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More Catching Up

This has not been the most productive week ever, I have to admit. Not only did I spend a fair chunk of time watching Brideshead, but two days went almost in their entirety to reading Reading Lolita in Tehran, and another chunk of time to finally finishing the His Dark Materials trilogy. It’s all been terrific fun, but none of it has felt productive in the way that reading or watching something new that you have some intent of someday doing something with feels.

That said: whatever. Isn’t this part of what a sabbatical is for? It comes as little shock to me that it’s taken me this long to read the Pullman, precisely because I first learned about it almost four years ago, right at the tail end of my last sabbatical, as I was trying to bear down through the last of the pile of stuff I’d set myself to read during that leave. I went searching the blogosphere yesterday, though, because I was trying to remember where it was that the Pullman first came to my attention. It turns out that, as I’d thought, I first heard about the trilogy from BT; what I’d forgotten was that (a) BT’s was the first blog I read with any regularity, and (b) his post about the trilogy appeared just a few days after I’d started Planned Obsolescence.

So, a mere three years and nine months later, I can respond: I completely agree, BT. The first two volumes are absolutely breathtaking, but the third feels scattered, narratively uncoiled. This is perhaps reflected in the titles: while the golden compass and the subtle knife are absolutely crucial to Lyra and Will’s missions in the first two novels (and yes, I know the first was originally entitled Northern Lights in the British edition, but still), the amber spyglass just doesn’t figure as significantly. It appears quite late, it mostly only tells us what we’ve already come to figure out, and it’s under the control of a character who — though everybody else in those universes seems to indicate her importance as the “tempter,” the serpent to Will and Lyra’s Adam and Eve — just doesn’t do all that much. What choice does she present them with, that they wouldn’t have come across on their own? I finished the third volume feeling paradoxically both the kind of pleasure that I find in wrapping up a long lived-in fictional universe and the kind of frustration that comes when it just doesn’t add up. Something feels missing, or perhaps I just missed it.

But aside from the novels themselves, part of the pleasure of finishing the trilogy was in feeling as though, with this post, I’d be able to bring Planned Obsolescence full-circle in a way I hadn’t counted on, to feel the narrative interconnections of this fictional universe growing.


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