MTYT: The Book of Dust, Volume I, La Belle Sauvage

As Marilyn and Holly share their thoughts on books that present situations of pain and bravery as young people learn to negotiate the difficulties of life, they consider The Book of Dust, Volume I, La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman. Like the books discussed previously, this book offers surprises and a bit of controversy. It is worthy of reading time, but waiting for the next book may be tough.

The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman

MARILYN: If you were enthralled by master storyteller Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials series you will welcome this new book. The Book of Dust is a prequel to the first book in the previous series, The Golden Compass. When I read the first chapter of this new book I relished the feeling of reentering Pullman’s familiar, fantasy world. In this novel he weaves another powerful and fantastic adventure saga. Malcolm, an 11-year-old boy whose parents run The Trout Inn in Oxford, helps out both there and in the Priory across the river. At the Priory, Malcolm meets a baby whose father, Lord Astrial, has left there to be protected and cared for by the nuns. When Malcolm meets baby Lyra, he becomes “her servant for life.” When a terrible flood changes the landscape, Malcolm must save Lyra from a danger that threatens her life. To keep Lyra safe he and a maidservant from the Inn undertake a heroic journey in his canoe. Along the way, readers encounter nuggets of wonder and when the journey ends there is a promise: “To be continued.” Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too long to reenter the world of Pullman’s Dark Materials, since two more books are planned for this series. It is hard to wait!

I see similar themes in this book to the others we have read. Malcolm’s love for Lyra causes him to surmount the dangers he meets as he saves Lyra from harm. These books so far are saying that when you love someone you do everything you can to care for them even when everything is against you.

HOLLY: While this book is totally engaging, I am upset that it is the first volume of a trilogy. I have no idea when the next book is out–the next two books! I hate that! I don’t want to wait for the next volume. But, when talking about this book, I find Malcolm a likable protagonist and Pullman engages the audience with continuous action. Malcolm is a bit of an innocent, like the characters from our first two books, belying a hidden depth and intelligence that will develop further in the next volume I am sure. I worry about what might be considered a one-dimensional representation of religion, but if we look beyond the surface, it is about religious intolerance, which is so prevalent today!

MARILYN: I hadn’t thought about the point you bring up that Pullman is writing about religious intolerance. Now that you mention it, I agree. However, I think he also shows us the cost to society when religious zealots are given power. As you stated religious intolerance is prevalent and a threat to the well-being of people all over the world. Sorry we have to wait for the sequels. When a sequel comes out in a series, I get the pleasure of rereading the books that preceded it again and always find new parts to enjoy. That occurs especially with an author with the talents like Pullman.

HOLLY: I have too many other books to read to want to deliberately reread one just so I remember what happened! Ha! You note that this book has similar themes to the others we have read, and I agree. I see similarity between Malcolm and Joan (from The Hired Girl), both are innocents in a world that is not so safe for them. I like that aspect of both novels. It is good to see young people going about the process of learning about the world and making decisions based on what they intuit. I also note Malcolm’s and Joan’s intelligence, which disrupts the notion that young people cannot be smart if they want to fit in. The love found in both The Book of Dust and Bronze and Sunflower is ever-present, but interesting that it is the boys who protect the girls. Hmmm…

On to next week!

Editor’s Note: The Book of Dust is also the WOW Recommends: Book of the month for February 2018.

Title: The Book of Dust, Volume 1: La Belle Sauvage
Author: Philip Pullman
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 9780375815300
Date Published: October 19, 2017

This is the third installment of May 2018’s My Take/Your Take. To follow the whole conversation, check back each Wednesday.

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