Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Subtle Knife

The Subtle Knife
Philip Pullman
London, Scholastic, 2005, 325p

I love the introduction of Will Parry to Lyra's life. As the great, brave heroine, I did not think it possible to create a character who could equal her inner beauty and outer courage, but Will matches her on all counts, and provides just the sort of support and friendship to move her journey onwards.

The Subtle Knife is the second of the His Dark Material series, following on from Northern Lights. We begin in our world, in Winchester, where we meet Will. He is running away from men who want to hurt him, when he stumbles across a window into another world. He steps into a hot, deserted city, where he meets Lyra. Although they have never met, their lives are intertwined, and their destiny binds them together. 

I enjoyed exploring our Oxford through Will's eyes, especially in contrast to Lyra's Oxford. I can picture the streets and buildings as he describes them. It is particularly wonderful when Will brings Lyra into our world, and she compares our Oxford to the one she knows. Her shock and unease is paralleled by her awe. Pullman picks out tiny details, like double yellow lines and traffic lights, that seem so normal to use, and makes them seem unusual through Lyra's eyes. When Lyra stumbles across the Pitt Rivers Museum (my favourite place in the city), her delight and confusion remind me of how I felt when I first discovered it.

Pullman's use of children as the protagonists is brilliant. Not only does it mean that the danger seems to be heightened, as they are surrounded by adults who wish to bring them harm, but their innocent curiosity helps lead the book on it's journey. Will has the same naive bravery that leads Lyra into trouble in Northern Lights; so when Will finds the window into another world, it is inevitable that he will step through.

This is a beautifully written book, full of increasingly complex concepts, especially relating to religion. Again, the line between good and evil is blurred, so you can never be sure of the characters' motivations. The plot builds up towards a great battle against Authority, a God-like figure. As an adult, some of the ideas in this novel are difficult for me to comprehend - can this novel really be categorised as young adult fiction?

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