Analysis of ‘His Dark Materials’ by Phillip Pullman

Analysis of ‘His Dark Materials’ by Phillip Pullman

His Dark Materials is a trilogy written by Phillip Pullman. The three books are Northern Lights published in 1995, The Subtle Knife published in 1997 and The Amber Spyglass published in 2000. Northern lights was had the title The Golden Compass in America. There are many characters who appear in all the three novels but it traces the story of Lyra. The story happens in parallel universe. Phillip Pullman did not have any target audience but the plot and setting indicates it is written for young adults. There are fantasy elements and references are made to concepts from theology, physics and philosophy. These novels have won many awards and that includes Carnegie Medal in 1995 for Northern Lights and Whitbread Book award in the year 2001 for the book The Amber Spyglass. There is open criticism of the church and this has attracted controversy. These novels have been adapted to theatre and films.

Northern Lights or The Golden Compass

This novel begins in a world that is like the earth. LyraBelacqua is given shelter in Jordan College at Oxford University. Lyra saves her uncle Lord Asriel‘s life as he was about to be poisoned by the Headmaster. Lord Asriel is researching on something called “Dust”. Lyra is excited about Dust. In this novel it is mostly about people who capture children and Lyra sets out to find out who they are and she shocked to find that one main person was her godmother Mrs Coulter. Many incidents come into Lyra’s life and she realises that Mrs. Coulter is her mother and Lord Asriel is her father. But that does not change Lyra’s opinion about Mrs. Coulter. Lyra meets a clan called Gyptians who give her alethiometer, a device to see the past, present and future. Gyptians take Lyra to north in search of children. With the help of many others Lyra frees the children but Mrs. Coulter pursues her.  Roger, her daemon dies and Lord Asriel builds a bridge from his world to another. Lyra also follows into the other world.

The Subtle Knife

In this novel another boy called Will Parry is introduced. He lives in Oxford with his mother. There are some following his mother and he wants to escape from them. He moves her to Mrs.Cooper’s  house who was his old piano teacher. After that he returns home to find that the men have returned and are looking for some letters which were the exchanges between his mother and father. Will finds the letters before them and escapes and even kills one of them. As he is running he falls into a hole and he reaches another world and he meets Lyra there. The absence of daemons surprises Lyra and Will learns about daemons. There are witches and Mrs. Coulter who captures the witches. They meet another young girl Angelica and her Paolo. In their city there are ‘specters’ who can be seen by adults only and they feed on their souls.Lyra and Will go back to the world of Will and they search for his father, an Artic explorer John Parry. Lyra is also looking for a physicist who could tell her more about Dust. Alethiometer helps Lyra and Will.

Latrom steals alethiometer but agrees to give it back to him if they steal a powerful weapon, subtle knife, for him. After a fight Will gets the subtle knife. Subtel knife could make holes between worlds so Lyra and Will use this weapon to get back alethiometer from Latrom. There are many more incidents and Will and Lyra separate and when Will comes in search of Lyra he does not find but only alethiometer alone is there.

The Amber Spyglass

This book is set in Himalayas and Lyra is kept captive by Mrs. Coulter. She is feeding Lyra some poison which keeps her asleep all the time. Lord Asriel plans to save Lyra. The church spoils this plan. Will reaches Lyra through Ama the native of Himalayas. More events unfold. Meanwhile Will and Lyra realise they are in love. When Lyra tries to consult alethiometer she realises she has lost the ability to read it. Lyra realises that she cannot live with Will and both of them live in their respective worlds. Lyra meets a female scholar who teaches Lyra to read her alethiometer. Lyra resigns to her fate to the life given to her and she works to build a republic of Heaven.


The trilogy moves through different worlds and they are parallel worlds. The world of Northern Lights is similar to our own. The way of dressing is similar but its Victorian era and there are no evolved transports. In the second novel the story moves from our own world to the world of the previous novel. The third novel is also in our world. The aelthiometer, subtle knife also play an important role in the story.

Christianity is not shown in good light. There is someone who from the church who is trying to capture Lyra. Lord Asriel wants to kill God. There are such references which seem to be uncommon in novels. The control of church is in different ways condemned in the novel. Freedom through knowledge is another predominant theme. Church again makes sure that ignorance exists and adults are not free thinking individuals. While the church saw the fall as the ruin of humanity, Lord Asriel, the witches saw the mistake of Adam and Eve the beginning of good in the world. The church would have been happy if the whole world had remained in that ignorance forever. Lord Asriel and his supporters put up a rebellion to make sure that everyone has the right to become knowledgeable and become a free thinking adult.

The trilogy is for young adults by the way of setting and the plot. But the deeper significance might be lost on the young adults. Only reflective people can understand the spirit with which Philip Pullman has written the novel.