Wednesday, December 27, 2017
A prequel to a wonderful series...La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1)
Malcolm, son of the innkeeper in Oxford, becomes interested in Lyra when she is given into the care of the kindly nuns who live across the river from his home. When he witnesses the strange behavior of a man near the convent, Malcolm becomes embroiled in a mystery that is certainly bigger than his young years should have to handle. It puts him right into the path of the dastardly villain, Bonneville, who is determined to kidnap or kill the baby Lyra. When the Thames overflows its boundaries due to a rain storm of the century, Malcolm rescues young Lyra with a crazy plan to float her down the swollen river to safety with her father in London. Little does he know how dangerous the journey would be. Bonneville pursues the small craft with preternatural speed, strength, and resolve. Not surprisingly, Malcolm seems to be guarded by some supernatural beings which allow him to navigate the flooded Thames, with its many obstacles, in relative safety.
La Belle Sauvage isn't just a book with an exciting chase scene, however. In it we meet important characters and concepts from the original series. We are introduced to the golden compass, an alethiometer, which is powered by dust and can determine the answer to a plethora of questions. We meet Lyra's father, a great adventurer, and her mother, a brilliant but decidedly dark individual with motives as yet unknown. We are also reminded about the wonderful daemons, attached to each person, acting as conscience, guide, and protector. Lyra's daemon is Pantalaimon or Pan. Malcolm's daemon is Asta. Neither Asta or Pan have settled yet and can change into a variety of creatures at will. One of the ways that the reader knows that Bonneville is a villain is because he beats his own daemon, a hyena. The daemons play an important role in the story.
One of the things that makes La Belle Sauvage so special is that it quite clearly gives a nod to children's literature that came before it. Set in Oxford, we are left with the feeling that Alice is likely to pop up at any time. And, as you know, C.S. Lewis lived and wrote in Oxford. The adventures into Narnia with the supernatural elements weren't far from my mind as I read this book, too. One cannot embark on a water journey without giving a small nod to the Odyssey. It is as if Pullman wanted his readers to know that this book, this series and his characters fall safely into the confines and rules of good storytelling.
I read His Dark Materials series years ago and LOVED the books. I was always disappointed that I couldn't talk more of my students into reading the series when I was a librarian at a high school library. Perhaps La Belle Sauvage, and the whole The Book of Dust series, will revive an interest in the original series. I certainly hope so. I can't decide if this is a good place to start or if you should start with the Golden Compass, the first book in the His Dark Materials series. Usually I recommend that readers start and read the books in the order that the author wrote them. So I will stick with that advice. Pick up The Gold Compass (US title) or Northern Lights (U.K. title) and be ready for a wonderful and exciting fantasy. And while I am offering advice, let me offer one more suggestion---avoid the movie "The Golden Compass". It is terrible and will put you off from wanting to read the books.