“The Subtle Knife” by Philip Pullman (Knopf, 2003)

Subtle Knifestarstarstarstar

His Dark Materials Boxed Set: Part Two of Three

The golden compass of the first book was a special future-telling instrument which, when used correctly, can answer any question you ask it.  Lyra happens to be of the chosen variety that has the natural skill to read it.  In this book we meet our next hero, Will Parry, who is from our world.  He finds and becomes the beholder of the subtle knife, a special knife with one side so sharp it can cut any material object, and the other side so sharp it can cut through the fabric of reality and open a doorway into another world.  And so the reader realizes the great complexity of this universe with its many worlds.  Lyra and Will now continue their journey, both in search of their fathers with the help of many unusual characters like giant bears and witches.

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Originally published on May 12th, 2003 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“The Golden Compass” by Philip Pullman (Knopf, 2003)

The Golden Compassstarstarstarstar

His Dark Materials Boxed Set: Part One of Three

Originally published as Northern Lights in 1995, this is the story of a young girl who doesn’t know what to do or what is going to happen with her life, but soon discovers that she is on a specific course of destiny that she is unable to avoid.  While The Golden Compass is considered a children’s book, like the Harry Potter series, it is written with an adult voice in an adult language, with adult themes.  It seems that British authors give their young readers a lot more credit that American authors.  The result is the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy that is by no means “just a kid’s book.”

Lyra Belacqua is a young girl who spends her days roaming the many hallways and rooms of Jordan College, Oxford, where she makes friends with everyone regardless of class or status.  She’s just looking to have a good time and loves taking risks, whether it be climbing the roof of the college, or chasing and attacking the gyptians who show up every once in a while on the river.  This is a different world to ours, where everyday electricity doesn’t exist.  This is a world of zeppelins, steam and air powered machinery, gyroscopes and wheels and cogs, essentially a steam punk world.  Also in this world every person has what is known as a dæmon, essentially the embodiment of a person’s soul in the form of an animal.  When young, children’s dæmons can change form, but when they reach puberty the dæmon settles on a single form for the rest of their lives, giving one an insight into the person’s nature.

But Lyra’s world changes when first she saves her father, Lord Asriel, from being poisoned, and then learns of his work in the distant icy north where work is being done with something called Dust, the northern lights, and something about another world in the sky.  Lyra then meets Mrs. Coulter, who she immediately takes a liking to for she is so strong and impressive and knowledgeable, that is until Lyra discovers that she is the one who has been kidnapping children and taking them to the north for experimentation.  Managing to escape, Lyra joins with the gyptians who head north to find out what is going on with all this business about kidnapped children and Dust.  The rumors are terrible.  It is said that experimentation is being on separating children from their dæmons which, considering it is taboo for a person to even touch another’s dæmon, does not bode well for Lyra and the gyptians.

It is in the north that Lyra finally discovers everything that is going and more importantly, why it is happening, as well as a giant armored warrior polar bear, Iorek Byrnison, known as panserbjørne; and a Texan balloon-fighting man called Lee Scoresby.

His Dark Materials, in my opinion, is even better than the Harry Potter series for the subject matter is far more complex with truths that relate to every reader.  And with a move adaptation of The Golden Compass set for release on December 7th, now is the perfect time to read this magical series for the first time, or simply to reread it again.

Alternate Review

It is amusing to see how books branded as “children’s fantasy,” like Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia, once they are nationally and internationally recognized, suddenly become pieces of literature to be read and fully appreciated by adults and the literary world.  The Philip Pullman trilogy, His Dark Materials, now released as a boxed set, fits right into this category, to such an extent that it seems the third book, The Amber Spyglass, has such a depth and complexity that it could be fully appreciated by the literati.

The trilogy begins with the hero, Lyra, acting out her strange life in an alternative world which could have been like ours some time in the late medieval period, but is not.  There are inventions and technologies here that do not exist in this world; there are also similar articles that have a different or similar name; finally there are objects that have long been ousted as obsolete by our standards, but are still in common use, such as Zeppelins.  Lyra, in this strange world, must take a journey to rescue her father who is imprisoned in a distant land.  This first book ends with Lyra almost losing her life many times, and having to make a very important decision at the very end.

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Originally published on May 12th, 2003 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“The Lord of the Rings: The Art of the Two Towers” by Gary Russel (Houghton Mifflin, 2003)

Art of the Two Towersstarstarstar

If you’ve already watched The Two Towers, you will not consider is surprising that the movie won the Oscar for best visual effects.  But should you be in any doubt (which is unlikely), or rather, should you wish to view the evidence again, then The Art of the Two Towers is the book for you.

