This collection of supposedly critical essays was very disappointing. It reminded me of critical essays on Star Trek, which are too accepting of the work as a perfect and self-contained opus. Very seldom do the essays in "Illuminated" look at Pullman's literary creation with any critical distance; very seldom, for example, do they take note of the trilogy's many inconsistencies, plot holes, and cardboard characters. And although the essays do discuss the trilogy's relation to Blake, Milton, and Lewis, they rarely acknowledge its relation to the modern fantasy genre as well as atheist polemics -- much the same way that Star Trek fan criticism fails to acknowledge the Hollywood studio context of its opus.
I found Pullman's trilogy fascinating but deeply flawed. I am sympathetic to his atheist argument, but felt that he failed truly to engage Christianity in a fair fight (he hardly mentions Christ). I was disappointed because what I thought was going to be an anthem to atheist rationalism proved to be pantheist mysticism instead. And I thought the literary qualities of the third book were abominable, especially after the excellent work in the first. I had hoped to see some of these considerations explored in these essays, but I found them too uncritical, and above all, too eager to accept as satisfactory Pullman's ambitious but failed attempt at imagining a universe.
The debate that Pullman tackles deserves a better effort than his, substantial though it is, and I would like to see some criticism that sifts the solid points in Pullman's writing from the clumsy gaffes and points the way toward some better assessment of the argument.