The Amber Spyglass is the third and final volume of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, a modern fantasy epic published from 1995 to 2000. It continues the adventures of Lyra Silvertongue and Will Parry, young teens caught up in an epic battle betweens human and angels. The Amber Spyglass’s heroes must free the dead, topple the Magisterium and the Authority, and evade enemies on both sides of the war.
The Amber Spyglass reflects Phillip Pullman’s support of humanism, a philosophy that values human goodness over worship of a deity, as well as his distrust of organized, hierarchical religion, particularly Christianity. Through The Amber Spyglass, Pullman offers an alternative to classic fantasy novels by outspoken Christian writers, most notably C.S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis, a prominent Christian theologian, portrayed Christian theology through the heroic character, Aslan, a Christ-like figure who sacrifices himself and comes back to life. In contrast, The Amber Spyglass depicts the triumph of Lord Asriel, a spirited Oxford professor who musters creatures from every universe to wage war on God. Pullman also challenges Lewis’s portrayal of women, particularly Lewis’s character Susan Pevensie, who is barred from the final version of Narnia after becoming overly interested in makeup and boys. Pullman counters Lewis’s character by making Lyra Silvertongue’s growing knowledge of her sexuality a positive component of her character, as well as the ultimate reason Lord Asriel's side triumphs over the Authority.
Through The Amber Spyglass, Pullman reinvents John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Milton’s 17th-century epic retells the biblical story of Satan’s fall from heaven and rebellion against God.While Paradise Lost depicts Satan as an eloquent yet utterly debased villain whose beautiful speeches little conceal his malice, The Amber Spyglass recasts Satan in the character of Lord Asriel, a bold scholar and warrior who aims to create the Republic of Heaven. Pullman also draws on other classic works, particularly William Blake’s poetry and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Frankenstein provides inspiration for the novel’s northern settings, while Blake’s poetry inspires Dust, a fictional elementary particle with mystical properties.
The Amber Spyglass also draws on modern science, often showing science as a positive alternative to organized religion.The novel takes place in a series of parallel universes, a fantastical-sounding idea inspired by real-life investigations in quantum physics. The Amber Spyglass also honors scientists by casting them as heroes. Many of the book’s adult protagonists are scientists, and Pullman emphasizes the value of scientific curiosity over rigid belief. The character Mary Malone, a former nun who abandons the Church in favor of physics, is a clear example.
The Amber Spyglass won two Whitbread Awards, both the Whitbread Prize for Best Children’s Book and the Whitbread Book of the Year Award. It was also the first children’s book to be shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Pullman labels it as “an adult book that somehow sneaked its way into a children’s bookstore.” Critics agree, praising The Amber Spyglass for its dense, exciting plot and intellectual complexity. The New York Times describes it as a “phantasmagoria of ferocious action” and The Guardian deemed it “an exhilarating and poetic mixture of adventure, philosophy, myth, and religion.” Given the novel’s unforgiving view of organized religion, it also incited controversy, often appearing on lists of top banned books.