The second in the series after The Art of the Fellowship of the Ring, this book takes you as close to the movie as possible, except for actually watching the movie in theaters or on DVD.  Filled with beautiful glossy, colorful photographs, paintings, and sketches, one can see how ideas like the tower of Orthanc, the different Orcs, and enemy forces, as well as characters like Gollum initially came to life.  There are many initial sketches and ideas of what they were thought to look like, and then a comparison with the final product that is featured in the movie.

It is a book that deserves to be on the shelf of any avid fan of the trilogy, as well as anyone who has an appreciation for art and color.  The Art of the Two Towers is simply a great book to own.

Originally published on April 21st, 2003.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm” translation and introduction by Jack Zipes (Bantam, 2003)

Brothers Grimmstarstarstarstar

If you like fairytales and have always wanted to know where they originate, here’s your chance.  For the first time, a complete edition of the fairytales of the Brothers Grimm has been published in paperback form at an affordable price.  A handy reference tool, pleasant reading, and a book you can always turn to to read to your kids, all in one!

With an introduction on the Brothers Grimm and this specific translation, the book then launches into the countless fairytales told in their virgin form (warning, this may not only shock minors to hear the truth, but also the grownups).  There is a lot more blood and gore in the original tales that have not been Disneyfied for kids.  Split into sections of regular tales, “Omitted Tales,” and “Selected Tales from the Annotations of 1856”; this is a true gem to have on one’s shelf.  The book features a chivalric cover along with beautiful black and white illustrations throughout the book.  It is a present perfect for any avid fairytale lover.

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Originally published on March 17th, 2003 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“Before the Flood: The Biblical Flood as a Real Event and How it Changed the Course of Civilization” by Ian Wilson (St. Martin’s Press, 2003)

Before the Floodstarstarstar

Everyone is pretty much familiar with the flood story from Genesis with Noah and his ark, but did you know the Bible isn’t the only text to have a flood myth within its pages?  There are flood myths from ancient Greece, Persia, India, even as far as Scandinavia and South America.  How do I know this?  Because I have read Before the Flood.

Ian Wilson takes a step into the ancient and prehistoric with this book, delving into the past no one is quite sure about; where historical fact begins to blur and fictional theory sharpens.  Wilson has done plenty of research (the lengthy bibliography vouches for this) into the many different flood myths scattered across the world to write this unique book, where they all come together.  He presents it in a logical manner, also revealing some contemporary flood myths that were perpetuated by ignorant scientists.

What is important is that Wilson treats the flood as a real event that happened, which is not surprising, since there are all these stories about it.  But he backs all his ideas and premises with scientific research that make them more believable.  Back when Genesis was written, there was no technology to validate the flood, but now Wilson has proven we are at a time to accept that a catastrophic flood of some sort did occur some ten thousand years ago.

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Originally published on March 17th, 2003 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“Medieval Folklore: A Guide to Myths, Legends, Tales, Beliefs, and Customs” edited by Carl Lindahl, John McNamara, and John Lindow (Oxford University Press, 2003)

Medieval Folklorestarstarstar

The medieval, mythological and folklore historian has been waiting a long time for a book like this.  Have you ever read a little bit of medieval story or folklore and wondered exactly what its origin was, whether it was Irish, Welsh or English, Scandinavian or Eastern European?  This compendium has all this in a Norton anthology font-size that is simply jam-packed with details and information.  In encyclopedic form, it is a necessary reference tool for any historian, as well a compelling read for anyone interested in the subject matter.  It’s all here in one concise book that deserve a place on any shelf; fortunately it doesn’t take up too much space!

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally published on March 17th, 2003.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“Fighting Techniques of the Ancient World 3000BC – AD 500 Equipment, Combat Skills, and Tactics” by Simon Anglim, et. al. (St. Martin’s Press, 2003)

Fighting Techniques of the Ancient Worldstarstarstar

There have been quite a few books written about wars and fighting, and there have also been many written about fighting and wars in the ancient world, but this book isn’t like any of them.  Fighting Techniques of the Ancient World does not intend to impress the reader with a biased account of how great the Romans, or Egyptians, or Persians were in battle.  The book is split into five simple chapters: “The Role of the Infantry,” “Mounted Warfare,” “Command and Control,” “Siege Warfare,” and “Naval Warfare.”

No bias at work in this book, just dutiful study, research and facts about how these ancient civilizations actually fought.  There are countless case-studies throughout the book that present a detailed account of what happened at a certain battle, like the Battle of Plataea between the Greeks and Persians in 479BC, or the Battle of Milvian Bridge between Maxentius and Constantine in 312AD.  With hundreds of illustrations and drawings of equipment and weaponry, many in color, as well as spectacular battle scenes and plans, Fighting Techniques of the Ancient World presents a new approach to ancient fighting: an appreciation of the skill of all civilizations, and not just one over the other.

Originally published on March 17th, 2003 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.