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Book Review

This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the third book in the "His Dark Materials" series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Book three of Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy begins with preteen heroine Lyra in a drug-induced sleep. Her mother, Mrs. Coulter, claims she's put her in this unconscious state to keep her safe from the Church. Meanwhile, Lyra's friend Will (who wields a knife that allows him to move between worlds) searches for her. Readers learn that Lyra is the linchpin in a great spiritual battle. A decision she makes — though no one knows what the decision is — will change the course of the universe.

After Will finds and awakens Lyra, the children travel to the bleak land of the dead and rescue its miserable, listless souls. All the while, Lord Asriel, an iconoclastic explorer who is Lyra's father, and the Almighty's armies do battle: The Church attempts to assassinate Lyra while Lord Asriel and his angels try to save her so she can help establish a free, godless realm.

Christian Beliefs

In Pullman's world, God (referred to as The Authority) was simply the first angel, formed from Dust like everyone else; but he lied to all who came after him by saying he had created them. The Authority's second in command, Metatron, is ambitious and wants to control human affairs. His lust for Mrs. Coulter eventually leads to his downfall. Church leaders are bloodthirsty zealots who plot to kill Lyra because of what she might do to hurt their cause.

Former nun Mary Malone says she left the Church when she realized there was no God, that heaven is empty and that Christianity was "a powerful and convincing mistake" and part of the Church's effort to keep people's minds closed. This book depicts heaven as a place where God has imprisoned souls. It is dismal, and the dead are listless, restless people hungry for life and tortured by menacing birds that remind them in their sleep about the bad things they did in life.

Other Belief Systems

Witches are good, imparting "wisdom" to characters. Nun-turned-scientist Mary Malone consults the I Ching several times because she believes Dust (which symbolizes understanding) can speak to humans through many channels. She also makes frequent comments affirming evolution.

Lyra tells the ghosts in the land of the dead that when she and Will free them, their atoms will go into the air, and they will become "a part of everything." An angel of Lord Asriel tells Lyra that grace learned by a lifetime of thought and effort is better than grace received freely.

Authority Roles

The Authority (God), in his early life, was a controlling deceiver. In the story's present, he is a demented, powerless old man with an army of violent, fanatical followers. Lord Asriel had the wisdom to see through the Authority's deception and rebel. He appears coolheaded and intelligent. Mrs. Coulter, Lyra's mother, manipulates everyone, whether she loves or hates them, but she does eventually agree to die for "the cause" (of establishing the free, godless realm). Adult characters like the ghost of Will's father, the bear king, Mary Malone and others urge the children to champion Lord Asriel's cause.


When a bear king finds the body of his dead human friend, he rips it open and feasts on it (feeling it was his friend's final gift to him).


Lord Asriel kisses Mrs. Coulter, and Lyra and Will kiss a number of times. Their newfound love somehow brings a surge of Dust to the world around them. Will and Lyra stroke each other's dæmons (creatures that represent a facet of each human), which is an extremely intimate expression of emotion. Two male angels, though they weren't both male originally, display a desperate passion for one another.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Producers often use a book as a springboard for a movie idea or to earn a specific rating. Because of this, a movie may differ from the novel. To better understand how this book and movie differ, compare the book review with Plugged In's movie review.

For more on the "His Dark Materials" Series, read Plugged In's article, "Sympathy for the Devil."

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

14 and up


Philip Pullman






Record Label



Yearling Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books


On Video

Year Published



Whitbread Prize for best children's book, 2001 and Whitbread Book of the Year


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