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my big book of little catastrophes
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His Dark Materials 
15th-Jun-2005 07:06 am
I just started reading the third novel in Philip Pullman's wondrous trilogy His Dark Materials. The volumes in it are The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. Someone recommended them to me last year, and I finally worked my way down my list to them.

Set gush-o-meter to 9.6...

Wow. These books are amazingly good. Reviewers have been comparing them to everything from The Chronicles of Narnia to The Lord of the Rings. Narnia is a good comparison I think, but even moreso is Susan Cooper's excellent The Dark is Rising sequence. I find Pullman sort of a cross between Gene Wolfe, Neil Gaiman and Steven Brust. He's got a gift for vocabulary, a sensibility for mythology, and can craft a complex plot that has surprises and still makes sense. Most important of all, his world is one that is compelling and beautiful, even when it is horrific and sad.

These books are written for older children - I would have been ready for them when I was 10 or 11 I think. I was reading Tolkien in 6th grade, and Earthsea and Lord Foul's Bane and did just fine with them at that age. But the writing is rich enough that they are enjoyable for an adult too, without having to condescend to read at a child's level.

I'm looking forward to introducing my nephew to these books in a year or two when he's ready for them. I think I'll have to put together a reading list for him or start buying him books for presents.

If you enjoy fantasy or sci-fi and haven't discovered these books yet, put them on your summer reading list. They'll probably be the best thing you read this year.
15th-Jun-2005 06:58 pm (UTC)
Ooo, thanks for the recommendation. I've been looking for new books to read.
15th-Jun-2005 10:45 pm (UTC)
I agree. This trilogy is a wonderful set for older children as well as adults who enjoy well written fantasy. I think I also started the Tolkien books around 5th-6th grade, as well. I kind of find it odd that you put Lord Foul's Bane in the same reader age bracket as Earthsea, though. In my opinion, the Thomas Covenant chronicles really aren't that appropriate and are definitely more adult oriented, the early rape scene of Lena being my main argument. Having a morally questionable protagonist is enough to confuse any young child.

My own set of recommendations for you in the fantasy genre is the "Dragonbone Chair" trilogy by Tad Williams. He creates an incredibly vast world, so much so that the first book actually gets fairly bogged down as all these region names and people parade past the ready. But things really pick up in the 2nd book as the reader starts to figure out who is who.
15th-Jun-2005 11:07 pm (UTC)
It's interesting that you comment on Covenant's rape of Lena, but not Sparrowhawk's release of the Gebbeth. I have more sympathy for Convenant in comparison - he was overwhelmed by desire after years of impotence followed by sudden virility, and he didn't even believe what he was doing was real, whereas Sparrowhawk was an arrogant prick trying to show someone up and playing with dark magics he'd been warned of. And Sparrowhawk's mistake resulted in the death of the Archmage and a great evil unleashed on the world, while Covenant's act hurt one girl. Who's act was more immoral?

On reflection, I think I read the Thomas Covenant books when I was 13, as I remember being told about them at a friend's bar mitzvah. At that age I didn't have any trouble with the moral ambiguity - I just thought Covenant was a jerk the whole way through. But you're right, I wouldn't give those books to a kid under 13, while Earthsea would be fine for a 10 year old.

I'll keep an eye out for Dragonbone Chair. Thanks.
15th-Jun-2005 11:50 pm (UTC)
Sparrowhawk's release of the gebbeth was the mystical equivalent of a typical schoolboy dare - kind of a "I dare you to go into the abandoned factory that all the grown-ups say is dangerous", and can easily be related to by any kid. And like any good children's book, the consequences of such disobedience are readily apparent.

Convenant's justification for Lena's rape is much more dangerous, I think. The "she isn't real (ie important), so my actions have no moral ramifications" is the kind of thinking that is repugnant to me as it is often used in real life by actual rapists or murderers, not to mention groups like religious or political zealots. No need to teach our children that kind of thinking early on - there will be plenty of time/opportunities for that later in life.

As for long term ramifications, firstly I can't say that the end result of an action can necessarily determine the immorality of the action itself. Intention is key. But if you want that approach *geeky cackle * :

Covenant's rape of Lena didn't just "hurt one girl." He thoroughtly messed her up, as well as Trell (who later gives way to despair in "The Power That Preserves") in addition to fathering Elena. With the rather messed up family Elena is raised in, her blinding ambition and latent madness causes her to break the Law of Death, which ultimately leads to several thousand years of corrputed Earthpower and the Land become a very not nice place to live in. Now which was worse? :)
16th-Jun-2005 12:05 am (UTC)
But Sparrowhawk planned his action well in advance. It wasn't just a crime of passion in a moment of temporary insanity. He'd already gone down that road before and been warned against it by Ogion. Consequences aside, I'd say he was much more responsible for his actions than Covenant. Throughtout all the Covenant books, nearly everyone was a pawn of Lord Foul. Covenant himself was chosen by Lord Foul to come to the Land, though the Lords thought they were bringing him themselves. It was all a setup, and Elena breaking the Law of Death was something Lord Foul had planed long before she was born. So who was responsible for that - Covenant, Elena, or Lord Foul? Yes, it's hard to argue morality based on outcome - if the end doesn't justify the means, can it condemn them?

Anyway, I'm not out to prove anything one way or the other. I just thought it was interesting that when both heroes have done immoral things, you chose to focus on one and ignore the other. In both stories, the immoral act is crucial to shaping the subsequent morality of the hero. But as I conceded before, I agree that rape is a bit adult for a pre-teen reader.
16th-Jun-2005 06:14 pm (UTC)
Actually Stephen Donaldson just came out (after a 21 year pause) with book 7 of the Covenant series - The Runes of Earth.
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