His Dark Materials: The Moments that Swayed the Soul

His Dark Materials: The Moments that Swayed the Soul

Paul Hunter
December 26 2022 - 11:13am

Countless outcasts and freethinkers have found refuge in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. He told us that it was OK to disobey and to question. We could be whoever we wanted to be, believe whatever we wanted to believe, and we didn't have to apologize for it. The value of that message cannot be overstated, and it was delivered with unrivaled prowess and skill. Pullman was a master storyteller. He could leave us in shock or on the verge of tears. There were moments when we'd have to take a step back, catch our breath, and recognize just how beautiful his words could be. 

I will never forget those moments, and I hope nobody else does either. These books should be passed down from parent to child, kept as heirlooms, and cherished for generations. They belong on the shelf with all of the greatest works of western literature. Nobody who has read them could possibly deny that they are masterpieces. 

It is with a spirit of dedication and honor that we memorialize the scenes that swayed the soul.

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Courtesy of BBC

Lyra Helps FInd Iorek Byrnison's Armor

The panserbjørn were sentient fighting machines, as powerful as a tank and as brutal as any predator. No force in Lyra's world could go against them--at least not in hand-to-hand combat. When we're first introduced to them, they're considered far too dangerous to approach. But Lyra was able to gain the trust of their former king. 

It was amazing to see, especially when she found his armor and he let loose. Pullman had a way of putting his strength on display. It also said a lot about her character. She was just a child, and she managed to gain the loyalty of one of the most powerful creatures in her world.

Courtesy of BBC

The Prophecy

When Lyra and the Gyptians arrived in Trollesund on their way to the North, Farder Coram took Lyra to see Dr. Lanselius, a diplomat between humans and witches. Dr. Lanselius asked Lyra to use the alethiometer to find the cloud pine that belonged to the witch queen, Serafina Pekkala. While she searched for it, he quietly confessed to Coram that there was a prophecy about her. 

He said that the witches live in a place where the veil between the worlds is thin. They had heard whispers from angels about a child who would bring about the end of destiny. Her mission would be completed in a far-off world, and she needed to be completely ignorant of it, or she would fail. 

He added that he was glad to see her before he died--perhaps a reference to a man in the Bible who said the same thing to Jesus. As the story went on, we learned more about her. She was said to be Eve, the mother of all sin. She would be tempted by a serpent, and when she did, she would fall. Nothing could possibly have been more compelling.

Courtesy of BBC

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Finding Billy Costa

Early in the story, we started hearing rumors about a group called the gobblers, also known as the General Oblation Board. They had been abducting vulnerable children off of the streets of London, and Gyptians were being targetted. When they found Lyra, they agreed to take her North to stage a rescue. That's where they found poor Billy Costa. His daemon had been cut away and stolen from him, and he was shivering, begging for her to come back. He was actually clinging to a fish, pretending it was her, simply because he couldn't live with the pain of being separated from her. 

It was one of the most disturbing scenes in the entire series. Lyra and the others were so traumatized by it that they could barely look at him. Daemons were a physical manifestation of the soul. They had to stay close to their humans. If they tried to move away, the pain would be unbearable. But the gobblers had found a way to cut the invisible bond between them. It was a crime against humanity.

Lyra's Intercision

Mrs. Coulter was the embodiment of evil. The Magisterium granted her funding to study dust, an elementary particle that they believed to be sin. It attached itself to a child's body once they reached puberty, causing what they believed to be the loss of innocence. She found that she could stop that from happening if she severed their bond with their daemons first. So she started abducting children and experimenting on them at a facility in the North.

Lyra entered that facility under a false name and watched as they called one child back after another. It was terrifying. She knew that they were committing an unspeakable crime, and she was powerless to stop them. When they called her back, she fought with everything she had, and so did Pan. Both of them were completely hysterical. It only got worse when they were placed in separate cages and the pain of separation came on. 

The suspense was nerve-racking. Just before they could finish, Mrs. Coulter rushed in and saved her. It was like finally being able to breathe after nearly suffocating to death. It might have seemed like a heartfelt display of motherly love, but it was so much more than that. It showed us that she was fully aware of what she was doing to those children. She knew that it was a crime against humanity, and she didn't care, so long as it wasn't her own daughter.

Roger's Death

His Dark Materials was the search for Roger, Lyra's best friend--almost from cover to cover, and the lengths she went to find him were unbelievable. She was just small child, and yet she was able to build an army of Gyptians and witches and gain the trust of an armored bear. She even managed to make the journey to the arctic. Then she rescued those children, and she brought Roger to safety. It was beautiful.

