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His Dark Materials - Book I

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On Sale: November 13, 2001
Pages: 432 | ISBN: 978-0-440-41860-3
Published by : Knopf Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Lyra Belaqua is content to run wild among the scholars of Jordan College, with her daemon familiar Pantalaimon always by her side. But the arrival of her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, draws her to the heart of a terrible struggle—a struggle born of Gobblers and stolen children, witch clans and armored bears. And as she hurtles toward danger in the cold, far North, young Lyra never suspects the shocking truth: She alone is destined to win, or to lose, this more-than-mortal battle.

Excerpt

One

THE DECANTER OF TOKAY

Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen. The three great tables that ran the length of the hall were laid already, the silver and the glass catching what little light there was, and the long benches were pulled out ready for the guests. Portraits of former Masters hung high up in the gloom along the walls. Lyra reached the dais and looked back at the open kitchen door, and, seeing no one, stepped up beside the high table. The places here were laid with gold, not silver, and the fourteen seats were not oak benches but mahogany chairs with velvet cushions.

Lyra stopped beside the Master's chair and flicked the biggest glass gently with a fingernail. The sound rang clearly through the hall.

"You're not taking this seriously," whispered her daemon. "Behave yourself."

Her daemon's name was Pantalaimon, and he was currently in the form of a moth, a dark brown one so as not to show up in the darkness of the hall.

"They're making too much noise to hear from the kitchen," Lyra whispered back. "And the Steward doesn't come in till the first bell. Stop fussing."

But she put her palm over the ringing crystal anyway, and Pantalaimon fluttered ahead and through the slightly open door of the Retiring Room at the other end of the dais. After a moment he appeared again.

"There's no one there," he whispered. "But we must be quick."

Crouching behind the high table, Lyra darted along and through the door into the Retiring Room, where she stood up and looked around. The only light in here came from the fireplace, where a bright blaze of logs settled slightly as she looked, sending a fountain of sparks up into the chimney. She had lived most of her life in the College, but had never seen the Retiring Room before: only Scholars and their guests were allowed in here, and never females. Even the maid-servants didn't clean in here. That was the Butler's job alone.

Pantalaimon settled on her shoulder.

"Happy now? Can we go?" he whispered.

"Don't be silly! I want to look around!"

It was a large room, with an oval table of polished rosewood on which stood various decanters and glasses, and a silver smoking stand with a rack of pipes. On a sideboard nearby there was a little chafing dish and a basket of poppy heads.

"They do themselves well, don't they, Pan?" she said under her breath.

She sat in one of the green leather armchairs. It was so deep she found herself nearly lying down, but she sat up again and tucked her legs under her to look at the portraits on the walls. More old Scholars, probably; robed, bearded, and gloomy, they stared out of their frames in solemn disapproval.

"What d'you think they talk about?" Lyra said, or began to say, because before she'd finished the question she heard voices outside the door.

"Behind the chair—quick!" whispered Pantalaimon, and in a flash Lyra was out of the armchair and crouching behind it. It wasn't the best one for hiding behind: she'd chosen one in the very center of the room, and unless she kept very quiet...

The door opened, and the light changed in the room; one of the incomers was carrying a lamp, which he put down on the sideboard. Lyra could see his legs, in their dark green trousers and shiny black shoes. It was a servant.

Then a deep voice said, "Has Lord Asriel arrived yet?"

It was the Master. As Lyra held her breath, she saw the servant's daemon (a dog, like all servants' daemons) trot in and sit quietly at his feet, and then the Master's feet became visible too, in the shabby black shoes he always wore.

"No, Master," said the Butler. "No word from the aerodock, either."

"I expect he'll be hungry when he arrives. Show him straight into Hall, will you?"

"Very good, Master."

"And you've decanted some of the special Tokay for him?"

"Yes, Master. The 1898, as you ordered. His Lordship is very partial to that, I remember."

"Good. Now leave me, please."

"Do you need the lamp, Master?"

"Yes, leave that too. Look in during dinner to trim it, will you?"

The Butler bowed slightly and turned to leave, his daemon trotting obediently after him. From her not-much-of-a-hiding place Lyra watched as the Master went to a large oak wardrobe in the corner of the room, took his gown from a hanger, and pulled it laboriously on. The Master had been a powerful man, but he was well over seventy now, and his movements were stiff and slow. The Master's daemon had the form of a raven, and as soon as his robe was on, she jumped down from the wardrobe and settled in her accustomed place on his right shoulder.

Lyra could feel Pantalaimon bristling with anxiety, though he made no sound. For herself, she was pleasantly excited. The visitor mentioned by the Master, Lord Asriel, was her uncle, a man whom she admired and feared greatly. He was said to be involved in high politics, in secret exploration, in distant warfare, and she never knew when he was going to appear. He was fierce: if he caught her in here she'd be severely punished, but she could put up with that.

What she saw next, however, changed things completely.

