book of dust

Hoai-Tran Bui is Reading Philip Pullman’s New Book The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage

I absolutely worshipped Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy as a kid. I first read the three books, The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass when I was in the fifth grade, but didn’t totally get the exploration of human consciousness through a subversive retelling of Milton’s Paradise Lost. So I read it again. And again. After a while, it became a yearly tradition for me to reread the His Dark Materials series, finding each time new nuggets of information and details that deepened the story, which initially begins as a simple adventure of a scrappy young girl trying to rescue her friend from a kidnapping. The series goes on to explore the concepts of alternate universes, dark matter, established religion, and original sin — basically, it was a hugely formative book series that turned me into the fake deep mess I am today.

So when I heard that Pullman was writing a follow-up series to his magnum opus, I was anxious. The series ended on a perfectly bittersweet note, and any sequel could risk tainting the legacy of the original (although the movie did that enough). But then I heard that the upcoming new series, called the Book of Dust, would be a semi-prequel and I was intrigued. The world-building in the original Dark Materials trilogy was pretty barebones before it launched into a multiverse-spanning epic. Now we can learn more about daemons, the animal manifestations of the human conscience (or maybe the soul), about Lyra’s fantastical world, and the events that led up to her adventures.

I immediately bought the book The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage when it was released this past Friday. I’ve only read the first 20 pages (I’m trying to save it for a very long plane ride later this week), but already it’s like being welcomed home.

the halloween tree

Chris Evangelista Has Been Re-Reading The Halloween Tree and Feeling Bittersweet

Halloween is next week, and while I didn’t get to do all the spooky activities I had hoped for this season, I did make time to re-read Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree. No other book better encapsulates my ideal concept of Halloween than Bradbury’s 1972 tale of a group of friends who go on a wild adventure through the history of the holiday.

The Halloween Tree is filled with rustling leaves and chilly autumn winds; it’s set in a world where Halloween still feels important and idyllic, with jack-o-lanterns burning on porches and the smell of pies wafting through the air. I didn’t grow up in a small town; I grew up in a cramped block of Philadelphia, where concrete and broken glass were prevalent. Yet when I think of the Halloweens of my youth, they’re always tinged with the exact type of cinnamon sweet nostalgia that tinges every page of Bradbury’s book. The book is about more than just Halloween; it’s about confronting death itself, and coming to terms with mortality. But that’s what makes Halloween as a season so magical and fascinating; it’s a day devoted to death, yet it doesn’t wallow in it, or shrink from it in fear. It confronts it head-on, albeit sometimes hidden behind a mask. “Will we ever stop being afraid of nights and death?” asks one character in the book. The reply: “When you reach the stars, boy, yes, and live there forever, all the fears will go, and Death himself will die.”

I doubt I’ll ever experience an idyllic Halloween again. I’m too old now, the ancient age of approaching my mid-thirties. And as the planet warms up, there’s very little chance of cool, crisp autumn nights anymore, replaced instead by muggy, foggy awfulness. Yet I’ll always have Bradbury’s book to transport me back there; back to a time that I’m not even sure existed to begin with. There’s a kind of magic in that, I suppose.

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