In The Amber Spyglass, book three of the Golden Compass Trilogy, we get enmeshed in another complicated plot that I will try to summarize as quickly as possible. The two protagonists, Lyra and Will, age 12, are caught in a showdown between the forces of good and evil. In this twisted retelling of a quasi-Biblical story, the forces of good are the angels who initially rebelled against "the Authority," which by book three is explicitly named as Adonai, the God of the Bible. Others forces of good are witches, shamans, armored bears and free-thinking humans. The Authority, represented by the powerful and evil angel Megatron and supported by institutional Christian churches across the universe, wants to snuff out the human spirit: joy, free will, autonomy, love, truth, etc. The Authority and its followers lie to people and are interested in control, obedience and fear. Herein lies one of my problems with the book: the very attributes of God and Satan are flipped: God is given the attributes of Satan. God is the Prince of Lies, the great deceiver, the threat to humanity.
Because of a prophecy that she will be their undoing, the forces of the Authority want to kill Lyra. For the same reason, good wants to protect her, so across the universe, good and evil mobilize.
Will, Lyra's constant companion, has a magic knife that can cut windows into alternate universes. Lyra's feels compelled to visit the land of the dead to make amends to her friend Roger, whose death she caused.
Will and Lyra are the first in thousands of years to visit the underworld. They find that the Authority has trapped the dead in a gray, misty, cold, horrible world without joy or hope because it has lied to people and gotten them to believe this is heaven. (Even though it is clearly hell.) Repulsive harpies torture people incessantly, wrecking their sleep by tormenting them with whispered tales of all they did wrong in their lives.
Lyra and Will liberate the dead, who with great joy, experience the dissolution of their ghostly bodies into millions of atoms that reintegrate with nature.
Lyra's flawed parents sacrifice their lives to destroy Megatron and save their daughter. Meanwhile, an ex-nun and scientist, Mary Malone, who is studying "Dust"--which is the conscious spirit of the universe -- has traveled through a window to another universe. With the help of gentle, sentient beings tied closely to the earth, Mary constructs an amber spyglass and for the first time can see the sparkling golden Dust. She's alarmed to find that it is fast vacating the planet (and the universe). Without it, all sentient, thinking, conscious life will end. Needless to say, the Authority wants Dust to go.
With the help of the good witch Serafina Pekkala and a good angel, Mary discovers that Dust is disappearing through the windows Will and others have cut through the universe with the magic knife. All the windows have to be sealed up. Further, people who move to a world not their own sicken and die within a decade.
This creates a problem for Lyra and Will, who come from different planets. They have just entered adolescence and fallen deeply in love. But they must each return to their own worlds or die. Needless to say, they follow the path of duty and go home to spread the word about the true nature of the universe, which includes the knowledge that there is no God.
Tomorrow: more on the books' perplexing, upside down view of Christianity.