The Book of Dust: Volume One ~ La Belle Sauvage ~ by Philip Pullman
Knopf ~ 2017
My Rating: 5/5 ⭐️
Philip Pullman is a master craftsman of the slow spun tale. His rich, building, lyrical style is so comforting that it draws you into a parallel universe. The hero of this story is 11 years old Malcolm, who is from a working-class family that runs an Inn called The Trout. He is friends with the nuns at the local priory, where he begins to love a baby girl named Lyra. Lyra is in the protection of the nuns because she is the product of a scandalous affair between two well known public figures. Malcolm also helps his parents at their Inn, which he is meant to take over someday, but he longs to live a life in the pursuit of knowledge. Throughout the book, there is a constant theme of scholastic pursuits vs. manual labor, the worthiness of both, and the role each play in the war against organized religion, which is attempting to cut off free thought and expression. Malcolm gets caught up in this war and starts to spy on the patrons of The Trout. These intrigues, combined with this connection to the scholar, Dr. Relf, force Malcolm into a dangerous game where he becomes the unwitting protector of baby Lyra, who is the subject of a prophecy by the witches of the North.
Here’s what I loved:
*Malcolm’s Journey- In the process of protecting Lyra, Malcolm goes through a series of tests that challenge both his practical skills and his intelligence. He faces all manner of magical creatures: King Triton/Father Thames, a fairy woman who longs for a baby, a garden of people trapped in purgatory because they can’t look behind the fog. He also faces challenges from non-magical creatures, such as his classmates, neighbors, and Hugh Bonneville, an outcast from the scholastic world who needs Lyra to reclaim his position. Malcolm must constantly prove his abilities and his worthiness to protect his treasure, Lyra. Through these tasks, Malcolm and the reader are forced to contemplate questions of about life/death, humanity, consciousness, friendship, and love.
*Dust & the mystery of consciousness – “investigating the mystery of consciousness- human consciousness – that is, why something entirely material, such as the human body – including the brain, of course – should be able to generate this impalpable, invisible thing – awareness.” Though there is never a clear understanding of what Dust is exactly, the theory is that Dust is a particle that contains human consciousness. Therefore, human consciousness is not only confined to the mind and to the spirit, but to a particle. The church is anxious to stop all research into this particle, for fear that it will undermine their teachings and their authority.
“Once we use the word spiritual, we don’t have to explain anymore, because it belongs to the Church then, and one can’t question it. Well, that’s no good to a real investigator of nature….he finally arrived at the extraordinary idea that consciousness is a perfectly normal property of matter, like mass or anbaric change; that there is a field of consciousness that pervades the entire universe.”
We all grapple with our own mortality and the idea of consciousness. I found the idea of Dust to be quite beautiful.
From the alethiometers, to the daemons (animal familiars who house part of the human soul); there so much magic in this book that I could write about it all day, but I will leave it for you to discover yourself. I should also note that this book/series is a prequel to Pullman’s His Dark Materials Series, which I have not read yet. I have gathered that those books feature Lyra’s fate which is just being hinted at in this book. This was my first introduction to Pullmans’ world and I definitely plan to read the HDM series this year. I can’t say enough about the beauty of this novel and the subtle moments of contemplation that come from sharing Malcolm’s journey. Malcolm changes and matures over the course of the novel, and it was wonderful to accompany him. I’m looking forward to reading HDM and the rest of this series.
I would love to know your thoughts if you have read this or plan to. Also if you have read the HDM series, let me know.
Thanks for stopping by and happy reading! ~ XO
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