Friday, December 3, 2010

The Subtle Knife (Novel)

The Subtle Knife (Novel) Release date: 1997. Author: Philip Pullman. Publisher: Scholastic Poitn. ISBN: 0590112899.

Plot summary: The second novel in the Dark Materials Trilogy begins with twelve-year-old Will Parry running to escape authorities after accidentally killing a man. As he is fleeing, Will stumbles through a window between dimensions that he happens to discover and into the city of Cittâgazze. There Will encounters Lyra, the hero from The Golden Compass, who has also travelled to Cittâgazze through the dimensional window her father, Lord Asriel, created at the end of the previous novel. Will and Lyra quickly become friends, and begin to explore the deserted city. They soon decide to travel back to the Oxford of Will’s dimension to find more information about the disappearance of Will’s father. Lyra also discovers through the alethiometer that a scholar in Will’s world, Dr. Mary Malone, will aid her in learning more about Dust. In Will’s Oxford, Lyra and Will stumble into a trap set by Sir Charles Latrom who steals Lyra’s alethiometer and forces Will and Lyra to agree to return to Cittâgazze and retrieve a special knife. The pair do retrieve the knife and in the process Will loses two fingers on his left hand, a symbol that he is now the bearer of the Subtle Knife. This knife has special powers: it can create windows between dimensions and can cut through any physical substance. Although they now wield a powerful tool, Lyra and Will are still in danger. Mrs. Coulter, who is revealed to be Lyra’s mother, is still on the hunt for the girl, and is able to travel between dimensions as well. After torturing several witches, Mrs. Coulter has learned of a prophecy involving Lyra, one that she means to prevent from coming true.

Critical evaluation: After the action and adventure filled The Golden Compass, Pullman’s next novel in the series, The Subtle Knife, is a much different story. The first novel was full of fantastical creatures like armored bears, daemons, witches, Gyptians and soul-cutters. Although this story also contains some of those creatures, it is much more cerebral than its predecessor. The character of Lyra is less the focus and instead becomes part of a duo with the young boy, Will. Instead of travelling to far off places to achieve daring rescues, the two travel between dimensions. Lyra seeks more and more to discover the true nature of Dust, and the discussion between her and other characters in the novel often gets quite philosophical. The religious aspects of the story are also more pronounced than The Golden Compass. Lord Asriel, who is revealed to be Lyra’s father, not her uncle as she though, is waging a war against the Authority. This Authority is seemingly religious in nature, bringing up images of the Catholic Church. Discerning teens will be able to detect these undertones, while many won’t venture beyond the surface of an intelligent and interesting fantasy story. The idea of the Subtle Knife will appeal to readers of all ages. This tool is so “sharp” it can actually create windows into other dimensions. The city of Cittâgazze is an interesting staging ground for much of the action in the novel: a deserted metropolis that is plagued by “spectres,” soul-sucking boogeymen who seem to only attack adults. Although it will require more thought than the first novel, Pullman’s second addition to his trilogy is an appealing and satisfying read for both teens and adults. The final novel in the series is The Amber Spyglass.

Reader's annotation: Lyra Belacqua and her daemon have travelled through the window created by Lord Asriel to Cittâgazze, a deserted city in another dimension. There she meets Will, a boy who has also stumbled upon Cittâgazze, and the two embark on a quest for the Subtle Knife, a tool that can create windows between dimensions.
About the author: Born in England in 1946, Philip Pullman spent much of his youth travelling, and was educated in Zimbabwe and Austalia before his family moved to North Wales. Pullman taught at Westminster College for eight years, before focusing on his writing career. Pullman's first novel Count Karlstein was published in 1982 followed by the first book in the Sally Lockhart series The Ruby in the Smoke in 1986. Pullman's novels are written for children and young adults, but are often enjoyed by a wider audience. His most famous works, the His Dark Materials trilogy became very popular after The Golden Compass was published in 1995. The trilogy has received many accolades and awards over the years. In 2001, the third book of the series The Amber Spyglass was the first children's book ever to win the Whitbread Award, putting Pullman in a very special category of authors. Pullman continues to write, and, according to his website, is working on a new book in the His Dark Materials series called The Book of Dust. Due to his many accomplishments, Pullman is one of the foremost authors of young adult literature. (from

: Science-Fiction/Fantasy

Curriculum ties:

Booktalking ideas:
Alternate dimensions
The concept of “Dust” (any ties to real life theories)
Establishing a relationship with a parent
Rebelling against religious authority

Reading level/Interest Age:
Age 13 and up

Challenge issues:
Religious themes
Book is routinely challenged by religious groups
Challenge counterpoints:Recommended for ages 13 and up.
Recommend parent read book before child.
Recommend parent discuss book with child.
Recommend parent and child discuss book with religious leader prior to reading.

Reasons for inclusion:
Positive reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Washington Post, Detroit Free Press and Horn Book.
Spent time on bestseller lists of New York Times, Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, Book Sense and Publishers Weekly.

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