True Love Touches The SoulJune 14, 2011 No Comments
Love has always been a difficult concept for writers to put into words. It’s an abstract feeling that can’t be trapped inside the box of language. The challenge becomes even more apparent when you’re trying to describe romantic love to youth.
In The Amber Spyglass, the last book in the Dark Materials trilogy, Philip Pullman pulls off the impossible. His exploration of love is nothing less than profound and breathtaking. Lyra and Will, Pullman’s equally powerful protagonists, cement their love for each other when they touch each other’s souls.
But first their souls must get to know each other. It’s no easy task. Will comes from the human world where souls are internal and Lyra comes from a world where souls are external. Her soul, Pantalaimon, talks to her and guides her throughout the story. Before they’re able to fall in love, Will must get to know his own soul. Then both characters must find the courage to free their souls on a journey to the land of the dead.
For Pullman, freedom can only be accomplished through complete abandonment. When the characters go down to the underworld, they must leave their souls in order to cross the river Styx. This selfless act to save the souls of others will keep soul matter – “dust” in the novel – in the world. People will remain free. Love itself can only truly exist where there’s freedom to fall.
Soul touching is a far cry from the sex and violence that critics lament about with the host of vampire and apocalyptic young adult novels, which continue to pile up on bookstore shelves. Pullman’s representation of love reaches philosophical heights — we don’t feel whole until we find the one that completes us. Pullman draws on this metaphor and makes it more vivid.
“Knowing exactly what he was doing and exactly what it would mean, he moved his hand from Lyra’s wrist and stroked the red gold fur of her daemon,” Pullman writes.
After they touch, Will and Lyra’s daemons take on one form, “having felt a lover’s hands on them.” Their souls become content and so no longer capable of metamorphosis. In their settled forms (Lyra’s a pine marten and Will’s a cat), both souls can stop searching for their other halves.
While children may not fully comprehend what this all means, Pullman’s strong physical and metaphysical representation of love — a deep soul connection — is touching.
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