One of the common themes found in works of fantasy deals with the dichotomy between good and evil. J.R.R. Tolkien does a wonderful job depicting these two conflicting sides. Stephen Donaldson covers the good/ evil conflict. Phillip Pullman, however, was less conventional.
Throughout the story the reader can try to guess who the bad guy is supposed to be. I thought for sure that the Church would be the ultimate entity of evil. At other times I looked at Mrs. Coulter and Lord Asriel as the characters to be resisted and defeated. I even suspected God in this role. The results were ultimately inconclusive for me. God (the Authority) was a weak, tired old creature that needed to be put out of his misery. Mrs. Coulter and Lord Asriel proved themselves to be dynamic characters. Mrs. Coulter rejected her harsh ambitions and loyalty to the Church to connect herself with her daughter. Both Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter sacrificed themselves so that their daughter could live. They were not evil they were just very fallible. The Church seems like the most reasonable symbol of evil in this trilogy. I would argue against that claim. There are many criticisms that can be made against the actions of the Church but I cannot justify labeling them as evil. Like every other creature described in the books, the Church shows itself as susceptible to making mistakes. They do not want to control and dominate for the sake of, rather, many members of the Church felt as though they were working for good.
This was my favorite aspect of the His Dark Materials trilogy. Tolkien and Donaldson had very clear distinctions between the forces of good and evil. There was much more subtly at work within Pullman’s books. That makes his story very believable in the context of our own world. Wars and disputes are not so clearly defined in reality. There is a lot going on beneath the surface of people’s actions in the world and it is far too easy to put a good/ evil sticker on someone and call it a day. It is much more challenging when we as readers and humans try to delve into the intricacies of human consciousness.