Philip Pullman

The Amber Spyglass

  • This summary of The Amber Spyglass includes a complete plot overview – spoilers included!
  • We’re considering expanding this synopsis into a full-length study guide to deepen your comprehension of the book and why it's important.
  • Want to see an expanded study guide sooner? Click the Upvote button below.

The Amber Spyglass Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature  detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman.

The Amber Spyglass is a 2000 fantasy novel for young adults by English author Philip Pullman. The third book in the trilogy His Dark Materials, it takes place after The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife. The story follows the series’ protagonists, Lyra and Will, who struggle to overthrow an authoritarian, fanatically religious government called the Magisterium as it tries to seize control over all of the parallel universes and their human and non-human inhabitants. The novel was named the Children’s Book of the Year by the British Book Awards in 2001 and was the first children’s book to be nominated as a contender for the Man Booker Prize.

At the beginning of the novel, Lyra is imprisoned by Mrs. Coulter, her mother and a double agent for the Magisterium. Mrs. Coulter fears that the Magisterium will kill Lyra, having determined that she is implicated in a prophecy that states she will trigger the second fall of man. Lyra has a lucid dream in which she meets her dead friend, Roger, in the underworld and promises to save him. Meanwhile, angels Baruch and Balthamos have imprisoned Will in a city called Cittagazze in a parallel reality. The angels work for the angel Lord Asriel, who hopes to destroy the Magisterium. Will escapes the city using the subtle knife, an artifact so thin that it can slice through the fabric of space-time and open doors into other worlds. Baruch dies in combat with a group of angels loyal to the Magisterium and its leader, Regent Metatron.

The Magisterium sends its best assassin, Father Gomez, to find Lyra by stalking Mary Malone, a physicist researching the parallel universes. Mary gains entry into a world where she meets a society of intelligent, elephant-like creatures called mulefa. Using the sap from one of their trees, Mary creates an amber spyglass, which allows one to see a substance called “dust” that is essential to all life. While speaking with the mulefa, she realizes that the amount of the world’s dust has been dwindling for centuries and is now critically low.

Will meets Iorek Byrnison, the king of a race of armored bears. Iorek explains that his bears are migrating to the south to escape global warming caused by Lord Asriel’s science experiments. Will successfully enlists his help to find Lyra. Together, they find Mrs. Coulter’s cave just as Asriel’s army and the Magisterium discover it. Will tries to help Lyra escape with the subtle knife, but it shatters when Mrs. Coulter distracts him from performing the incision in space-time. Iorek repairs the subtle knife. Lyra and Will escape into the world of the dead to find Roger and are followed by two spies, Salmakia and Tialys. Finding him imprisoned by harpies, they convince the creatures to let the dead escape their purgatory and pass peacefully.

Lyra and Will return to Asriel’s world to find their daemons, animal familiars whose souls are telepathically linked to them. They are accompanied by the ghosts of their friend Lee Scoresby and Will’s father, who have delayed total death to fight against Asriel’s army. Mrs. Coulter joins forces with Lord Asriel. She makes her way to Magisterium’s citadel, feigning support for Regent Metatron by offering to lead him to Lord Asriel. When they meet, she turns on Metatron, helping Asriel cast him into an abyss. In the act of doing so, all three fall into the abyss and perish.

Lyra and Will free the first angel, the Authority, from Metatron’s prison. Too old to survive in the physical world, he dies immediately. Lyra and Will find their daemons and escape to the world of the mulefas. They find Mary, who explains that she was once a nun but renounced it. Father Gomez nearly kills Lyra but is stopped by Balthamos. The angel Xaphania and the witch Serafina Pekkala explain that the disappearance of dust is due to all of the new rifts that have been made between worlds. Everyone resolves to close the rifts but decides to leave open the one that leads out of the world of the dead.

Knowing that one’s soul cannot survive indefinitely in a different world, Lyra and Will prepare to return to their home worlds and say goodbye to their friends. Lyra brings Will to his world. They part ways in his version of Oxford’s Botanic Gardens, agreeing to go to the same bench in each of their worlds each midsummer’s day to remember each other. After Lyra and Mary find their worlds, Will breaks the subtle knife. Mary meets her daemon, which was previously invisible, but now takes the form of a black cat. Lyra returns to Jordan College. Once there, she decides to resume her study of the alethiometer, a device that can tell truth. Along with her daemon, the pine marten Pantalaimon, she decides to rebuild the idealistic spiritual society once known in her world as the Republic of Heaven.