I have read all of the “His Dark Materials” trilogy a couple of times, and was particularly excited to get a chance to listen to a discussion about it for this class. These books contain several things that I enjoy in my fiction, like massive alternate worlds and an excess of symbolism. My interest in Phillip Pullman's critique probably doesn't hurt, either.
A few years ago, a friend of mine and I completely ripped through these books, highlighting and underlining the hell out of them in the interest of fitting all the metaphors and ideas together. The theme of original sin was so interesting to discover, as well as the roles played in the stories of Adam and Eve as well as God and Satan. More recently, I read a statement by Pullman that the “His Dark Materials” trilogy were intended as a sort of “rewrite” of John Milton's “Paradise Lost”, with the slight difference being placing Satan as the hero and God as the villain. Of course, Pullman wrote not only about these conflicts but also about the importance of human emotions and the soul. In all, he managed to evoke a mess of emotions from me as I read.
As I started to think about it more generally, I noticed that a story like this, with the intent of educating the reader on certain morals or values, differs a lot from a book which is meant to entertain or, like The Hobbit, provide an escape for the reader. In a novel of spiritual education, I feel, there aren't characters. Instead, there are ideas which are simply represented through individuals (or events or places or objects). This difference between a “story” and an “education” is an idea that is still kind of floating around in my head, making me think about what I read.
Phillip Pullman's novels are probably among my favorites. With a wonderful collection of likable characters, a hugely creative and intriguing universe, and a clear and very interesting central idea, this is the kind of book I can read multiple times and still enjoy. In fact, I think I'm going to make a point of rereading this trilogy once I'm home for the summer.