The Amber Spyglass

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The Amber Spyglass
Tas pb uk.jpg
First edition
Author Philip Pullman
Cover artist Philip Pullman & David Scutt
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series His Dark Materials
Genre Fantasy
Publisher Scholastic/David Fickling Books
Publication date
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 518 pp
ISBN 0-590-54244-3
OCLC 55870599
Preceded by The Subtle Knife
Followed by Lyra's Oxford

The Amber Spyglass is the third and final novel in the His Dark Materials series, written by English author Philip Pullman, and published in 2000.

The Amber Spyglass won the 2001 Whitbread Book of the Year award, the first children's novel ever to receive this honour.[1] It was named Children's Book of the Year at the 2001 British Book Awards, and was also longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, again the first time this had happened to a children's book.[2]


At the end of The Subtle Knife, Marisa Coulter captured Lyra. She has now relocated her to a remote cave to hide her from the novels' theocratic authority, the Magisterium, who are determined to kill Lyra. In order to keep her hidden, Marisa forces Lyra to drink drugged tea that puts her to sleep. While deeply asleep, Lyra dreams that she is in a wasteland (later realized as the land of the dead) talking to her dead friend Roger Parslow, whom she promises to help.

In Cittàgazze, two angels, Balthamos and Baruch, tell Will, the bearer of the Subtle Knife, that they are taking him to Lord Asriel. Will refuses to go until Lyra is rescued, to which the two assent. However, they are attacked by a soldier of the archangel Metatron, and Will uses the knife to cut a window into another world to escape. Baruch flies to Lord Asriel to tell him what has happened and to get help.

Meanwhile, an assassin is dispatched from the Magisterium, as they have determined that Dr. Mary Malone is the "Tempter". Mary, who has stepped through a window from her own world into Cittàgazze, eventually enters another window into a stranger world. There she meets sapient, elephantine creatures called mulefa who use large seedpods attached to their feet as wheels. Mary and the Mulefa establish a rapport, she learns that the trees from which the seedpods are gathered have been dying out for about 300 years. Mary uses the tree sap lacquer and constructs an amber spyglass that allows her to see the elementary particles known as Dust. She sees that Dust is flying away rather than falling on and nourishing the trees on which the mulefa depend.

In his quest to rescue Lyra, Will meets Iorek Byrnison, the king of the Armoured bears, who are migrating south to avoid the Arctic melt caused by the effects of Lord Asriel's bridge (created at the end of Northern Lights). After challenging the bear to single combat, Will uses the Subtle Knife on Iorek's armor; Iorek, seeing his helmet reduced to slivers, accepts defeat. Iorek agrees to help rescue Lyra.

Three forces – Will, Iorek, and Balthamos; Lord Asriel's army; and the army of the Magisterium – converge on Mrs. Coulter's cave, where Will is able to wake Lyra from her deep sleep. He is cutting a window into another world when Mrs. Coulter turns and looks directly at him. For a moment, Will is reminded of his own mother; as a result, his concentration falters, and the knife shatters. Will, Lyra, and two Gallivespian spies, Tialys, and Salmakia, escape to another world.

Although reluctant, Iorek Byrnison repairs the Subtle Knife. Because Lyra promised Roger that she would help him, Will, Lyra, Tialys and Salmakia travel and enter the world of the dead. They are forced to leave their dæmons behind, which is painful and akin to death.

The entry into the world of the dead alludes to Greek mythology when an aged boatman ferries souls across a river to a dark realm where the dead are tormented by harpies. Lyra finds Roger's ghost among the other ghosts. Will, Lyra, and the Gallivespians decide to free all the ghosts, and strike a deal with the harpies: in exchange for guiding them to a suitable place to open the window, and leading all subsequent spirits to the window afterwards, the harpies will demand to hear the life stories of all the spirits who pass through their realm, and have a right to bar access to any who is lying or have nothing to tell, thus encouraging all to live rich, full lives. With the help of the harpies, they travel to the highest land point, where Will cuts a door into another world. The ghosts step through and dissolve, freeing them from the realm of the dead and reuniting their atoms with nature, their dæmons' atoms, and the world.

The wooden bench at the back of the Oxford Botanic Garden featured in The Amber Spyglass and shown in a photograph in the sequel, Lyra's Oxford.

Lord Asriel's forces capture Mrs. Coulter, but she escapes and flies off to warn the Consistorial Court. However, the Consistorial Court of Discipline arrests Mrs. Coulter; therefore, she allies herself with Asriel. Lord Asriel and Marisa talk, revealing that Asriel believes "sin" is simply enjoying life, which would be quelled by the Magisterium's desire for purity. Asriel has formed an army from all the worlds to conquer the Authority, who is the first angel created and thinks himself as god of the multiverse, and represents, in Asriel's mind, all the oppression that the Magisterium has caused.

The final battle begins. Will and Lyra must return to this realm (Asriel's) to retrieve their dæmons. Will's dæmon, which was separated from him, is now a visible entity like Lyra's. John Parry/Stanislaus Grumman/Will's father and Lee Scoresby go with them; instead of dissolving with the other ghosts, they and other ghosts decide to remain temporarily intact in order to join Lord Asriel's army to fight the Spectres, wraith-like creatures that devour adult souls in various worlds, reasoning that the Spectres attack dæmons, which they no longer possess.

