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"His Dark Materials" Book Discussion

post #1 of 35
Thread Starter 
I just finished reading His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, which includes The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. I have not (yet?) seen the movie version of The Golden Compass.

I'd like to talk about all 3 books as a unit, and I don't see a need for using spoiler tags here- if you don't want to be spoiled, don't read this thread.


The ending left me with a feeling of satisfaction- all the characters are safe and settled- but I'm still not quite sure how things got that way.

One thing that REALLY disturbs me about the whole trilogy is the concept that children's souls are fundamentally different from adults, and that something significant happens at puberty. Children have as much Dust as objects that adults have handled, not as much as adults have? It's almost as if he's saying that children are somehow less than fully human- yet having the whole Universe hinge on the action of 2 children, and children being the main characters of the story negate that idea.

I still don't quite understand what Lyra and Will did that fixed the hemorage of Dust. They can't possibly be the first couple to fall in love and kiss! (did they ONLY kiss?) I really don't see how they did anything resembling Adam and Eve and the Serpent in the Garden of Eden. Where was Lyra's "choice" or "chance to fail" that the whole Universe was depending on? A couple of kids kiss each other and everything is saved?
post #2 of 35
Thread Starter 
Anybody else read this series recently?
post #3 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ruthla View Post
I just finished reading His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, which includes The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. I have not (yet?) seen the movie version of The Golden Compass.

I still don't quite understand what Lyra and Will did that fixed the hemorage of Dust. They can't possibly be the first couple to fall in love and kiss! (did they ONLY kiss?) I really don't see how they did anything resembling Adam and Eve and the Serpent in the Garden of Eden. Where was Lyra's "choice" or "chance to fail" that the whole Universe was depending on? A couple of kids kiss each other and everything is saved?
I just finished the trilogy about 2-3 weeks ago. It is still swimming around in my mind. I had the exact same thought. How was Mary the serpent??? Where was this huge choice and what did she do?? I kept thinking- is this about falling in love with Will? or deciding that they will live in their own worlds and never see each other again? I guess that was it but after all the profound things that happened I was a bit disillusioned by that. Mary as the serpent still has me scratching my head though.

Blessings,
post #4 of 35
Thread Starter 
I figured out the "serpent" thing.

Remember in the other version of Genesis, by those wheeled elephant people? Mulefa or something like that? Their version of Eve and the Serpent was positive: the snake coiled itself out of the center of the wheel-pod, and the Eve person stuck her claw into the center of the wheel pod and learned how to roll and started getting Sraf (Dust) flowing into her and she shared her discovery with the rest of the tribe. So the Serpent simply opened Eve's eyes to the beaty that was already available; it didn't destroy anything and Eve didn't make any "wrong choices."

By telling Will and Lyra the story of the first man she fell in love with, she "opened their eyes" to romantic love and they were able to act on their feelings.

But I still don't understand how two adolescents kissing (or more?) fixed the rift in the world. Remember that the Dust/Sraf stopped flowing out towards the sea after they kissed, and before they learned about the Windows causing damage and the hard choices that they had to make.
post #5 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ruthla View Post
I figured out the "serpent" thing.

Remember in the other version of Genesis, by those wheeled elephant people? Mulefa or something like that? Their version of Eve and the Serpent was positive: the snake coiled itself out of the center of the wheel-pod, and the Eve person stuck her claw into the center of the wheel pod and learned how to roll and started getting Sraf (Dust) flowing into her and she shared her discovery with the rest of the tribe. So the Serpent simply opened Eve's eyes to the beaty that was already available; it didn't destroy anything and Eve didn't make any "wrong choices."

By telling Will and Lyra the story of the first man she fell in love with, she "opened their eyes" to romantic love and they were able to act on their feelings.

But I still don't understand how two adolescents kissing (or more?) fixed the rift in the world. Remember that the Dust/Sraf stopped flowing out towards the sea after they kissed, and before they learned about the Windows causing damage and the hard choices that they had to make.
Aha! Thank you, I had been wondering about that too. I think that's almost too subtle, though -- I mean, the assassin chasing the temptress storyline occupied a big portion of this book, so I was really expecting something more dramatic and obvious.

And while I did like the fact that Will and Lyra fell in love, and I got teary when they sacrificed their love to save the worlds, I admit that in the back of my mind, I was thinking, "But they're only twelve! What do they know about really being in love?" Perhaps I'm just a cynic.
post #6 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ruthla View Post
I figured out the "serpent" thing.

Remember in the other version of Genesis, by those wheeled elephant people? Mulefa or something like that? Their version of Eve and the Serpent was positive: the snake coiled itself out of the center of the wheel-pod, and the Eve person stuck her claw into the center of the wheel pod and learned how to roll and started getting Sraf (Dust) flowing into her and she shared her discovery with the rest of the tribe. So the Serpent simply opened Eve's eyes to the beaty that was already available; it didn't destroy anything and Eve didn't make any "wrong choices."

