It is hard to sustain a trilogy through three books. All too often the first book is the strongest, with a deterioration into irrelevance by the end. I really loved the first book, but I feel like this series really built to a symphonic crescendo before tapering off into the ending.
We begin The Amber Spyglass with Lyra being kept in an enchanted sleep by Mrs. Coulter, in a cave above a lake in her own world. Pantalaimon sleeps, ermine shaped, cuddled into her neck. Will seeks her, with the subtle knife in his possession, helped by the angels Baruch and Balthalmos. And Mary Malone flees her world, landing, finally, in a new place that we haven't seen before, where she begins to understand the nature of consciousness, and the elementary particles that are at the bottom of it. The various participants are headed for an elemental war between the Authority and the rebels, who seek to unchain humanity from the Authority and his archangel Metatron.
So, wow. This book has big themes - death and resurrection, the connection between sin and consciousness.
The two most important pieces of this book, I think, are Lyra's passage through the world of the dead, in which they confront the truth that the Authority and the Regent have been lying to everyone, making promises that they will achieve a place of joy and glory, when, in fact, "heaven" is really more of a prison camp than anything else. A place where those who have consciousness go, without their souls. And where they stay, in an endless, gray-lit world. One of the dead martyrs said:
"When we were alive, they told us that when we died we'd go to Heaven. And they said that Heaven was a place of joy and glory and we would spend eternity in the company of saints and angels praising the Almighty, in a state of bliss. That's what they said. And that's what led some of us to give our lives, and others to spend years in solitary prayer, while all the joy of life was going to waste around us and we never knew."
I think that what Pullman is trying to say in this series, as much as he is trying to say anything, is that the emphasis place by religion on the hereafter is a confidence trick. It's a way to get us to ignore truth, and the truth is that the only obligation that we have is to live consciously, and to go about the business of building what he refers to as the "Republic of Heaven" in the here and now. Because when we die, our consciousness dies with us, and
"[w]e'll be alive again in a thousand blades of grass, and a million leaves; we'll be falling in teh raindrops and blowing in the fresh breeze; we'll be glittering in the dew under the stars and the moon out there in the physical world, which is our true home and always was."
And whatever redemption we hope to gain must be done here. Now. Today.
This last book really focuses on the theme of Lyra and Will re-enacting the fall, with Lyra playing the part of Eve, and Will playing the part of Adam, and Mary Malone playing the part of the serpent. This is a bit obscure, but what I took away from it was that Pullman believes that it was that original "sin" that made us sentient, that gave us consciousness. Without the bite from the apple, Dust would not have coalesced, would not have become what it became.
And while the battle rages on, the Authority is trying to banish Dust from the world, because when Dust is gone, so is our consciousness. We will return to what we were before the fall - the adults who've had their souls eaten by the Specters. They lack will, are mere automatons, in a zombie like state. That is what The Authority proposes, essentially, for everyone. So, the fall was a gift, not a curse, and gave humanity all that came after, everything we have done and created and loved and learned.
I'm sure there is more that I could say, but I'm going to wrap up this post because it has gone on long enough. Even at this point, having just finished the trilogy, I am looking forward to a reread. This is one of those series that will mean different things every single time I read it.