Mrs. Coulter enters the Clouded Mountain, citadel of the Authority, where she meets Regent Metatron. She offers to betray Asriel, letting Metatron think he will be able to kill him and get Lyra, but her ultimate hope is that he will destroy himself in the process. When she leads Metatron to Asriel, Mrs. Coulter is able to confess her scheme to him, and they unite to save Lyra and attack Metatron. All three fall into an Abyss between the worlds and cease to exist. Ironically, the Authority dies of his own frailty when Will and Lyra unknowingly free him from the crystal prison where Metatron trapped him; as he leaves the cage, he is so feeble that mere exposure to the atmosphere dissolves him into thin air.

Lyra and Will, with the help of Gallivespians, Iorek's bear army, and the ghosts, find their dæmons and escape the battle, entering into the Mulefa world, where Tialys and Salmakia pass away (for Gallivespians live for only a short time). Here they encounter Mary, whom Lyra had met earlier in Will's world. They all exchange stories of what has happened, and Mary's story of why she decided not to be a nun anymore plants a seed in Lyra's mind. One day, while Will and Lyra are picnicking in the wood near their camp, Lyra puts a fruit to Will's lips. A few seconds later, the two of them realize they love each other and share their first kiss. The flow of Dust escaping is considerably slowed, and the new couple is enveloped in it. However, both the witch Serafina Pekkala and the female angel Xaphania pay them visits, each revealing news they do not want to hear. To their dismay, Xaphania reveals that all the openings between worlds—with the sole exception of the one leading out of the world of the dead to that of the mulefas—must be closed because each opening allows Dust to escape into oblivion, and each creation of a new opening generates a new Spectre. Lyra and Will must return to their own home worlds, as they are unable to survive more than ten years in any world but their own. The two protagonists make an emotional farewell, but before they part, Lyra leads Will into the Oxford of his world, to the Botanic Gardens. There they promise to return to the Garden, to a corresponding bench which stands in both of their worlds, every year on Midsummer's day, to think of each other and to be together in this way.

"Lyra+Will" carved in the bench in the Oxford Botanic Garden.

Lyra returns to Jordan College. Having suddenly lost the subconscious grace that enabled her to read the alethiometer by instinct, she decides to study alethiometry at a special school. Hereinafter, she and her dæmon Pantalaimon (who has taken the permanent form of a pine marten) begin following John Parry's (and Will's) suggestion to build the idealised Republic of Heaven at home. Will, too, returns to his world, accompanied by Mary Malone, who remains his friend and ally. When he returns, he decides to break the Subtle Knife by trying to open a window into another world while thinking about Lyra. During the return, Mary learns how to see her own dæmon, who appears as a black Alpine chough. Will's dæmon, named Kirjava by Serafina Pekkala, has taken the permanent form of a large, shadow-colored cat.

Changes to U.S. edition[edit]

Pullman's publishers have primarily marketed the series to young adults, but Pullman also intended to speak to adults. North American printings of The Amber Spyglass have censored passages describing Lyra's incipient sexuality, which is partly a re-evaluation of the tale of Adam and Eve. "This is exactly what happens in the Garden of Eden … … Why the Christian Church has spent 2,000 years condemning this glorious moment, well, that’s a mystery. I want to confront that, I suppose, by telling a story that this so-called original sin is anything but. It’s the thing that makes us fully human."[3]

The changed lines are italicized below:

"Marzipan" chapter (UK edition):

"As Mary said that, Lyra felt something strange happen to her body. She found a stirring at the roots of her hair: she found herself breathing faster. She had never been on a roller-coaster, or anything like one, but if she had, she would have recognized the sensations in her breast: they were exciting and frightening at the same time, and she had not the slightest idea why. The sensation continued, and deepened, and changed, as more parts of her body found themselves affected too. She felt as if she had been handed the key to a great house she hadn't known was there, a house that was somehow inside her, and as she turned the key, deep in the darkness of the building she felt other doors opening too, and lights coming on. She sat trembling, hugging her knees, hardly daring to breathe, as Mary went on:"

"Marzipan" chapter (Canadian & US edition):

"As Mary said that, Lyra felt something strange happen to her body. She felt as if she had been handed the key to a great house she hadn’t known was there, a house that was somehow inside her, and as she turned the key, she felt the other doors opening deep in the darkness, and lights coming on. She sat trembling as Mary went on:[4]

Chapter headings[edit]

Each chapter carried at the beginning a quotation from one of Pullman's favorite authors, including Milton (Paradise Lost), William Blake, and Emily Dickinson.[5] After the first edition, Pullman had time to work on the customary drawings at the top of each chapter.

Critical reception[edit]

The Amber Spyglass won critical acclaim and many prestigious awards. It became the first children's book to win the Whitbread Book of the Year, and won the British Book Award, American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults, Parents' Choice Good Book Award, Horn Book Fanfare Honor Book, New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age, and ABC Children's Booksellers' Choice. It became a New York Times Bestseller.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Gibbons, Fiachra (23 January 2002). "Epic children's book takes Whitbread". The Guardian (London: Guardian Unlimited). Retrieved 2007-04-05. 
  2. ^ Reynolds, Nigel (23 January 2002). "Children's book scoops £30,000 Whitbread prize". Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 2008-10-09. 
  3. ^ Rosin, Hanna (1 December 2007). "How Hollywood Saved God p.2". The Atlantic Monthly (The Atlantic Monthly Group). Retrieved 2014-02-11. 
  4. ^ Corliss, Richard (8 December 2007). "What Would Jesus See?". Time (Time Inc.). Retrieved 2008-05-04. 
  5. ^
  • Lenz, Millicent (2005). His Dark Materials Illuminated: Critical Essays on Phillip Pullman's Trilogy. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-3207-2. 
  • Frost, Laurie (2006). The Elements of His Dark Materials. The Fell Press.