The Master took from his pocket a folded paper and laid it on the table beside the wine. He took the stopper out of the mouth of a decanter containing a rich golden wine, unfolded the paper, and poured a thin stream of white powder into the decanter before crumpling the paper and throwing it into the fire. Then he took a pencil from his pocket, stirred the wine until the powder had dissolved, and replaced the stopper.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
Philip Pullman

About Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman - The Golden Compass

Photo © George Reszeter and the Oxford Times

“Stories are the most important thing in the world. Without stories, we wouldn't be human beings at all.”—Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman is the acclaimed author of the His Dark Materials trilogy: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. His other books for children and young adults include Count Karlstein and a trilogy of Victorian thrillers featuring Sally Lockhart. The Golden Compass, the first of Pullman's His Dark Materials triology, won the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Fiction Prize.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I started telling stories as soon as I knew what stories were. I was fascinated by them: that something could happen and be connected to another thing, and that someone could put the two things together and show how the first thing caused the second thing, which then caused a third thing. I loved it. I love it still.

I grew up at a time when TV wasn’t as important as it is now. In fact, part of my childhood was spent in Australia at a time when that country didn’t even have TV so a lot of my early experiences with stories came from the radio, which is a wonderful medium. I remember listening to gangster serials, and cowboy serials, and best of all: “Faster than a speeding bullet—more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No! It’s SUPERMAN!”

Superman on the radio was exciting enough, but when I first saw a Superman comic, it changed my life. Soon afterward I discovered Batman, too, whom I loved even more. I had to argue with my parents about them, though, because they weren’t “proper” reading. I suppose what persuaded them to let me carry on reading comics was the fact that I was also reading books just as greedily, and that I was good at spelling; so obviously the comics weren’t harming me too much.

My favorite stories for a long time were ghost stories. I used to enjoy frightening myself and my friends with the tales I read, and making up stories about a tree in the woods we used to call the Hanging Tree, creeping past it in the dark and shivering as we looked at the bare, sinister outline against the sky. I still enjoy ghost stories, even though I don’t think I believe in ghosts anymore.

I was sure that I was going to write stories myself when I grew up. It’s important to put it like that: not “I am a writer,” but rather “I write stories.” If you put the emphasis on yourself rather than your work, you’re in danger of thinking that you’re the most important thing. But you’re not. The story is what matters, and you’re only the servant, and your job is to get it out on time and in good order.

The most valuable thing I’ve learned about writing is to keep going, even when it’s not coming easily. You sometimes hear people talk about something called “writer’s block.” Did you ever hear a plumber talk about plumber’s block? Do doctors get doctor’s block? Of course they don’t. They work even when they don’t want to. There are times when writing is very hard, too, when you can’t think what to put next, and when staring at the empty page is miserable toil. Tough. Your job is to sit there and make things up, so do it.

As well as keeping going, there are many other things I’ve learned about this craft, and some of them came to me when I was teaching. What I enjoyed most in that difficult and valuable profession was telling stories, telling folk tales and ghost stories and Greek myths, over and over, until I knew them as well as I knew my own life.

And in doing so, I learned some of the laws of a story. Not rules - rules can be changed. “Smoking Permitted Here” can become “No Smoking” overnight, if people decide smoking is a bad thing. But laws such as the law of gravity can’t be changed: Gravity is there whether we approve of it or not. And so are the laws of a story. A story that is unresolved will not satisfy—that’s a law. If a scene does not advance the story, it will get in the way—that’s another law. You must know exactly where your story begins—that’s a third. And so on.

One strange thing about stories is that you sometimes know how long they’re going to be, even before you’ve begun thinking about them. With His Dark Materials, the trilogy of which the first part is The Golden Compass, I knew from the very start—even before I had a main character in mind, and long before I knew what might happen to her—that this story would be 1,200 pages long. That was the size of it. I knew, too, that I was going to enter a world I hadn’t known before: a world of fantasy. Previously, all of my books had been realistic. When I began writing it, I discovered a kind of freedom and excitement I’d never quite felt before. And that is one of the joys of writing: You constantly encounter new experiences.

I live in Oxford now, and I do my writing in a shed at the bottom of the garden. If the young boy I used to be could have looked ahead in time and seen the man I am today, writing stories in his shed, would he have been pleased? I wonder. Would that child who loved Batman comics and ghost stories approve of the novels I earn my living with now? I hope so. I hope he’s still with me. I’m writing them for him.


