Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
His Dark Materials
Although ostensibly for children, the appeal of the novels is equally compelling for adults. Pullman himself describes the target range as 'young adult', and some say that the books are too intellectual in content for most children. Pullman's universe —or rather multiverse— like those of many other contemporary fantasy writers such as Michael Moorcock and Clive Barker, is multilayered and multifaceted, with possibilities for characters to slip between them.
The story begins in Northern Lights, initially as a typical fantasy. However, Pullman introduces ideas throughout the trilogy which have implications in many areas, such as metaphysics, religion, and philosophy. The third book, The Amber Spyglass, relies heavily on quantum physics and philosophy.
Because of the trilogy's allegorical meaning and purpose, told through the medium of a fantasy novel, the books appeal to all ages, and may indeed be, as they have been often called, 'life-changing', due to the profound implications of the story that the reader is forced to realise.
Whilst Northern Lights, set in a universe separate from our own, might justifiably be called 'fantasy', both The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass contain a "heady brew of quantum physics" , and cross into our own world. The Amber Spyglass is a scientific, theoretical, philosophical, "metaphysical speculation" and exploration, whilst still remaining a compelling and gripping story.
The Amber Spyglass won the 2002 Whitbread Book of the Year award, a prestigious British literature award. This is the first time that such an award has been bestowed on a book from their "children's literature" category. The first volume Northern Lights (US:The Golden Compass) won the Carnegie Medal for children's fiction in the UK in 1995
Influences and reaction
The novels draw heavily on gnostic ideas. There are three major literary influences acknowledged by Pullman himself, such as the essay On the Marionette Theatre by Heinrich von Kleist and the works of William Blake. But the source that he gives for the basic idea is the war in heaven and hell of John Milton's Paradise Lost (from which the title of the trilogy is taken). Pullman's stated intention was to invert the story. He states that the work is no longer much read in Britain by schools and universities. And in his introduction, he adapts Blake's line to quip that he (Pullman) "is of the Devil's party and does know it."
His Dark Materials has been at the heart of controversy, especially with certain Christian groups. Pullman has, however, also found support from more liberal groups, and most notably Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. These say that Pullman's attacks are focused on the constraints of dogmatism and the use of religion to oppress, not Christianity itself.
- In Northern Lights (published in the USA as The Golden Compass), the heroine Lyra Belacqua, a young girl brought up in the cloistered world of Jordan College, Oxford, and her dæmon—an animal-shaped manifestation of her soul—journey to the icy wastelands of the far North to save their best friend Roger, and other kidnapped children from experimentation by evil scientists and a revisionist church in an alternate universe. This world is much like our own, but with many differences.
- In The Subtle Knife, Lyra journeys to another world, to a city called Cittągazze (the "city of magpies"), where she meets Will Parry, an eleven-year-old boy from our own world who has recently killed a man to protect his ailing mother. Together they travel from world to world and discover the Subtle Knife of the novel's title—so called because it can cut through the barriers between the worlds—and begin to uncover the truth of their own destiny.
- In The Amber Spyglass, the series concludes with Will and Lyra visiting the Land of the Dead and releasing the dead souls from their captivity, the overthrow of The Authority, the destruction of the Subtle Knife, and the sealing of the passageways between the worlds by the angels.
The trilogy has also been published as a single-volume omnibus in the UK.
To enhance the feeling of being in a parallel universe, whilst Pullman is in Lyra's world, he renames various common objects of our world with alternatives, creating a distinct atmosphere of slight dissimilarity. The alternative names he chooses often utilise alternate etymologies, but in most cases make it possible to guess what everyday object or person he is referring to. Lyra's world is highly church-based, and is more traditional, and somehow lagged in development compared to our own.
The following are translations of some of the words he uses:
- Anbaric: Electric.
- Naptha: Oil (as in oil-lamp, rather than naptha-lamp).
- Chthonic Railway Station: The Tube-station.
- Muscovite: A Russian, from Moscow.
- Skraeling: A person of Greenland.
- Gyptian: A Gypsy.
- Coal-silk: Carbon-fibre (coal as in carbon, silk as in soft, like carbon-fibre coats).
- Gyropter: A Helicopter (though we assume a more primitive version, created by Lord Asriel's army).
- Chocolatl: Chocolate.
His Dark Materials has been made into a radio drama on BBC Radio Four starring Terence Stamp as Lord Asriel and Lulu Popplewell as Lyra. The play was broadcast in 2003 and is now published by the BBC on CD and cassette. In the same year a radio drama of Northern Lights was made by RTE (Irish public radio).
A theatrical version of the books has been produced by Nicholas Hytner as a two-part, 6 hour performance for London's Royal National Theatre in Q1 of 2004. All 126 performances at the 1110-seat Olivier Theatre sold out before the opening day. The play returned for a second run between November 2004 and April 2005.
A film adaptation, titled His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass, is slated for release in 2006 by New Line Cinema. The original director, Chris Weitz, announced his resignation on December 15, 2004. Prior to resigning he rejected a script by Tom Stoppard and controversially indicated that the film would make no direct mention of religion due to the viewpoint the books suggest.
In the autumn of 2003, Pullman published Lyra's Oxford, which consists of a short story called "Lyra and the Birds," focusing on Lyra at sixteen years old, and a collection of materials from all over the HDM universes, including a map of the Oxford of Lyra's world. Lyra's Oxford is a precursor to the forthcoming The Book of Dust, which will focus on the trilogy's secondary characters.
- Randomhouse His Dark Materials official site
- His Dark Materials .org fansite
- His Dark Materials - BridgetotheStars.Net fansite
- The BBC's "His Dark Materials" pages
- His Dark Materials at the National Theatre, London
- The Archbishop of Canterbury and Philip Pullman in conversation in The Telegraph
- BridgetotheStars.net interview with Chris Weitz and a report on this interview from The Times, December, 2004.
- The Fiction of Ceres Wunderkind Fan fiction and articles
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