Denver Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club

Amber Spyglass hardback cover

The Amber Spyglass (2000)
His Dark Materials Book Three
Conclusion of the trilogy

Knopf hardback edition - 518 pages
cover artwork by Eric Rohmann (left)

Del Rey paperback edition - 465 pages

Amber Spyglass paperback cover

Covers for 2001 Del Rey USA His Dark Materials paperbacks
From the US hardback inside cover:
       Lyra and Will, the two ordinary children whose extraordinary adventures began in The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife, are in unspeakable danger.  With help from Iorek Byrnison the armored bear and two tiny Gallivespian spies, they must journey to a dank and gray-lit world where no living soul has ever gone.
       All the while, Dr. Mary Malone builds a magnificent amber spyglass.  An assassin hunts her down. And Lord Asriel, with troops of shining angels, fights his mighty rebellion, a battle of strange allies -- and shocking sacrifice.
       As war rages and Dust drains from the sky, the fate of the living -- and the dead -- finally comes to depend on two children and the simple truth of one simple story.  The Amber Spyglass reveals that story, bringing Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials to an astonishing conclusion.

Read for group discussion on September 11, 2002

Lyra Silvertongue - girl with a destiny feared by some, can read alethiometer
Will Parry - boy bearing the subtle knife, a knife that can cut through anything
Pantalaimon (Pan) - Lyra's daemon
Mrs. Coulter (Marisa) - Lyra's feared mother (golden monkey daemon)
Lord Asriel - Lyra's father, fighting the Authority (daemon Stelmaria, a snow leopard)
Chevalier Tialys - Gallivespian spy, tiny human, communicates with loadstone resonator
Lady Salmakia - Gallivespian spy, tiny human
Lord Roke - Gallivespian spy captain, works with Lord Asriel
Dr. Mary Malone - physicist who studied Dark Matter, former nun
Balthamos - angel that accompanies Will, not of a high order
Baruch - angel, companion of Balthamos, takes secret to Lord Asriel
King Iorek Byrnison - an armored polar bear, Lyra's friend, fixes the knife
Serafina Pekkala - Lapland witch, queen of a witch clan (daemon Kaisa, a snow goose)
Roger - boy in world of the dead, Lyra's friend
Lee Scoresby - Texan aeronaut or balloonist, in world of the dead
John Parry - Will's father, shaman, in world of the dead
Ama - girl in Himalayas who gets powder to wake sleeping Lyra
King Ogunwe - African working with Lord Asriel
Metatron - Angel, Lord Regent of The Authority
Atal - a Mulefa, friend of Mary
Father Gomez - sent to kill Lyra, follows Mary, did preemptive penance
Hugh MacPhail - President of the Consistorial Court
Kirjava - Will's daemon

Places, things, and other beings:
Alethiometer - symbol reader, tells you the truth
Dust - elementary particle, attracted especially to adults
The subtle knife - one edge cuts through anything, other edge cuts between worlds
Amber spyglass - device Mary constructs that allows her to see Dust
Angels - winged beings hard to see in daylight
Dragonflies - winged steeds of the Gallivespians
Mulefa - alien people with short trunks, diamond formation of legs
Seedpods - round, three feet across, Mulefa use them for wheels
Intention craft - complex vehicle which stands on six legs
Specters - children of the abyss, feed on Dust and daemons
Consistorial Court of Discipline - branch of the Magisterium, the Church

How we each rated this book
Dan 8 Amy 8 stack of books 10   Wow! Don't miss it
8-9  Highly recommended
7    Recommended
5-6  Mild recommendation
3-4  Take your chances
1-2  Below average; skip it
0    Get out the flamethrower!
U    Unfinishable or unreadable
-    Skipped or no rating given
Cheri 7 Barb 10
Aaron 8 Cynthia -
Jackie - Ron -
Caren 2 Sara 8

Aaron's Commentary   Philip Pullman - The Amber Spyglass

Like J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman has written a young adult fantasy series that should be remembered alongside classics like the Oz and Narnia series.  Pullman has not received quite the attention that Rowling has, but I'm not sure that his isn't the better of the two series.

The Amber Spyglass, third and final volume of His Dark Materials, shares the same amazing imagery that made The Golden Compass so memorable.  As Pullman shuttles us between Mary Malone's visit to a strange planet of intelligent wheeled aliens, and Lyra's and Will's journey into the dismal world of the dead, accompanied by tiny Gallivespian spies riding colorful giant dragonflies, we can only marvel at his inventiveness.