When she had accomplished her mission and shutdown Mrs. Coulter's facility, she set out to make her way to the bear kingdom, hoping to bring the alethiometer to her father, Lord Asriel, who was being held prisoner there. She adored Asriel. He was a wild spirit, just like she was. He didn't apologize for being himself, and he was never going to conform. He also had the ability to make use of something similar to the law of attraction. When he needed something--whether it was lab equipment or a way to cross into another world--it would come to him. That's how he built his republic. 

In this case, he needed a child to perform a sacrifice and open a doorway between the worlds. When Lyra came to him, he was shocked. He couldn't kill his own daughter, which is why he was relieved when he saw Roger. He took Roger to the top of a mountain and severed his daemon. It was horrific, the ultimate betrayal, but it was also intriguing. We needed to see what was beyond that door. Unfortunately we had to wait until the next book to find out.

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Will Finds His Father

Will's father, John Parry, was an explorer who discovered a doorway in the arctic. When he crossed through, the way was blocked, and he found himself trapped in Lyra's world. There he changed his name to Stanislaus Grumman and studied to become a shaman. Meanwhile, Will was fending for himself and taking care of his delusional mother.

After a series of break-ins, he was forced to flee. He left his mother with one of his neighbors and came across another doorway leading to Citagazze. He would've given anything to find his father, and he did. But as soon as they recognized one another, John was killed by a witch whose love he had spurned. 

It was highly disappointing. Will got exactly what he wanted, only to have it taken away in a second, and their journey toward one another mattered. Both Lee Scoresby and John Parry died in the process. It felt like a waste.

Courtesy of BBC

The Death of Baruch

Philip Pullman took a lot of risks when he was writing His Dark Materials. Some of the material is so controversial that it's a wonder the series was published at all. Baruch and Balthamos were one of his biggest gambles. They were two angels of a lower order who hunted down Will to bring him to Lord Asriel. He meets them after his father is killed. 

Angels are sexless. They had no genitalia, nothing. They couldn't reproduce the way that we do. But Baruch and Balthamos were always obviously men, and they were referred to as such. They were also madly in love. Pullman went to great lengths to describe the depth of their devotion to one another. They would embrace and show affection. 

They had this connection that allowed them to feel one another when they were apart. So when Baruch died on his way to speak with Lord Asriel, Balthamos knew exactly what was happening. His grief was enough to break anyone's heart. He shrieked. He cried and sulked. He soared into the heavens and fell back down again. We felt it, which made little sense. At the time when the book was written, the public's response to homosexuality was universal hatred and sometimes violence. We heard a lot about Matthew Shepherd and hate crimes, but most people made fun of him. It was like watching bullies on a school playground. But when Philip Pullman depicted it, nobody cared. They grieved just like the angel. He had this way of crossing those boundaries, fooling us into giving up our prejudices. That was his genius.

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Descent Into the Underworld

When we finally learned what it meant to bring an end to destiny, most of us were so enthralled and so shaken by what we had read, we couldn't look away if we tried. Lyra and Will's journey to the underworld may have been one of the most epic undertakings in modern literature. It was beautifully composed and rich in symbolism, and it takes its roots in one of the oldest myths known to mankind: the Legend of the Descent. It also has parallels to the story of Jesus' resurrection. 

Lyra became a new messiah. She died, found a way to redeem the dead, and rose again--only this time, there was no belief or devotion required. So long as the dead were willing to tell the truth to the harpies--metaphorically being true to themselves--they would be guided back to the land of the living where they belonged. 

In the beginning of the third book, the Amber Spyglass, the angels said something interesting. They tell Will that heaven and hell were just myths, created by the angels. In reality, the land of the dead was a horrible place--a work camp, where ghosts were trapped and tormented. It's also suggested that their prison break dealt a blow to Metatron. He was using their suffering to build power.

Courtesy of BBC

The Death of the Authority

Philip Pullman wrote a children's book about deicide, and not only did he succeed, he became an international bestseller. In the UK, he was on par with J.K. Rowling for quite some time. His series won multiple awards. It was adapted twice into film, and it's considered by many to be one of the greatest works of our generation. 

The way he executed the Authority's death was nothing short of genius. If he was flamboyant about it, people would protest. They'd call him Satanic and treat him like the next Salman Rushdie. That's why there was no final battle, no lengthy monologue, and no lightning bolts. He was just a frail, dying spirit that dissipated once he was let free into the open air. It was so muted that it was almost like it never happened. That was intentional.

Every single word of His Dark Materials is precious and beautiful. If it touched your soul, don't throw away your books and forget about the series. Share it with others. Lend the books out. Give them to your children. Let's keep this story alive and honor it. It should never be forgotten.

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