Why You Should Read: His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

This review is on the brief side, as some of the things I wanted to say I enjoyed about these books are best left for you to find out for yourself. I’d hate to ruin the journey for you!

I first read this fantasy series as a teenager, and loved it. Having now reread it, I love it even more and have picked up on a lot of little things that went over my head the first time. The series spans over three books, focusing on Lyra, a young girl destined to play a big part in the fate of humanity. From the second book onwards, we also follow Will, of a similar age to Lyra and of likewise importance.

The overall story that develops is one that explores the idea of parallel universes and what might happen if doors between these worlds are opened and left open…

The main themes of His Dark Materials are the classic Good vs Evil, the innocence of childhood, and the difficulties of puberty and reaching adulthood. Heaven and Hell feature quite heavily in the second and third books, which make it apparent that Pullman was a John Milton fan. In a way, I’d say this trilogy is Pullman’s representation of a plausible modern sequel for Paradise Lost.

From beginning to end, these books gripped me with their unique ideas, such as a world where our souls live outside of our bodies and take the form of animals. They also contained a mix of familiar ideas, executed in a satisfyingly accurate way, such as the heartbreaking emotions induced by lost loved ones. Each character is unique, no matter how small a role they had, and each was real enough to find relatable in some way.

There’s a BBC TV show adaptation of the series in production, and another trilogy involving some of the same characters such Lyra, is due out soon (the first one should be out in October). If you’ve not already given them a read, then now is the time, and if you have already, then perhaps now is the time, like it was for myself, to revisit this magical series. The perfect way to relax and escape to another reality this summer!

Why You Should Read: Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban

Riddley Walker may just be the most entertainingly slow book I will ever read. Not in plot or pace, but in the way I read it. This was not my choice, but the style of Hoban’s writing working its magic on me. I had to read it slowly.

As the first person narrator of this tale, Riddley puts his thoughts and memories into words in such a way that I was forced into his mind. I was compelled to hear what I assumed his voice sounds like, all because of how my brain interpreted the pronunciation of his unique spellings. He writes phonetically, precisely as the words sound spoken with the accent he and his people have. My favourite of all Riddley-words is “hisper”, used to describe the sound of falling rain, or someone whispering. The poetic onomatopoeia of it sends a shiver through me. I love it.

If I read a page too fast, or tried to skim read, I found myself having to go back and try again, as I hadn’t allowed my brain enough time to absorb his words. To begin with, they required interpretation, and by considering each carefully chosen word in a sentence, the context made their meaning clear. But in no way did this hinder the experience of reading. It wasn’t difficult to do, it simply meant paying attention. I love that I had to work for the story to show itself, as I could have easily glossed over most of the quirky details that make this book so exciting.

The story itself is one of many possible futures that may await us. In this one (2000 years after a nuclear war), the ability to read and write has been lost to most. Interestingly, because of this Riddley is seen as almost an academic type by the more physical labourers amongst his people. For me, the story was a chain reaction of unfortunate events. I would have felt sorry for Riddley, but he never let any of it get to him, he didn’t need my pity.

It all begins with the successful hunt of a boar, and ends with an unsuccessful puppet show. Intrigued? You should be. To summarise the plot as succinctly as I can, I would say it was Riddley’s telling of the journey he went on to prevent the rediscovery of an ancient weapon.

I will not spoil for you the greatest secret that revealed itself to me when reading this book. I will not tell you where it is set. To those familiar with the area, you will probably figure it out not long into the book. However, I am not great with geography and it perhaps took me a little longer than most. I had my suspicions for a while, and then it all fell into place. I was ecstatic.

This book is weird, and great, and I loved every page of it. Reading will never be the same for me again.

Russell Hoban was a genius, and now another inspiration for me as a writer.