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Frequently Asked Questions:

What does the title "His Dark Materials" mean?

"His Dark Materials" is taken from the epic poem Paradise Lost by John Milton. "His Dark Materials" is the title of the trilogy and that alone. "His", within the trilogy does not refer to a character, nor do the "materials" refer to Dust, the alethiometer, subtle knife, or amber spyglass.

The phrase "His dark materials" only holds bearing within Paradise Lost.

After the rebel angels are banished from heaven, Satan begins a quest from Hell to Earth. Before arriving at Earth he must make his way across an area where Chaos and night rule. Hot, cold, moist, and dry fight endlessly with chaos as the only director, and the battle can only end if God forces the four elements into their own worlds. In this context, the small excerpt at the beginning of the trilogy can be referenced, "His" refers to God who commands over the "dark materials" of hot, cold, moist, dry, and chaos.

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Why are there two titles for the first book?

The Golden Compass v. Northern Lights.

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How old are Lyra and Will?

Lyra is eleven years old at the beginning of TGC/NL. She states her age as eleven to the nurses in Bolvangar and the narration adds:

Lyra had been told that she was small for her age, whatever that meant. It had never affected her sense of her own importance, but she realized that she could use the fact now to make Lizzie shy and nervous and insignificant, and shrank a little as she went into the room.

The Golden Compass or Northern Lights, Philip Pullman

The text is sometimes misinterpreted that because Lyra had been told she was small, she lied and made her age younger. In fact, she is small for eleven and used her smallness to make her alias character Lizzie shy and nervous.

By the end of The Amber Spyglass, Lyra is twelve. Mrs. Coulter states:

My daughter is now twelve years old.

The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman

Will is twelve years old when first met in The Subtle Knife.

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Does the golden monkey have a name?

No. In the fan-conducted 2001 Readerville interview Pullman explained:

The golden monkey doesn\'t have a name because every time I tried to think of one, he snarled and frightened me. What\'s more he hardly speaks either.

The January 2003 BBC 4 radio dramatisation named the golden monkey "Ozymandias" to allow better narrative translation for radio broadcasting. The name likely comes from a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley and appears in the sonnet:

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!

The name has never been officially recognized by Pullman, who responded:

I didn\'t choose that name and to be frank I don\'t think I would have done. I imagine that the scriptwriter did get it from Shelley\'s poem, but you\'d really have to ask her why she went for that name.
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How do you make the "æ" in dæmon

On a PC:

  • Hold the alt key and press the numbers 145 on the side keypad
  • Hold the alt key and press the numbers 0230 on the side keypad
  • Use the character map on your computer to select, copy, and paste the “æ”
  • Copy and paste

On a mac:

  • Hold the alt key and press ‘
  • On most applications: edit – Special Characters (cmd-opt-T)
  • Copy and paste

Laptop users:

  • Hit the ‘Numlk’ button (Numlock) then hold the Alt key and press 145
  • You may have to press Fn+F11 to activate Numlock
  • You may have to press the numbers 145 using the small numbers on the letter portion of the keyboard. (This would make it Alt +jui)
  • Copy and paste
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How do you pronounce certain character names or places?

A page of pronunciation terms can be found here.

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Do any of the character names have meaning?

Some do.

Serafina Pekkala

Pullman used a Helsinki phone book to put together a first and last name so that the witch queen sounded genuinely Finnish in origin.

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Kirjava

"Mottled" or "Multicolored" in Finnish.

Lee Scoresby

"Lee" comes from the famous western actor Lee Van Cleef and "Scoresby" was taken from the arctic explorer William Scoresby.

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Æsahættr

Pullman created the word from two Norse words, one meaning "God" and the other meaning "death".

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Panserbjørne

Pullman created the word from two Norse words, panser meaning "armour" and bjørne meaning "bear".

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William Parry

Pullman wanted a name which embodied his character - will and determination are two of his strongest qualities. His family surname has no relevance to the famed arctic explorer Robert Peary.

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Lyra Silvertongue

According to Pullman, the name Lyra came attached to the character and holds no significant meaning. "Silvertongue" is a way to describe someone who is gifted with persuasive or eloquent speech.

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What is Dust?

