In the preface of her book, Lois Gresh writes: “This book delves into the subjects behind His Dark Materials. As such, it is not a book about the story lines and subplots, the characterization, and the writing style in His Dark Materials. Instead, the focus is on angels, souls, the afterlife, Dust, dark matter, and quantum entanglement: the meat of the books.” Gresh’s book, therefore, is not a literary analysis of Pullman’s stories; instead, it offers a thorough discussion of the topics and subjects dealt with in the stories—topics that form the background of these stories.
The title of chapter 1 asks the question, “What is His Dark Materials?” to which the author replies, “His Dark Materials is an epic coming-of-age trilogy that includes vast sweeps of science, theology, and magic, while speculating about topics as profound as the meaning of life and the fundamental nature of God, Satan, and hell” (page 3). Chapters 2 through 8 go on to discuss the following topics: Dust, dark matter, dark energy and other celestial things; angels, God, and paradise; witches; daemons; parallel worlds; the afterlife: hell, harpies, and heaven; specters, vampires, night ghasts, and zombies. The last three chapters discuss the Aurora Borealis (northern lights) and other things Gresh calls “weird science.”
While much has been made about Pullman’s theology, the science underlying the stories is just as fascinating—maybe even more so. Indeed, the topics of Dust (dark matter) and parallel worlds are both major subjects of theory and speculation in the modern studies of quantum physics and cosmology.
If you enjoyed His Dark Materials but you didn’t always get some of the ideas Pullman used, this book might help you understand some of the more technical aspects of the subjects discussed. Also, if you like science, you probably will enjoy Gresh’s book. Exploring Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials offers an entertaining and informative presentation that helps readers better understand some of the more complicated aspects of the stories.—Jeff Wise
Exploring Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, by Lois H. Gresh. St. Martin Griffin, 2007. 210 pages. $9.95 (U.S. paperback).
Reviewer’s rating: **** (out of five stars).
The reviewer works for the Western Recorder newsjournal in Louisville, Ky., and has read extensively in science and theology.