SM: The spiritual warfare, surprisingly, stuck with me. It touched me uncomfortably at an elemental level. I expected to be more caught up with Pullman's agenda, but where I was drawn in was with what's going on under the surface, more subtly, even to the idea of just what these daemons are. Ever wonder what that voice talking to you is that sounds like yourself? What would the Bible say that is? It can make you a little uneasy.

I also noticed the moral ambiguity, which I think is only going to get stronger as the series goes on. It would have to if no action is truly bad because at the minimum it leaves you with experience and knowledge. But it's odd how a universe created by an atheist would have a definitive spiritual side, a God to kill, daemons, angels, witches, all sorts of things.

SJ: I do think the way Pullman weaves spirituality into the book was unexpectedly overt and disturbing. I went into this thinking it might be more like Harry Potter, with more gray areas, but this was more like having a worldview handed to you on a silver platter. He's very purposeful in the way he writes this and the way he portrays Christianity. That was a surprise. I didn't have to dig for it.

MK: I expected it to be much more atheistic, but it’s actually humanistic. After visiting his site, reading his quotes and writings, I’ve come to call Pullman the seemingly “hurting, searching, bitter man." I think it’s important to note that this first book is more anti-church than anti-God. 

Pullman would probably be shocked if he knew how much we agreed with him about the flawed church, about the problems of power, and about what these institutions are ideally supposed to be. His 'Church' is not what Christ is about. We, the body of believers, know we are imperfect. It’s why we need Christ after all!

What is your general reaction?

MK: Surprise. As far as story telling goes, I liked it. It's a very well-written and compelling story. I enjoy books that get me thinking about some of the deeper issues. I did, however, find it unsettling that I began sympathizing with things Christians would and should normally consider wrong. Because things are turned around in this book, I caught myself rooting for what typically would be evil. I can see now why people would be drawn in and why parents should be concerned.

SJ: My general reaction? The books are appealing, well-written. Yet, they’re also very dark. I was a little taken aback by the heroine. Lyra’s behavior, somewhat toned down in the movie, wasn’t what I expected – she lies, gets drunk, smokes, and curses. She doesn’t always have the emotional reactions to various situations you would expect. And to me as a woman, as a girl, she certainly didn’t appear very womanly or girlish.

MK: I agree. For the purpose of the story, Philip Pullman needed Lyra to be a female so he wrote her as one… and that’s where it ended. She is completely lacking femininity – Sarah and I both felt that we couldn’t identify with her responses or actions.

SM: I think we’re going to eventually see the reason for that. After all, Eve herself probably hadn’t been taught how to behave like a girl. But I’m getting ahead of the action.

I had different reactions to book and film. Regarding the book, as I was reading it, for the first two-thirds I thought it was just a nice entry in the fantasy genre. One could easily wonder where all the fuss comes from, especially because I was trying to make myself experience it from two perspectives at once, the first as being completely aware of Pullman's agenda, the second being a more naive position of just picking up a book and reading. So my reactions varied. Basically, as I alluded to earlier, the one I noticed most was when I began literally shaking at the point in the book where Lyra is about to be severed from her daemon. That idea and image caused me to have a physical reaction and some strange memories. Some other things that stuck out were the lack of married adult characters, and the idea that in the middle of morality is human education (the Oxford Scholars), and things then branch out in directions from there. It's an incredibly humanistic piece, and that's often thematically uplifiting even to some Christians.