Reflections on the World of His Dark Materials

I have revisited Lyra in His Dark Materials recently with the release of the second Book of Dust: The Secret Commonwealth. The original fantasy trilogy consisted of the Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife (my favorite), and the Amber Spyglass as a teenage Lyra navigates worlds to discover the source and purpose of Dust. The second trilogy (the Book of Dust series) is still being written by Phillip Pullman, and explores how Lyra came to live at Oxford (Book One) and how a 23-year old Lyra struggles to understand her place in the world (Book Two, which I am currently reading).

The themes of psychology, theology (original series is about killing God), and with the most recent book, existentialism, are absolutely fascinating to me in the context of Lyra’s world. See, what is special about her world is the existence of daemons (pronounced demons), which are animals/beings/projections of the inner self that every human has in this fantasy world. When someone is a child, their daemon shifts between animal forms at will, usually rapidly changing to reflect the state of mind of their human (think a lazy cat if the child is being lazy or a fox if the child is being sly). As the child gets older, the daemon settles into one form, around the teenage years (the original trilogy focuses on this stage). A literal wearing of a person’s heart on their sleeve, daemons give an insight to the nature of their person’s character and mindset.

A few things I want to focus on:

The daemons are always the opposite sex of their human. A male human will have a female daemon, and vice versa. The idea that Pullman understands and reveres the polarity of the masculine and feminine inside of each of us so much to create an entire concept of a daemon to show the importance of balancing and respecting the opposite energy is so cool to me. In typical healthy daemon/human relationships, human and daemon exchange intense dialogue, offering different ideas and perspectives on their plights, but always trusting in their loving connection (mirroring what we would consider a loving connection to our inner self). The original series explores the severing of this connection (the antagonist severed the daemon/human connections between teenagers whose daemons were about to settle on a single form at puberty to create enough Dust to open portals to other worlds.) If a typical human had their connection to their daemon severed, the daemon died and the human would become a shell of a person without a soul, dying shortly thereafter.

So if we continue with the idea that daemon’s are our inner selves, our balanced energies of masculine for women and feminine for men, it is curious to think that Pullman made the antagonist Lyra’s estranged mother…who severs Lyra’s connection to her daemon, Pan, in the original trilogy. Lyra and Pan are 13 years old, and her mother tries to reassure her that severing the connection between Lyra and Pan will stop the emotional turmoil of being a teenager. Surprisingly, Pan and Lyra survive their severed connection…but at what cost? Is this act a metaphor for the trauma induced by a parent who tries to protect their child from the transformative and sometimes destructive teenage years?

It seems like the second book of Dust will explore the cost of having a severed connection to your inner self as a young adult…and what happens when you lose sight of the balance between logic (the human) and emotion (the daemon), between masculine and feminine. We all have trauma of some kind, and sometimes our inner connections are damaged beyond repair. In the original trilogy, there is a human whose daemon is ragged and dying…the human was treating his inner self/daemon so poorly that everyone could see the destruction by the human’s hate for himself.

A few other thoughts:

What happens when humans undergo dramatic shifts in their character later on in life? Do their daemons shift again? Or are the humans never really at ease with their daemons?

How would transgender daemon animals be handled in this fantasy world? Would you ever find a male human and male daemon? Oooo shit, I just found a short story idea.

The second book of Dust also seems to give Pan an existential crisis of whether he is a creature independent of Lyra, especially with a severed connection. If I had to venture to guess what the rest of the second book of Dust will be…it will be a fantastical adventure where Lyra and Pan are able to heal their severed connection and regain love and trust in each other…or maybe that’s a personal projection.