This book is also tremendously ambitious for a young adult novel.  All in one book, Pullman shows us the dead being freed from an unwanted afterlife, a Miltonian battle against Heaven, and a reenactment of original sin.

The characterization in this volume is strong.  Will and Lyra's growing bond is presented well, and the side characters are interesting (I particularly enjoyed the weak-kneed angel Balthamos).  The only character whose personality changes did not ring true for me was Mrs. Coulter.

With all of this book's great strengths, I recommend it highly, even though there are some very large holes in the plot.  As things begin, why is Mrs. Coulter hanging out in a cave with Lyra doing nothing but waiting to be captured?  Why does Will challenge Iorek Byrnison to combat, instead of just telling Iorek that he is a friend of Lyra?  Why does Iorek back down, when he could certainly knock the young man's head off, knife or no knife?  Why is visiting the dead so important to Lyra that she is willing to break her vow never to be parted from her daemon?  What explanation is there for the unlikely coincidences of the daemons winding up within shouting distance of Lord Asriel's castle, and Lyra later bumping into the Authority?  How do the ghosts, who are not omniscient, know to warn Lyra about the danger from a lock of her hair?  Why is Metatron, the ruler of the Universe, so desperate for female companionship that Mrs. Coulter can easily manipulate him?  While Pullman did not tie these issues up as well as I might have hoped, I still enjoyed this book, and the series as a whole, very much.

An aside: Why is this book not more controversial?  There is no shortage of nitwits running around slamming the Harry Potter books for the absurd reason that it endorses witchcraft.  (Apparently these people would rather have their kids spend even more time watching graphically violent TV shows, rather than read an entertaining story of good and thoughtful children struggling to overcome evil.)  Yet there have been comparatively few complaints about Pullman's books, in which we see that God is senile and a new and corrupt leader of Heaven has taken his place, we watch church officials send out assassins to kill an innocent girl, and we hear multiple characters denouncing Heaven's influence on the world and one specifically criticizing Christianity.  (To say nothing of the book's favorable depiction of a twelve-year-old girl losing her, ahem, innocence.)  It will be interesting to see if these elements of the story remain intact, when they get around to filming these books.

What do you think? Your comments are welcome. Please send them to

Our book group has also read the following book by Philip Pullman:
-- The Golden Compass  in April 1998
-- The Subtle Knife  in October 1999

The Golden Compass (1995)
His Dark Materials Book One

The Subtle Knife (1997)
His Dark Materials Book Two

Golden Compass

Hardback cover art by Eric Rohmann (left)

Paperback cover art by Eric Peterson (right)

Subtle Knife

The His Dark Materials trilogy is intended to reflect elements of John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667).
Philip Pullman (1946-    ) is a UK writer

1995 Carnegie Medal for His Dark Materials Book 1: Northern Lights (The Golden Compass)
1996 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize or Guardian Award for Northern Lights
2001 Whitbread Book of the Year for The Amber Spyglass
2005 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

He's is best known for the "His Dark Materials trilogy: The Golden Compass (1995, original UK title Northern Lights), The Subtle Knife (1997), and The Amber Spyglass (2000).

Other short books set in the His Dark Materials universe are : Lyra's Oxford (2003) which features an episode with Lyra set after the end of the trilogy; and Once Upon a Time in the North (2008) which is a prequel episode featuring Lee Scoresby.

Most of Pullman's books can be categorized as YA (young adult) fiction, but his first two novels The Haunted Storm (1972) and Galatea (1978) were for adults, and his third Count Karlstein (1982) was for children.

The Sally Lockhart YA sequence The Ruby in the Smoke (1985), The Shadow in the North (1988), The Tiger in the Well (1990), and The Tin Princess (1994) are thrillers set in 19th century London.

Pullman has also written the following YA books: How to be Cool (1987) for older teen readers; Spring-Heeled Jack (1989) about a Robin Hood-like character; The Broken Bridge (1990) a modern tale of a mixed-race girl coming of age; The White Mercedes (1992) a contemporary mystery of lost innocence, which was re-issued as The Butterfly Tatoo (1998); Clockwork (1998) a dark fantasy set in Germany; The Firework-Maker's Daughter(1999) an Asian fable; I was a Rat...or the Scarlet Slippers (1999) which is an animal fantasy; and The Scarecrow and his Servant (2004).

Our book club's page for The Golden Compass
Our book club's page for The Subtle Knife
His Dark Materials fantasy books: 2001 editions
Randomhouse: His Dark Materials book news: Philip Pullman article Nov. 2000
Torre degli Angeli
Philip Pullman - Wikipedia

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