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His Dark Materials Through a Different Spyglass: A Reading of Philip Pullman’s Trilogy in the Light of Taoism
Halmstad University, School of Humanities (HUM).
2012 (English)Independent thesis Basic level (degree of Bachelor), 10 credits / 15 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

On one level Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials is a fantasy trilogy that takes place in different universes, a story with the classic ingredients: A child who is the chosen one, a magical object that will help her on the way, and ultimately a clash between good and evil. At the same time, the message in His Dark Materials is quite unusual for a children’s book. The story is a modern retelling of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, but in Pullman’s version God does not prevail. The goal of the heroes is to overthrow Authority, which in these novels is represented by the Magisterium - the counterpart of the Christian church. The trilogy, consisting of Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, was published between 1995 and 2001. It aims severe critique towards religion, and in particular Christianity, showing it as an oppressive force that interferes with the right of living free lives and making free choices. However, scratching the surface, something else is revealed. What is the purpose of the critique? There also needs to be an opposite, an idea of what the world should be like, and in His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman gives the reader a picture of his own idea of the perfect world. It includes the Garden of Eden as well as Heaven, and the new perfect world originates with new versions of Adam and Eve. But that is where the similarities end. Because although Pullman’s story is inspired by biblical myths, his perfect world is not based on biblical values. Pullman strongly believes that all religions where one single god is in the centre is a threat to freedom and knowledge, thus he equates monotheism with negative authority. Pullman wants to separate religion from power and oppression, and creates a fantasy world where freedom, insight and love are parts of the central philosophy, and the ultimate goals of the heroine.

In this essay, I will analyse what the idea of a perfect world is in the trilogy. I will begin by discussing the concept of Dust, which is the cornerstone in Pullman’s world. I will then focus on three different aspects of the story – the mulefa world, the role of the protagonist, and the concept of the Republic versus the Kingdom of heaven. I will link the novels to the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism and make a close reading of them through a Taoist lens, to see what can be revealed. His Dark Materials deals much with the importance of living with nature, and the themes in the trilogy are free will, consciousness and making choices based on insight. In these aspects Pullman’s idea of the perfect world is based on the fundamental principles of Taoism, and he retells the biblical myths - with his own twists - to show these Taoist principles and their meaning in the story.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2012. , 20 p.
Keyword [en]
His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman, fantasy trilogy, taoism
National Category
Languages and Literature
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:hh:diva-19092OAI: oai:DiVA.org:hh-19092DiVA: diva2:538760
Subject / course
English
Uppsok
Humanities, Theology
Supervisors
Available from: 2012-07-02 Created: 2012-07-02 Last updated: 2012-07-02Bibliographically approved

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