By telling Will and Lyra the story of the first man she fell in love with, she "opened their eyes" to romantic love and they were able to act on their feelings.

But I still don't understand how two adolescents kissing (or more?) fixed the rift in the world. Remember that the Dust/Sraf stopped flowing out towards the sea after they kissed, and before they learned about the Windows causing damage and the hard choices that they had to make.
Thank you for that Ruthla!
Somehow that swept by me, I really was expecting something more profound. I loved the series but I felt a bit disappointed by the way he wrapped things up.
post #7 of 35
I also don't understand why the dust stopped pouring out before they closed all the windows....
post #8 of 35
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Traci mom23boys View Post
Thank you for that Ruthla!
Somehow that swept by me, I really was expecting something more profound. I loved the series but I felt a bit disappointed by the way he wrapped things up.
I was also expecting something more obvious. As far as being "profound"- maybe he was trying to say something profound about adolescent love? Something about falling in love and "losing that childhood innocence" and suddenly being thrust into adulthood, spiritually?
post #9 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ruthla View Post
But I still don't understand how two adolescents kissing (or more?) fixed the rift in the world.
When Mary is talking about it to Serafina, she says, "Something happened today . . . Something tiny but crucial . . . If you wanted to divert a mighty river into a different course, and all you had was a single pebble, you could do it, as long as you put the pebble in the right place to send the first trickle of water that way instead of this. Something like that happened . . . And then the Dust was attracted to them, very powerfully, and it stopped flowing the other way."
It sounds to me as if Lyra and Will just happened to be in the right place at the right time to act like that pebble. It could have been any two kids falling in love and kissing; it didn't have to be them, but because it turned out that it was them, Lyra became another Eve.
post #10 of 35
Thread Starter 
I guess I'm still having trouble with the underlying concept that falling in love for the first time changes you from a "child" to an "adult". The whole concept of Dust being attracted to adults but not children just seems weird to me-as if children "don't matter" on a Cosmic level.
post #11 of 35
I also thought it was more that Lyra and Will's kiss/relationship stopped the flow of dust because she was destined to do it, and also maybe because of the 'right place right time' idea (are my two thought mutually exclusive? They made sense in my head...).

Also, I dont' know that the difference between children's souls et adult souls make the children seem less human. To me, it made the adults seem not really less human, but less, I don't know, pure? Innocent? Less aware of nature and self? To me, it seems that the child's soul is better; but as with all growing up, when we become older we become more aware of what is going on and lose some of our innocence and wonder. That was what the kiss, the permanence of demon shape meant to me. Eating the apple to eve was like growing up to Lyra (or any of us). Knowledge comes at a price.
post #12 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by lorijds View Post
Also, I dont' know that the difference between children's souls et adult souls make the children seem less human. To me, it made the adults seem not really less human, but less, I don't know, pure? Innocent? Less aware of nature and self? To me, it seems that the child's soul is better; but as with all growing up, when we become older we become more aware of what is going on and lose some of our innocence and wonder. That was what the kiss, the permanence of demon shape meant to me. Eating the apple to eve was like growing up to Lyra (or any of us). Knowledge comes at a price.
I agree with your interpretation. I always thought Pullman was trying to say that children's souls - like their daemons - are not *fixed* yet - they haven't settled into the story of their own identity, they are still fluid and changing, they haven't decided "this is probably what my whole life is going to be like." I thing their innocence, their lack of self-awareness, allows them to believe in magic and fantastic things - it allowed Lyra to tell her stories/lies and make them believable, it allowed Will and Lyra to believe they could undertake this massive quest to save the world. I think as we get older, we are more aware of our limitations as individuals - from the hard lessons we learn along the way, like falling in love for the first time. And because of this, we are less likely to believe that all things are possible in the world.

Falling in love for the first time - that kind of experience marks us, makes us different, makes something about us permanent and lasting, changed by the experience in a particular way - having been known so intimately by another, or knowing someone else so intimately, leaves an indelible mark on our souls, in my opinion.

And I also think Pullman was trying to say something about intentionality - that having explicit intentions makes someone a grown-up. Lyra kind of bobs along being Lyra, and because she is a child that works for her, to her advantage - she can read the compass, tell her tales, etc withing much forethought. But when we form deliberate intentions, and act upon them despite the fact that they may be painful - such as leaving your first love forever - then you are an adult. Does that make sense?

Sorry to just jump in like that! I just finished re-reading the whole series last month. I first read them about 7 years or so ago? I still loved it as much as I did the first time, although the ending didn't tear me apart as it did then. I think I cried for like the last 1/4 of the book!
post #13 of 35
Thank you Ruth (and others) for asking these questions! I'd had those questions floating around in my head but hadn't put them into words.

