It was a very long time ago when I first read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, and with The Book of Dust on the horizon, I thought it was about time I refreshed my memory. I enjoyed Northern Lights even more the second time round and I think I got a lot more out of it. I don’t think I really cottoned onto the whole original sin part before, having not really paid too much attention to theological discussions whilst at school.
So Dust may be strange, and we wonder at it, but we don’t fret and tear things apart to examine it. Leave that to the Church.
What I do remember was the horror over being “severed” and it has not lost any of its impact in a second reading. I probably didn’t cry the first time Lyra finds the poor severed boy. It’s a mark of how well the world-building is done that a minor character can elicit such a reaction. He represents the worst thing an adult could do to a child in the name of religion, to violate body and soul in such a way. It’s a huge taboo to touch another’s dæmon, they are such a personal thing.
I guess when I first read it I was enamoured over the idea of having a dæmon, a talking animal friend who would be with you whatever. That side definitely appeals to the younger readers, but they represent so much more. When the children reach adolescence, their dæmon assume a fixed form, one that can say a lot about a person.
That’s the duty of the old, to be anxious on behalf of the young. And the duty of the young is to scorn the anxiety of the old.
I had completely forgotten what happened with Iofer Raknisen, the armoured bear. He might be a mercenary but he is also Lyra’s protector. He is also an outcast and has had his equivalent of his soul stripped from him too. Whilst humans have dæmons, bears have their armour, made from sky iron. Iofer’s armour may not be shiny but it is true to him, unlike the new bear king, who is far more human in his ways.
Mrs Coulter is a fantastic villain, she doesn’t wear her ugliness on the outside. She is charming and beautiful, no one would consider her to want to do harm to children. Although she believes she is doing the children a favour, probably the most dangerous kind of villain. Lyra and Pan do get a funny feeling from her dæmon though, a crafty golden monkey.
I’m looking forward to continuing my re-read with The Subtle Knife, especially considering how little I actually remember.
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