Dust is formed when matter begins to understand itself. It is widely considered to be the source of consciousness in the multiple universes that co-incide. It is thought that when a conscious being comes of age - for instance, the onset of puberty - they are saturated with Dust and can begin the process of cognitive thought.

Dust, as named in Lyra\'s world, is identical to the Shadow Particles in Will and Mary Malone\'s world, and identical to the "sraf" in the world of the Mulefa. According to the second novel, The Subtle Knife, Dust is what our science would recognise as Dark Matter.

The particles are undetectable through typical means. In Northern Lights, Lord Asriel states that his successful images of Dust are only possible through a special filter. In The Subtle Knife, Mary Malone detects and communicates with Dust via a supercomputer nicknamed "The Cave". In The Amber Spyglass, Dust is detected by Mary Malone via the amber spyglass, which uses polarising plates of hardened resin from the seed-pod trees of the Mulefa world.

For further information, please see Dust in the Srafopedia

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What is The Temptation?

The Temptation, as well as "playing the serpent," is a reference to The Bible and the story of Adam and Eve.

In The Bible, Eve was tempted by the serpent to eat fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which she then offered to her partner Adam. Because of this the two brought Original Sin to the world and were banished from the garden of Eden to live only short lives.

In His Dark Materials, the act of the temptation and role of the serpent is performed by Mary Malone, but reinterpreted. After hearing a ghost emerging from the World of the Dead advise her to "tell them stories," Mary Malone offers her story of "China," a metaphor for love, to Will and Lyra. This is the temptation. Lyra, upon hearing the story begins to process feelings inside herself and can realise her own love. In essence, Lyra is tempted to understand the feeling of love.

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What is China?

China is a metaphor used by Mary Malone to describe love to two adolescents who couldn\'t yet recognize the feeling. She says China is like love because it\'s exotic and seems thrilling. China is also far away, as if you think you can never have love. But you know it\'s there, and you want to go there - you want to fall in love. Mary used China because she hadn\'t been there but she knew that China existed, until she realises that she had been to China. Meaning she had been in love, not to the country.

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What is The Fall?

The Fall is a reference to The Bible and the story of Adam and Eve. According to Genesis, God placed Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, a paradise. They were forbidden, however, to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life. The serpent, however, persuaded Eve to eat the fruit, and she persuaded Adam. They realized their nakedness, and were ashamed. God expelled them from Eden, and cursed them and all their descendents.

HDM reinterprets The Fall as a good event because Adam and Eve brought Dust, and therefore consciousness, into the world. Their actions enabled realization of things like good and evil and differentiated humans from other animals. The Fall in HDM is considered to be the moment when Lyra and Will realise their love for one and other. Their love influenced Dust in just the right manner and along with Xaphania closing the remaining windows between the worlds, prevented further leakage of Dust from the worlds.

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What is The Republic of Heaven?

The Republic of Heaven is an idea first promoted by John Parry in The Amber Spyglass. It combines ideals of Lord Asriel\'s Republic with the universal truth that there is no elsewhere for a person.

Lord Asriel\'s republic was an organisation advocating freedom from oppression for humanity across the worlds. However, his republic fails because he gathers people from different worlds into a single world. Persons living outside their home world grow ill over time and die before their natural life. Heaven, as a concept, is an ideal of living or the way in which people wish to live.

The Republic of Heaven then is an idea where each person, in each of their own worlds must strive to do their best, as Lyra describes:

We have to be all those difficult things like cheerful and kind and curious and patient, and we\'ve got to study and thing and work hard, all of us, in all our different worlds, and then we\'ll build...\' [...] \'And then what?\' said her dæmon sleepily. \'Build what?\' \'The Republic of Heaven,\' said Lyra.

The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman

Dust is a central idea behind The Republic of Heaven. Thought and care create understanding which in turn allows for the creation of more Dust. Dust is what allows humans consciousness, self-reflection, and true involvement. Creating the Republic of Heaven then is a process by which each person takes responsibility for their own actions and uses their strengths to contribute productively toward the creation of Dust and the betterment of their world as a whole. Heaven is not just a concept which we should live for in judgement after death, but something we must create here and now on our world the best we can.

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