His Dark Materials: Preteen sex saves the world

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This is part of a series of posts on the His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman. Spoilers abound.

All of the biggest problems with the His Dark Materials trilogy are in the third volume. As I mentioned before, the first volume was excellent, and the second plenty good. The third one stank to the heavens, and lo, great was the odor thereof. And yet, I could even have forgiven the third volume its many absurdities, if it had not been for the ending.

The climax of the third book, or what should have been the climax, was the death of the Authority. That was handled fine. There was a bit of authorial convenience, what with the protags just happening to stumble across the old bloke in time to open the lid and have him disappear in a puff of air, but that was no worse than many of the other stupid things that happened in that book. No, the part that made me throw the book across the room was what happened after that. You know what I’m talking about. When Lyra and Will get together and…

Let’s give Pullman a little credit here. Let’s assume that he didn’t mean to imply that his thirteen-year-old protagonists actually had sex, even though the scene easily lends itself to that interpretation. (If they only kissed, why put it off-screen?) But still, let’s stop to appreciate the utter idiocy of what Pullman tried to pull off in the ending: the leakage of Dust, which threatens the entire multiverse, is stopped because two kids kiss.

I died of stupid when I read this.

The biggest problem of the third book is that Pullman’s polemical purpose got ahead of his narrative purpose, and this problem is basically what kills the ending. He wants to make some kind of point about sex being awesome and good (and you should totally do it, even if you’re only thirteen), and he has to make good on the prophecies hinted at back in the first book that Lyra would be a Second Eve[1]. So he contrives to have preteen smooching somehow be the solution to the universe’s problems, even though this makes no sense at all given what the rest of the trilogy has told us about Dust. There is no logical reason for Lyra’s and Will’s actions to close up the leakage of Dust. It occurs purely to support Pullman’s polemics, and it violates the logic of the story to do so.

Pullman may have been trying to have the ending operate on fairy-logic or dream-logic, and this might have worked had the rest of the story not been so science-fictional. This is a story in which the “magic” operates on clear principles, and there’s a rational (though fantastic) explanation for everything. The dream-logic by which love can heal the universe clashes with the tone that carries through the rest of the book, and the glaring incongruity instead foregrounds Pullman’s authorial fiat. Plus, what a saccharine, cliched form of fairy-logic this is? Love is what saves the universe? A kiss will heal the tear in the world? This is a plot for a second-rate Disney film, not a significant children’s trilogy with aspirations to something better.

Pullman should have known better.

[1] I should point out that there already was a Second Eve, and she’s known for something kind of different.

Pop Quiz

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Which of the following myths is ultimately more harmful to realistic, honest human relationships?

  1. Sex is always dirty, shameful, and unpleasant, and should never be talked about at all.
  2. Sex is always fun, magical, and liberating, and should be talked about incessantly.

I’m calling it a toss-up.