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Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials: A Multiple Allegory

Author Leonard F. Wheat's Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials: a Multiple Allegory divides itself three ways with the bulk of the book devoted to tackling His Dark Materials as it relates to two instances of allegory, and a third section of symbolic connections to be drawn between Pullman's writing and our own history. If words like "allegory" and "symbolic" don't get the clockworkings of your brain itching for some connections to wander around, this might not be for you. The first section of the book concentrates on an allegorical retelling of The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe within Pullman's trilogy, the second dives into Paradise Lost and the third is fairly accurately summed up in its chapter title of "Missionaries, Darwin, and Conclusion."

One of the first things I realized with Wheat's book is that it could very much be considered a companion to studying His Dark Materials. With many new and interesting connections drawn to other texts and events this would be the kind of reading material useful for the "student-minded" reader who seeks both to learn more and to take that learning and create new ideas. That said, a reader likely will not understand the majority of this book, despite quick event summaries, without having read His Dark Materials first. It's also helpful to have read or at least know the events and some context of the other two main texts: C.S. Lewis's The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe and John Milton's Paradise Lost. If this seems daunting, despite only a failed attempt at reading Paradise Lost I was able to follow that portion of the book with clarity.

Multiple Allegory starts into the bulk of the material quickly, first giving an overview of and then diving into the allegoric (briefly: elements which compose a symbolic narrative) reading behind The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe (LWW for ease of reading). This section ties itself to the notion that His Dark Materials wasn't Pullman's "response" to C.S. Lewis's most well-known book, but a point-by-point retelling of the story. I'll admit I don't agree with much of this portion of Multiple Allegory, but it is still very well laid out. One interesting result I found myself in was recognizing a few particularly beautiful ways in which Pullman's disagreement with Lewis's philosophies of LWW is developed in a more humanistic way in HDM. Wheat's teacher-esque pushing the reader to make connections does give room to discover more about His Dark Materials, but at base this portion of the story begs asking: Why would Pullman want to retell pont-by-point a story which he so publically dislikes?

The Paradise Lost poriton of Multiple Allegory is what I really wanted to read (PL for ease of reading). A few exchanged emails with Allegory's author led me to believe he was a smart guy, smart and unwilling to make the same interpretations that usually pop up between His Dark Materials and Paradise Lost. I was not disappointed here.

108 is the magic number Wheat highlights as instances of symbols used in allegory from PL to HDM. Symbols can range from events to places to characters. And where the previous section pushes symbols of "coincidence" too far into the realm of "providence" this section by large creates the initial big bang necessary to draw out the conclusions, and manifests a gravity to keep you pushing the connections in your own mind onward. We may have seen before the idea that Asriel = Satan, but never have I seen anyone dancing on the edges of Paradise Lost connections and resist the immediate and obvious Lyra = Eve, and say instead that Lyra = Sin, another character of PL. In this section Wheat draws symbols beautifully and strongly, citing some sound evidences of HDM to lead to new conclusions regarding the x = y equations of allegory. The author's concern extends beyond just the main characters as well, into the left behinds like the Master of Jordan College, a very thoughtfully developed instance of symolism and one which Pullman very likey intended.

The third section nicely ties in some symbols from history, and with a leading chapter title including "Missionaries" and "Darwin," it's easy to guess a couple of them. A much quicker read than the previous two sections, this portion draws out our world history and the mulefa world with prowess.

Altogether Multiple Allegory is as double natured as the subtle knife itself. I would strongly reccommend the second and third sections of this book, with a note that the first is thoughtful and interesting, but stands on too much speculative argumentation. An intelligent book that wobbles between argument and accomplishment, Multiple Allegory reminds me of a thought I gathered together while I was a student: you may not agree with everything, but pay attention, you'll learn something you value and you'll learn to value your own guidance as well.

Comments (1) — Add Yours

Sounds like a pretty good read.  I’m always wary of speculation in a book-about-a-deep-book, but this sounds worth it!

# Posted by ArcT on 17:24, 30 January 2008

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