It's significant that many cultures have rites of passage when a child gets to be 11, 12, 13 y.o. We universally acknowledge that there is a difference between childhood and adulthood. In Pullman's world it seems that sexual awareness marks the beginning of adulthood. Still, why would that affect a person's dust and/or daemon? I don't think he explains why, in his world, a first sexual encounter would fix a person's- personality? identity? soul?
post #14 of 35
Thread Starter 
Looking back on my adolescence, and being the mother of two adolescents right now, I strongly disagree with Pullman's idea that one moment marks "growing up"- I see it as a much longer, more drawn-out process. According to Jewish Law, my oldest daughter is "an adult" but she's certainly not finished growing up yet!

I also wonder if Pullman thinks that having a "first kiss" is ONE WAY to grow up, or if it's the ONLY way for this to happen. Would somebody's Daemon not select a form until having a romance?

I just thought of something else. By having "intentionally touching your lover's daemon" be a sexual act, it gives another dimension to all those times when Mrs. Coulter or her cronies handled somebody else's daemon in violence. It's akin to rape or molestation. And that kind of touching didn't cause the daemons to become fixed- it wasn't sex, it was violence. Is he saying that victims of molestation are just as pure and innocent as non-victims?
post #15 of 35
I didn't get the impression that kissing was what made Will's and Lyra's daemon's settle. I imagined that was something that just happened at a certain age, the same age where a kid would start getting interested in romance. I assumed their daemons would have settled once they reached that age even if they had never had any kind of actual romantic experience, and that it was just coincidence that they happened to kiss and fall in love just when they were at the point when their daemons were about ready to settle.
post #16 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by Daffodil View Post
I didn't get the impression that kissing was what made Will's and Lyra's daemon's settle. I imagined that was something that just happened at a certain age, the same age where a kid would start getting interested in romance. I assumed their daemons would have settled once they reached that age even if they had never had any kind of actual romantic experience, and that it was just coincidence that they happened to kiss and fall in love just when they were at the point when their daemons were about ready to settle.
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post #17 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by Daffodil View Post
I didn't get the impression that kissing was what made Will's and Lyra's daemon's settle. I imagined that was something that just happened at a certain age, the same age where a kid would start getting interested in romance. I assumed their daemons would have settled once they reached that age even if they had never had any kind of actual romantic experience, and that it was just coincidence that they happened to kiss and fall in love just when they were at the point when their daemons were about ready to settle.

Okay, I can see this.
post #18 of 35

just finished the trilogy ....

yesterday ... and found the books to be as captivating as the Harry Potter series. I read this trilogy in three weeks (one a week).

To add to the conversation about the daemons ... I recall that there was mention (I think in The Golden Compass) of some people who had daemons of the same gender. To me, the theme of homosexuality was not touched on in books ... but it leaves room for speculation as to whether a 'first love' experience rather than leaving the world of childhood is the catalyst for the daemons settling.

In The Amber Spyglass, the metaphor of "Eve" and the fruit and the kiss ... seemed, to me, to parallel the Biblical story in which humans gain knowledge and then are changed. Of course, Biblical knowledge has implications of sexuality as well. Then, we find that Will and Lyra must leave the world of the sea-pods (there Eden) and remain apart forever .... somewhat similar to the Biblical account of the sword-armed cherubim barring a return to Eden.
post #19 of 35
Thread Starter 
I also wondered about same-sex daemons and homosexuality. Is the daemon the gender of person you're attracted to? But then what about bisexual people?
post #20 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ruthla View Post
I just thought of something else. By having "intentionally touching your lover's daemon" be a sexual act, it gives another dimension to all those times when Mrs. Coulter or her cronies handled somebody else's daemon in violence. It's akin to rape or molestation. And that kind of touching didn't cause the daemons to become fixed- it wasn't sex, it was violence. Is he saying that victims of molestation are just as pure and innocent as non-victims?
Wow, what an intense statement. I felt like what Mrs Coulter and her crew were doing was rape/molestation when I was reading it. I was moved to tears during the description of that "school" and when the children were hooked to the machine that would remove their daemons. Some of those children were "lost" and I think that could easily be transfered to sexually abused children and how some children are completely destroyed by the violence and abuse of adults while others are incredibly resilient and are able to move on.

I truly loved these books. I felt they were much more thought provoking than any other youth literature I have read in a long time. I believe the religious tones are so open to interpretation based on your own upbringing and spiritual experiences. I believe Pullman did this on purpose because it forces us all to examine ourselves while we are reading his stories. He certainly left me with more questions than answers and I am ok with that.
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