What was the real message behind the “His Dark Materials” trilogy

Dennis Gosnell

Assignment Editor

For those who have read “The Golden Compass,” “The Subtle Knife,” and the “Amber Spyglass” it would come as no surprise that they have been challenged as inappropriate for schools and public libraries.

Posted on a “Library Thing” thread, user Atomicmutant posted that the series was the “anti-Narnia” of book series.

A little about the books

The central theme of the books revolves around the idea of sin. Throughout the books you hear mention of the main character Lyra Belacqua, otherwise known as Lyra Silvertongue, being important to the survival of not only her world but of all worlds. Lyra has a special destiny, or so many believe.

In book one of the series, Lyra is attempting to run from the Magisterium and a woman she later discovers is her mother.  Lyra wishes to reunite with her uncle, which she later learns is really her father, in order to give him the Golden Compass. Through her travels Lyra learns that the Magisterium is afraid of dust, and afraid of anyone who wishes to experiment with it. Yet, that is exactly what her father Lord Asriel is doing.

The Magisterium’s fear of dust originates with the story of Adam and Eve. They believe that dust was created from the Original Sin. Lord Asriel lies to them and tells them that he wishes to destroy or get rid of the dust and thus obliterate the punishment God put on all beings.

This is where things get tricky for the series, and perhaps causes the most trouble. Lord Asriel formulates a plan to battle the angels of heaven and The Authority aka God. The concepts of heaven become a little skewed in “His Dark Instruments”. It is the place that the angels and the Authority inhabit, and that the place the dead inhabit.

The “Fortress” as it is known in the book is the city of heaven. It is essentially an inter-dimensional floating city that houses the angels and The Authority.

The place where the dead go would be reminiscent of the Greek idea of the “Underworld” and it is policed by harpies who have to feed off of negative emotions in order to survive, at least until Lyra arrives and forces things to change.

Essentially Lyra and Will Perry, wielder of the Subtle Knife, are the Adam and Eve of their generation and must choose to between their love and righting the imbalances between the parallel worlds.

This summation does not do credit to the depth and ingenuity of Philip Pullmans combination of science and religious story telling.

Of course they are angry

There are multiple reasons for outrage from religious organizations.

It is has hard to pin point just which part of the story causes the most outrage. So in no specific order here are the topics that would perhaps cause the most issues:

  • There are homosexual angels who have been banished from their home due to their lifestyle choice.
  • There is the idea that The Authority was not the creator of the angels, but the first and most powerful of the angels. The Authority supposedly lied to all the angels and told them that he created them. The Authority is also so old that he abdicated his place in heaven to Metatron and The Authority must be sustained in a contraption to keep his essence from returning to the source of dust.
  • There is also the underworld-like area in which the dead do not experience a happiness or contentment. And would be a place where miseary and nothingness lasts forever.
  • The portrayal of Lyra and Will, as the reborn Adam and Eve, would be considered blasphemy in certain circles.
  • The idea of parallel worlds, and mixture of science and religion.

There are many more examples of anti-religious thoughts in the book.

Why they shouldn’t be angry


While the book does go about portraying religious organizations, angels, and God in a vilified manner there is also a message of acceptance or rather that all people need is a little understanding of the conflicts between individuals.

Lord Asriel throughout the book talks of overthrowing heaven to find the source of dust, but in reality he is trying to correct an imbalance of power between beings. All the while there is a hole in the fabric of existence in which all the dust or life force is escaping. No one knows this however, and are to busy squabbling over petty ideologies to realize that the real danger is indifference to the use and abuse of such power.

Whether or not this is the message Pullman was trying to convey to his readers, his books are certainly thought provoking and an imaginative collaboration of theologies, philosophies, and sciences.

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