The His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman is not only my favorite banned series, it is also my all time absolute favorite set of books, the books I would take with me to a desert island if I could only take 3 books to read for the rest of my life.
I picked up the first book, The Golden Compass, many years ago when I saw the cover in the science fiction/fantasy section and thought, “ooh polar bears!” I bought it on impulse, never knowing this book would change my life.
And just look at the cover. The bear is so pretty and white, and just ASKING for a hug. But at the same time he looks like he might bite you if you mess with the girl. And why is there a mouse next to her? And why can’t I have a polar bear to ride around on?
Once I started reading the first book I was hooked. Besides talking polar bears, the series has animals that also talk and are bound to you (called daemons). They reflect your soul and take on a shape based on your personality. Just imagine for a moment how awesome this would be in real life. You’d have your own pet/best friend, who was smart and funny and loyal, and always understood you. You would never be alone as a child or as an adult. Why do we not have this? After “I wish I was a Jedi” my next wish is easily “I wish I had a daemon.” Maybe this is why I have five dogs.
This series also has amazing characters that you can’t help but care about. Even the villains are complex and driven by interesting motives, and both male and female characters shine. Everyone is just so darn heroic, and every death was like losing a friend I had known my entire life. The world building is also wonderful – the series starts in an alternate England and then expands to other beautiful, frightening, and unique worlds.
The His Dark Materials series gets better with every read and the older you are when reading them. Younger readers will love the adventure and fantasy and all the talking animals. Older readers will love all the subtext, character development, and moral questions. I have read these books numerous times and each time I get something different out of them.
And despite all the complaints that this book is anti-religion, I actually find it to be highly spiritual. Yes, it warns against the abuse of power in organized religion, which we know happened far too many times in history. But I always interpret “Dust” as being a higher power, and the series makes me feel like everything is connected, and that something is driving us all and watching over us.
Maybe this is not how other people interpret the books, which is OK too. A book that makes you think and analyze your own beliefs and debate with others is truly the best kind of book.
Have you read this series? What did you think? And what is your favorite banned book?