After I finished The Golden Compass I published that I liked Philip Pullman book and couldn't wait to continue reading. It didn't take me long into the second book to realize that I was wrong about Pullman. Though he understands the beautiful triad of fantasy fiction (1. There is more to life than what you see. 2. There is a great battle or journey. 3. We have a big part to play in that battle or journey.) he does not understand that mixing up good and evil ultimately cheapens and destroys the beauty of his books. I was very disturbed by the fact that this writer with the true gift to create beauty used that gift to push an ugly anti-God agenda.
In The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass Pullman sets forth a series of worlds where there are legions of fallen angels who care for men. The god figure is an angel who decided to fool the worlds into thinking that he had created them. He is now ancient and is all too glad to die when the heroin opens his glass bed. The ultimate hero of the books sacrifices the heroin's best friend in order to get to a world where he will build an army to fight the non-fallen angels and establish the "Republic of Heaven." A good part of the books confirms that the heroin greatly mourns her dead friend: she goes to the land of the dead to find him and apologize for leading him to danger and subsequently opens a way for all the dead souls to come into a world where they can become one with the trees and the wind. But the heroin never questions the right of the hero to sacrifice her friend.
It all sounds dark and depressing, does it not? But Pullman is an excellent writer, and you long for the children of the book to find their way to goodness and happiness. In the end, their goodness and happiness is in finding love for each other (not a bad theme) and then separating to tell their own worlds about the fact that the way out of the land of the dead is to have a good story of one's life to tell the guardians of that land. See what I mean? Good and evil have been confused and at the journey's end, the only benefit of all the fight and all the sacrifice is to have a good story to tell.
So my recommendation is to stay away from the His Dark Materials series. There are so many better books for your pre-teens to read or for you to read with your children. Because the Pullman series disturbed me so much, I have been revisiting some of my fantasy favorites. Here are a few:
1. Anything by C.S. Lewis: The Narnia series, The Space Trilogy, Till We Have Faces 2. All the E. Nesbit books like the Psammead Series: Five Children and It, The Phoenix and the Carpet, and The Story of the Amulet
3. The Artemis Fowl Books
4. Anything by Robin McKinley
5. The Inheritance Series by Christopher Paolini
6. OF COURSE The Lord of the Rings and anything else by Tolkien
7. Books by Avi like The Book Without Words and Midnight Magic
8. Inkspell and the ensuing series from Cornelia Funke
9. All of Madeline L'Engle's books
10. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt