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The Elements of His Dark Materials - Ian's review

The His Dark Materials trilogy has, like many works of its high quality, lead to the publication of a number of reference materials and analytical texts. The latest (published this month), and quite definitely most comprehensive yet seen, is The Elements of His Dark Materials: A Guide to Philip Pullman’s Trilogy by American Laurie Frost (her dæmon is a sloth).

My first thoughts upon receiving my copy in the post were “My god! It’s a monster!” And indeed it is, its 542 pages weighing in at over a kilo – but this is hardly a negative thing. The book offers endless opportunities for His Dark Materials related trivia from the beginning, where Frost has listed every single character ever to appear, be they human or dæmon, together with detailed notes (even for the most minor of characters). Pullman himself says “It`s an enormous help in reminding me about this character or that”. Even more interesting is the inclusion of maps of where the books take place in both Lyra’s and Will’s worlds, my personal favourite being that of the Gyptians’ journey to the German Ocean. Frost has once again excelled herself in detailing every location featured. Did you remember that Norham Gardens is where Sir Charles Latrom offers Lyra a lift? I certainly didn’t...

The extended analysis of themes and things within the trilogy is also impressive, ranging from discussions on applied metaphysics and its relevance to His Dark Materials through to how the alethiometer works. Frost has also lent consideration to the social and political structures of the worlds, giving the reader far more insight into the complexities of such groups as the General Oblation Board, Office of the Inquisition and the Magisterium.

The book is clear, detailed, and well written, making life easy for the reader. Frost’s citations have ensured that not only can you refer to a detail within her book, but she can then refer one back to several points of interest in the trilogy. The explanations are enlightening, the illustrations first-rate and the ease of use superb.

Whether you are reading His Dark Materials solely for pleasure, or as an avid scholar, Frost’s The Elements of His Dark Materials: A Guide to Philip Pullman’s Trilogy offers something for everyone. It can be a book to dip into to gain further understanding on one small issue, or it can be used as the basis for a thesis. Pullman himself certainly intends to use it (stating it will be kept beside his copy of Chamber’s Dictionary) and says “I can’t recommend it too highly to the reader who’s found anything interesting or enjoyable in this story of mine.”

His praising is unending in his description of the book in his October newsletter: “This is the fullest, the most accurate, the most amazing [book]. I can only say that when I look through it I am astonished by how clever I am. “ Yet surely much of credit goes to Laurie Frost, for what I believe is a must-have for all self-respecting fans of His Dark Materials.

The book is published by the Fell Press and costs £12 in the UK, and $24.95 in the United States.

This month has seen the publication of The Elements of His Dark Materials: A Guide to Philip Pullman’s Trilogy by American Laurie Frost. Philip Pullman featured it in his October newsletter, saying "It will sit on the shelf next to my favourite dictionary, which is Chambers', and I look forward to seeing it gradually fall apart as I consult it again and again. Then, of course, I shall buy another copy."

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