There will be spoilers!
I recently finished listening to all the Listening Library/Random House Audio audiobooks in His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. In order the books are: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. While do enjoy reading, I found that I really enjoy listening to audiobooks in the car. I make about a 30 minute commute to work, so it helps me stay sane! I also detest the radio, so I don’t feel like I am wandering around stations.
The first thing I want to say about this series, in terms of audiobooks, is that it is read by a FULL CAST. That is something awesome! It means that each character has their own voice. At first I was worried I wouldn’t recall anything about the books specifically, but since the voice acting was superb I can recall even the slightest details about a character’s mannerism or feeling. The narrative itself was read by Philip Pullman, the author. You can tell from the get-go that he is very enthusiastic about the story and he really breathes life into parts of the book that, when I read it, seemed dull.
The stories conveyed in this book are nearly timeless and the protagonists feel like they could be real people. Lyra Belacqua, the main protagonist in The Golden Compass, is a willful child that prefers telling tall tales over the truth. Her companion, a daemon that all humans have in her world, is Pantalaimon; he is quick to warn her about all the negatives of her plans. They make a fantastic duo for the first book, but sadly their relationship seems to be put aside in The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass unless the plot calls for it. Will Perry is the protagonist introduced in the 2nd and 3rd novel. Will is a very strong, young boy who has been forced to go up because of his mother’s possible schizophrenic condition. He can be considered the main protagonist of The Subtle Knife and shares the lead protagonist role with Lyra for most of The Amber Spyglass.
The voices for Lyra and Will were very solid. For whatever reasons, Will’s VA was changed for the last book to an older sounding boy. While the guy reading Will’s parts in TAS was very convincing, it was hard imagining him as a 13 year old boy. The rest of the cast, especially Lee Scoresby, were voiced very well. My one issue is that some of the men sounded the same, particularly Father Coram and Sir Charles. They were voiced by two different men, yet I would somehow confuse one for another until the context settled in.
As stated earlier, Lyra is the central figure of the first book, but goes from lead protagonist to being an “object” that Will wants to protect. When I say “object,” I don’t mean that she is being treated like an inanimate object, but rather, she is the object to Will’s subject. While the text/voice is in 3rd person omniscient, the narrator seems to focus on Will’s thoughts and feelings more often than Lyra’s once he is introduced. Lyra, in fact, spends a great deal of time in slumber while Will tries to rescue her in The Amber Spyglass. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but something that bothered me simply because I was under the impression that Lyra would remain as the main protagonist throughout.
As an atheist, I found the anti-religious themes in His Dark Materials a bit too unsettling. While I am not an advocate for or against religion, I thought the story did not represent enough sides to the theme. While there are likable Angels and some lower religious folk, any person actively associated with the church of Lyra’s world was written as a monster. I have no problems with questioning the authority of church hierarchy, but Pullman did a disservice by painting all the members of various church groups as villains. I think he missed an opportunity to explore characters that would love to change the church from the inside and help create the Republic of Heaven as Lord Asriel started.
Despite my complaints, the story was intriguing enough for me to keep listening. The conviction in the voices of the many actors grasped my attention and didn’t let go until the very end. The series is worth a read/listen if only for the unique way Lyra’s destiny plays out towards the end.