The Amber Spyglass Summary

In the third volume, The Amber Spyglass, the tale becomes epic in scope and the story is of a grand battle between good and evil – except it is the religious, the god who is evil and the usurper who is good.

[Okay, I really didn’t reveal much there, you’ll have to read it to find out. I am afraid that this book is marred by the urgency of the polemic Pullman offers.]

Why It Is So Good

What makes these works so amazing? First is the quality of the writing. Pullman has a way with words. He can make them sound so beautiful and describes in such vibrancy an entirely other world. But words alone do not make a story. No, the quality of his tale is deep and rich, the light of the world shines bright and one’s imagination easily pulls out the vivid pictures he draws with words. But even beyond this, it is the theories and the mysteries which he throws at the reader which draw this book above the masses of quality reads and enters it into the realm of classics. His discussion of daemons and dust and angels all are worthwhile and offer a philosophical as well as entertaining read.

But Aren’t You A Christian?

With that said, some may be amazed to hear me sing the praises of Pullman. My personal belief system is Protestant Christian and yet Pullman is an outspoken agnostic2 An agnostic believes we cannot know God (if there is one) while an atheist believes that God does not and cannot exist. In fact, while his first work is extremely subtle, and the second slightly more outspoken, by the third work it is evident that Pullman intends to undermine many of the basic beliefs of Christianity3While the attacks seem somewhat more focused on the Roman Catholic and similar hierarchical churches as compared to many of the less organized forms of Protestantism, the underlying principles attacked extend across all denominations.. Pullman has made no attempt to hide his aims and the work is as much entertaining fiction as it is a philosophical treatise.

So why would I read it? First, it is partly because it is a theological/philosophical treatise that I read it. When I speak to others about my belief systems it is with an eager desire for them to honestly consider my ways of thinking and why I believe as I do and the evidence I offer to support my beliefs. How can I offer any less of an open and listening ear to those who believe differently from me? As such, I find great value in understanding and being able to intelligently interact with Pullman’s beliefs.

Secondly, the book offers wonderful insights into the majesty of God. As Pullman discloses pictures of angelic beings, portrays the complexity of the universe, and contemplates the scientific topics that boggle the minds of modern scientists he unwittingly offers insight and wisdom which a Christian can well utilize4I especially think here of his portrayals of angels and dust.

I cannot recommend these three volumes highly enough. The first two are relatively light reads, but the third becomes highly dense though still extremely readable and seems the size of at least both the previous volumes. I cannot speak to the UK volumes, I have only read the US volumes and am aware that Pullman’s works have been censored in the US editions to remove some of Lyra’s sexuality which plays a small but core role in the third volume. But, to the US editions, I give my praise…and hope that some day Pullman will willingly use the skills he has been given by God in the defense of God rather than maligning Him.

P.S. For those interested in learning more about this trilogy, take a look at Wikipedia’s article on the subject.

Hotel Rwanda Movie Review (PG-13).

Hotel Rwanda Movie Review

DVD box cover for Hotel Rwanda
DVD box cover for Hotel Rwanda (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hotel Rwanda stars Don Cheadle as a hotel manager in Rwanda (during the horrific national genocide in 1994) who also happens to be Hutu (the tribe in power at the time that led the genocide). Cheadle’s character, based on a real man – Paul Rusesabagina – refuses to participate in the genocide and rather than idly stand by begins to offer Tutsis (the tribe then being murdered wholesale) refuge within the walls of his hotel.

This is a gripping, frustrating, saddening, heart-wrenching drama about the genocide. It raises real and deep questions about the nature of the human condition and the responsibility of the world in light of localized evil.

If you haven’t seen this film yet, it is a must see. Take the time to bring others together to watch it with you and discuss the political, religious, and individual implications of the film.

Localized Evil?

When I say “localized evil” I mean evil which occurs in a specific geographical region, which does not directly (immediately, visibly, emotionally) affect us.

Pertinent examples include the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, the Darfur, and the Holocaust throughout Europe.

Some would suggest we have a moral obligation to intervene in these situations but none other. Others would suggest our responsibility to stop “localized evil” extends to situations such as Syria and Mexico.

Others suggest we have no responsibility. That we cannot remedy the world’s ills so we need not try.

I believe we do have a moral responsibility to intervene – not only where human violence arises but where nature takes its toll. But who cares what I say? What will I do! What will I do!

Stamina Recumbent Folding Bike – Model 15-0200

As a geek I have a problem. I live a rather sedentary lifestyle – including a rather sedentary job. I may have the strongest finger muscles this side of the Mississippi, but I’m not sure that will help with my overall strength – or my bulging waist.

Jesse and Ricardo Erie PA Recumbent bicycle
Jesse and Ricardo Erie PA Recumbent bicycle (Photo credit: Ted Van Pelt)

Some of my geek friends take the time to visit the gym. Not me. I have too much to do to drive to a gym. For a long time this left me in a bit of a lurch. Thankfully, I lead a youth group which saw me running around at least twice a week – but still not enough. I figured if I could get a piece of exercise equipment into my house then I would start working out. But a treadmill or stationary bike was simply too big. It would take up half my living room…Not going to make the wife happy that way!

I began my search for a folding recumbent bike and stumbled upon the Stamina 15-02001The model I initially purchased is no longer available, but Stamina offers several other options.. It is fairly amazing. Folding up into a size just a tad larger than a vacuum cleaner it offers the comfortable seat with back that makes recumbents so wonderful as well as a monitor for calories, speed, distance, and time. While the unit did come in parts and took perhaps an hour to assemble, once assembled it has been nothing but a joy. Now I ride 1-2 hours every day – while watching television or reading a book. It allows me to get in my physical exercise while also avoiding guilt over taking some time to relax with a good TV show or book.