A little while back, I recommended The Chronicles of Narnia to my readers here, because they represent one particular kind of storytelling, that is, the sort which draws heavily on traditional mythical elements for the sake of making a traditional (fairly obvious) allegory in the service of a traditional religious creed.
While I greatly enjoyed C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles throughout my misspent youth, Philip Pullman is the definitive anti-Lewis. Where Lewis seeks to bring children into the church and teach them what to think, Pullman seeks to free their minds and teach them to think for themselves. Whereas Lewis depicts God as an invincible Lion, Pullman depicts him as a doddering and decrepit old spirit, no longer fit to rule and relegated to the status of figurehead. Where Lewis depicts a final battle culminating in death and resurrection into a heavenly utopia, Pullman caps his series with a resolution to a never-ending struggle on the part of human beings to build a better world for themselves. Perhaps most importantly from the standpoint of storytelling, while Lewis borrows heavily from the stable of well-known fairly tale creatures (talking animals, centaurs, witches, hags, werewolves, etc.), Pullman invents a whole new array of monsters and heroes and refuses to paint his characters as inherently virtuous or depraved.
I’m not sure that anyone can be properly impressed with Pullman’s achievement in this trilogy if they haven’t first read Lewis’ less sophisticated attempt at meaningful children’s fiction. I recommend to my kids that they read both series, and trust that they eventually decide for themselves which series holds more meaning and promise for their own children.