What Pullman is up to – even in his statements to the press – aren't so obvious. For example, the church in his novels may seem to be a Roman Catholic caricature, but he isn't criticizing the Vatican so much as the concept of stifling orthodoxy. Indeed, the theology that threads together nearly every page is but the mask. The face underneath is authoritarian adulthood – and misguided notions about how best to help children grow up.
Today, the process of ushering a child into adulthood generally involves protecting (and then gradually stripping away) that child's innocence by prescribing the "edgy" or "mature" messages that we adults think these pre-adolescents should encounter. Messages about sex, for example. Or darker topics such as abuse.
On some level, adults find these subjects nonthreatening because they qualify as information. The idea is that they help children mature by exposing them to some of our society's darker realities.
What these topics and messages don't do is spark the kind of rigorous, open-minded questioning that defines truly mature thought. They're group-think in disguise. That is to say, they're still what adults – those arbiters of publishing for children – have, collectively, deemed "appropriate." And sadly, what's "appropriate" often sidesteps that which can't just be conveyed as information – the deep intellectual, ethical, and spiritual issues that require children to be thoughtful participants in a dialogue, not just empty vessels waiting to be filled.
Meanwhile, Pullman compels his young readers to do the edgiest thing of all, which is to think for themselves. It's not that he rejects adulthood. Instead, he recasts his best adult characters as interlocutors. And in his wonderful concept of Dust, Pullman gives the players in his trilogy a whole universe of stories and ideas to explore and to try on and, eventually, to settle into.