The Book of Dust: The Lyra We’ve Been Waiting For?

the-book-of-dust-volume-1-finalOver twenty years after the release of the first His Dark Materials novel, Philip Pullman is delivering a companion series. The Book of Dust will hopefully be the trilogy fans have been waiting for. Pullman promises that with Dust we’ll catch up with Lyra Silvertongue, the protagonist from the first Materials book, now that she’s a young adult in her home world. But will it live up to the hype?

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Oh, My Pop Culture Gnosticism: What if God Isn’t God?

Nothing says pop culture like 2000-year-old theological debates, right? You’d be surprisedand we’ve discussed it before.

Gnosticism—a heretical branch of early Christianity—faded almost entirely from view after its founders were edged out of the Church by what would become orthodoxy. With most of their works lost or destroyed, their ideas survived only in the denunciations from the likes of Tertullian and Irenaeus. The Gnostic focus on secrecy didn’t ensure a broad legacy, either—early leaders such as Valentinius and Marcion privileged access to the deeper nature of the universe for initiates and other worthies. Modern Gnostics avoid the secrecy, and as with many aspects of Gnosticism which may seem troubling, the marginalization of Gnosticism limited our understanding to unfriendly characterizations by their orthodox contemporaries.

But in the 20th century, a treasure trove of Gnostic texts was discovered by a couple of Egyptian farmers at Nag Hammadi in a sealed jar. Ever since, their ideas—which seem stunningly modern in some ways—have started to permeate back into the world, gaining influence well beyond what would be expected from their obscurity, particularly since the texts themselves are rarely read by anyone besides scholars.

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Still, the ideas in these texts are starting to make their way into pop culture, directly or indirectly, and Gnostic ideas are fascinating enough to be talked about far away from their original sources. They feature prominently in the His Dark Materials series, and some concepts pop up in such unexpected places as Young Avengers, Final Fantasy, and even Futurama.

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Magical Mondays: Magic as Sacrificial Lamb

Magic is awesome, except when it just makes everything worse. It happens rarely, but sometimes magic as a whole is a net evil thing in a story. In order to bring, well, order, back to the world in question, magic has to go. Although it’s sad for both the characters losing their magic and the audience by proxy, by casting fantastical power as something that’s fun or useful but ultimately damaging, these stories can teach us something worthwhile about the importance of self-sacrifice.

Spoilers for the entire Young Elites and His Dark Materials series below the jump.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Who Needs an Afterlife, Anyway?

scary cemetery picture

image via The Examiner

This weekend marks lots of spooky celebration in the Western world. Pagans and Wiccans celebrate the Gaelic festival Samhain, marking the harvest and start of the darker half of the year. Hispanic cultures celebrate Día de los Muertos, a three day festival with roots in ancient Aztec religious beliefs. Christians celebrate All Saints Day and All Souls Day, honoring saints and remembering loved ones. Even secular Americans love to celebrate Halloween. It’s the time of year when lots of people are remembering the dead and pondering mortality. This got me thinking about the way the afterlife appears in our geeky media. Saika and I have already written posts about Heaven and Hell, respectively. Both of us note that each realm is usually twisted in some way (either corrupted or comically), or kind of boring. So do we really need to give our characters an afterlife?

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Sexualized Saturdays: Innocence and Sexual Maturity in His Dark Materials, Part 2

Today’s guest column comes via longtime LGG&F reader Kathryn Hemmann. Kathryn teaches classes on Japanese literature and cinema by day and diligently trains to become a Pokémon Master by night. She posts reviews of Japanese fiction in translation along with occasional essays about pop culture on her blog, Contemporary Japanese Literature.  


Readers should be advised that this essay contains frank references to adolescent sexuality.

Part 2: Why I Wish the Protagonist Were Female

his dark materials coversLast week I lamented the surprising dearth of narrative focus on female characters in the latter two books of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials fantasy trilogy. This week I explain how Lyra’s lack of interiority in particular makes it difficult for the reader to reconcile the plot of the story with its broader philosophical themes. This installation contains major spoilers for the series from the first paragraph onward, so consider yourself warned.

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Sexualized Saturdays: Innocence and Sexual Maturity in His Dark Materials, Part 1

Today’s guest column comes via longtime LGG&F reader Kathryn Hemmann. Kathryn teaches classes on Japanese literature and cinema by day and diligently trains to become a Pokémon Master by night. She posts reviews of Japanese fiction in translation along with occasional essays about pop culture on her blog, Contemporary Japanese Literature.  


Readers should be advised that this essay contains frank references to adolescent sexuality.

Part 1: In Which the Protagonist Is Suddenly Male

his dark materials coversOne of my personal goals in 2014 was to finish Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. My friends pestered me to read it, my students asked me what I thought about it, and the internet at large can’t stop recommending it. Still, I’ve been putting off actually sitting down with the books for years. Pullman’s linguistic flair is impressive, but I still had to force myself to make it through a certain number of self-assigned chapters every day. It was a pleasure to re-read The Golden Compass, but the sudden shift to a male protagonist in The Subtle Knife was accompanied by a number of unsavory implications that are exacerbated in the last book of the series, The Amber Spyglass. If you’ve never encountered the His Dark Materials trilogy before, this entire essay is full of spoilers, so please proceed with caution.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Can Religious Violence Ever Be Good?

We geeks have a complicated relationship with religious violence. We live in a world where religious fanatics are practicing conversion by force, and that’s putting the situation in the Middle East in the most sanitized terms possible. It’s hard to find anyone today who would condone any type of religious violence, or try to defend it. Even historical religious violence, which occurred in a different cultural context than our own, makes us uncomfortable. With such an intense reaction to real religious violence, one would think that our pop culture would reflect it. Instead, geek culture seems to accept religious violence in some contexts, but not others. So why is that?

Spoilers for His Dark Materials, Doctor Who, Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra below.

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