After I finish supper and handle any chores that require my attention, I often retreat to our cottage shown above in the twilight. The cottage seems to be waiting for me and Katrina, my pinkish gray cat, to settle into the corner wingback chair for an evening of reading as I continue the Once Upon a Time challenge.
The first book I read was Robin McKinley's Spindle's End, a retelling of the story of Sleeping Beauty. Philip Pullman's The Subtle Knife, published in 1997 and the second in his Dark Materials trilogy, is the second book I've completed as part of my reading in the areas of fairy tales, fantasy, mythology and folklore.
As a child I would retreat to the basement during hot summer days, lie on a cot to read and reread my huge stack of comic books, filled with the exploits of Superheroes. Later as a sixth grade teacher of Reading and Language Arts, my students and I read our way through Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea trilogy, The Borrowers, A Wrinkle in Time and many more. Fantasy became one of my favorite genre of Young Adult Literature, and the late 1970's when I was teaching has been called "The Golden Age of Young Adult Literature." There were so many books to choose from then, and many have become classics. As I have read Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy, I recall my earlier love of YA fantasy.
It has been some time since I read The Golden Compass and no doubt that's part of the problem here. In The Subtle Knife, I've dutifully followed the exploits of Lyra and Will as they search for their fathers--Will having to dodge the strange men who upset his mother and who now look for him, while Lyra must try her best to avoid her evil mother. The two children climb through holes in the Universe to move between different worlds during their searches and their periodic scrambles for safety.
Certainly the complex plot kept me turning the pages to see what would happen next, but the book didn't sweep me away as excellent stories do. I have trouble suspending my belief to embrace the different realities experienced by the children, e.g., the soul sucking Specters who devour the souls of adults, the witches who come to the children's rescue, the Angels who seem to happen by periodically, the aggressive children of Cittagazze who are angered when Lyra and Will cause the death of one of the older youth.
Will gains control of the Subtle Knife in a fight and learns he must take this knife to Lord Asriel, Lyra's father. The action of the story moves the plot forward to the climax in the third book in the series, thus, many loose ends are left hanging in this book.
The author, Philip Pullman, an avowed agnostic or aetheist depending upon what article you read, definitely shows that the Church and/or priests are responsible for much of the villiany in this novel. The Dark Materials series have been attacked by Christians, but find a surprising defender in the Bishop of Centerbury who writes that Pullman is criticising the dangers of religious dogmatism and not the church per se. I'm sure I will eventually read The Amber Spyglass, but for now I'm satisfied to leave Lyra and Will's fates dangling in the unknown.