His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman, Random House Kids' Books, $7.99 each, ages 11 and up
These are not new books. In fact, the first title in the series, The Golden Compass, is celebrating its twentieth birthday this year, so you may actually have already discovered this MAGNIFICENT series. If so, you've re-read them too, I know it, and it's your job to help me spread the word. And if you haven't read Pullman's masterpieces of science fantasy, I'm going to do my best to remedy that intolerable situation with this post. But honestly, I wish the fact that these are among the less-than-a-dozen-books that I've read more than once could be enough incentive for you to head out to the library or used bookstore tonight. Oh, if you saw the movie version of The Golden Compass with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, get that out of your head immediately. If you didn't see it, don't!
The fantastical element of the series His Dark Materials that strikes me as the most magical and intriguing is the idea that all humans are constantly accompanied by daemon familiars, the animal embodiments of their inner-selves, which are fluid and form-altering when we're children, but which begin to settle into a fixed animal form when we reach puberty. The story takes place across a multiverse and moves between parallel worlds, including one which resembles England between the late Victorian era and the beginning of World War I. Also cool, their are no cars yet and zeppelins are a major mode of transportation. The hero of all three books in the series is Lyra Belacqua who, with her daemon Pantalaimon, runs wild among the academics at Jordan College, Oxford, under the not-so-watchful-eye of her uncle, scholar and researcher Lord Asriel. Upon her uncle's return from a research mission in the North, Lyra accidentally learns of the existence of a strange elementary particle called Dust, and thereby sets off a chain of thrilling and horrifying events that draw her into the heart of struggle so fierce and powerful Pullman needs three books to chronicle it's resolution. On her quest, for this is what the trilogy explores, Lyra encounters many memorable allies and enemies, among them 12 year-old murderer Will, the mysterious Mrs. Coulter, director of grisly experiments involving children and Dust, the regal and armored exiled bear Iorek Byrnison, Lee Scoresby, skilled balloonist from the country of Texas, witch queen Serafina Pekkala, rebellious angels Balthamos and Baruch, and Dr. Mary Malone, former nun, physicist, and builder of the amber spyglass which allows her to see the otherwise invisible Dust.
Pullman is an incredible writer, filling each book in the trilogy with scenes of pulse-increasing adventure, heartbreaking sadness, hard-earned celebrations, and quiet contemplation. Lyra's story includes elements of physics, philosophy and theology. Readers are asked to think deeply and are deeply rewarded for doing so. The fate of the living, and the dead (YIKES), depends on Lyra and Will as they journey across Pullman's fully-realized, richly detailed worlds within worlds, coming closer to the the most devastating threat of all-and the crushing truth of their own destiny. So stretch out in a hammock, hang the "Do Not Disturb" sign on your bedroom doorknob, nab the lounge chair in the most remote corner of the pool, and embark on a reading experience that you too will want to repeat more than once.