The year 2017 had its hellish moments. Well, quite a few of them. But it did bring the new Philip Pullman book, and for that I am so very grateful. As I began reading, I felt I was back in a lovely, familiar world–even though, within pages, I had to be ready to wage pitched battle against the forces of evil.
How much more timely could this book have been, with its epic battle for free speech and its commentary on the evolution of totalitarian regimes? The world in this companion to His Dark Materials is a broken one, and in that way it’s like our own. We see it through the prism of Pullman’s alternate Oxford–less alternate than the one in the trilogy. Pull back the coal silk tarp and you find climate change, the power of corruption, sexual assault, the subversion of democratic institutions, and more. We see it all through the eyes of an under-the-radar witness, eleven-year-old Malcolm. Restless, curious, but also honest and capable, he’s an unlikely hero. But he’s not alone; he’s part of a loving community, and somehow it seems perfectly reasonable that the fate of the world might rest in his hands. And yet he’s just a kid, leaping into perils he can’t yet begin to imagine.
When Malcolm goes around town spreading the word that the big storm is coming, this is what we read:
Then, leaning against the wind, with Asta tucked tight into his breast, he fought his way onto the bridge and looked down at the racing water. He remembered what Coram Van Texel had said: there were things in the water that had been disturbed, and things in the sky too.
A lovely review from Waterstones:
In our real world, too, we see plenty of “things in the water that had been disturbed.” And we’re engaged in similar battles. As the book unfolded, I was struck by how Pullman renders as sacred the right to be governed by reason.
And then there’s Lyra, just a baby. What a tough job it is to show character in a baby who can’t yet talk! Pullman does this in clear, luminous prose–the trademark daemons don’t hurt either.
Lyra had been yelling as Alice washed her and put a clean dry nappy on her, but it was a shout of general anger rather than distress. Her little daemon, who had been a very disheveled rat, became a miniature bulldog and joined in the row till Alice’s greyhound daemon picked him up and shook him, which startled the child into outraged silence.
Pointed and unafraid, The Book of Dust, in an odd, indirect way, gave me hope.