PRAISE

THE GOLDEN COMPASS

—Winner of the Carnegie Medal
—An American Booksellers Book of the Year (ABBY) Award Winner

“As always, Pullman is a master at combining impeccable characterizations and seamless plotting, maintaining a crackling pace to create scene upon scene of almost unbearable tension. This glittering gem will leave readers of all ages eagerly awaiting the next installment of Lyra’s adventures.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly

THE SUBTLE KNIFE

—An ALA Best Books for Young Adults

“More than fulfilling the promise of The Golden Compass, this second volume starts off at a heart-thumping pace and never slows down. . . . The grandly exuberant storytelling is sure to enthrall.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly

“The intricacy of the plot is staggering. . . . There is no doubt that the work is stunningly ambitious, original, and fascinating.”—Starred, The Horn Book Magazine

“The character development as well as the relentless pace . . . make this a resoundingly successful sequel. . . . It will leave readers desperate for the next installment.”—Starred, Booklist


THE AMBER SPYGLASS

—A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age

“Pullman has created the last great fantasy masterpiece of the twentieth century.”—The Cincinnati Enquirer


“Absorbing. . . . Like Harry Potter creator J. K. Rowling, [Pullman] invents a world filled with strange divinations and wordplays.”—Newsweek

“A literary masterpiece . . . [that] caps the most magnificent fantasy series since The Lord of the Rings and puts Harry Potter to shame. . . . A page-turning story that builds to a powerful finish.”—Oregonian

“Impossible to put down, so firmly and relentlessly does Pullman draw you into his tale. . . . [A] gripping saga pitting the magnetic young Lyra Belacqua and her friend Will Parry against the forces of both Heaven and Hell.”—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


I WAS A RAT!
“Phillip Pullman's tale is fast and clever.”—The New York Times Book Review


COUNT KARLSTEIN
“In this deliciously gothic thriller there are enough demon huntsmen, evil guardians, and brooding castles to please even the most desensitized reader.”—Starred, School Library Journal

“A welcome diversion . . . [that is] dashing, sparkling, and wildly over the top.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly
Praise | Awards

Praise

“As always, Pullman is a master at combining impeccable characterizations and seamless plotting, maintaining a crackling pace to create scene upon scene of almost unbearable tension. This glittering gem will leave readers of all ages eagerly awaiting the next installment of Lyra’s adventures.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred

“Extraordinary storytelling at its very best.”—The Detroit Free Press

“Superb . . . all-stops-out thrilling.”—The Washington Post

Awards

WINNER 1997 ALA Best Books for Young Adults
WINNER 1997 ALA Notable Children's Book
WINNER 1999 Texas Lonestar Reading List
WINNER 1997 Maine Student Book Award
NOMINEE 1997 American Booksellers Book of the Year (ABBY) Award - Children
FINALIST 1998 Massachusetts Children's Book Award
WINNER 1996 Carnegie Medal
WINNER 2012 TimeOutNewYorkKids.com 50 Best Books for Kids
Reader's Guide|Discussion Questions|Suggestions|Teachers Guide

About the Book

The questions, discussion topics, and author information that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of The Golden Compass. We hope that this guide will help you to navigate - alongside the story's young protagonist, Lyra Belacqua - Philip Pullman's richly imagined universe, populated by armored bears, gyptians, witches, and human beings, whose dæmons are never far from their side.
Dæmons are one of the most striking, charming, and powerful images in The Golden Compass. These spirit-creatures, which seem like physical representations of the human soul, can change form to reflect the myriad of emotional states their humans go through as children. But in adulthood, each dæmon settles into the animal form that best reflects the inner nature of its human counterpart. It is in this unusual and imaginative creation that Pullman turns his sharpest mirror back onto his readers, helping us to imagine our own souls as precious, living extensions of ourselves that we can love, challenge, or even betray.
The Golden Compass is a complex story that turns on a simple word: "Dust." This Dust does not gather in the unswept corners of Jordan College, Lyra's Oxford home. Rather, this Dust seems to reveal - or perhaps contain - the thing that makes each human being a unique creature. The concept of Dust provokes fear in some; others realize that mastery over Dust could be the source of great power. Although she does not quite realize it, Lyra - along with her dæmon Pantalaimon - finds her life inextricably entangled with the exploration of Dust. And as her understanding of Dust and her mastery over a mysterious tool called the alethiometer increases, the dangerous journey that she seems destined to make takes some astounding twists and turns.

Discussion Guides

1. The author tells us that The Golden Compass takes place "in a universe like ours, but different in many ways." How do you think Lyra's universe relates to ours?

2. What is a dæmon? How do they make humans different from other creatures? Why do you think servants' dæmons are always dogs? What sort of dæmons might your friends, relatives, classmates, or coworkers have? Describe your own dæmon.

3. The world of The Golden Compass is ruled by the Church. However, the nature of its power is unclear. What power do you think the Church holds over its people?

4. On pages 89-90, the General Oblation Board is explained in reference to the historical sacrifice of children to cloistered life. "Oblation" refers to the act of making a religious offering. What offering does the General Oblation Board make and to whom?

5. Human knowledge and experience are made physical in Dust. What other psychological, intellectual, or spiritual activities does the author physicalize?

6. What is the relationship between "severing" and death? Is the author using this fantasy to explore the notion of psychic or moral death?

7. Why do you think the author stresses that Lyra is not an imaginative child? Why would "imagination" be dangerous to her? How would it affect her understanding of the alethiometer? Is Lyra a truth-seeker? Who is Lyra Belacqua and/or what does she symbolize?

8. In what ways is gender a significant or stratifying element in the novel? Why do you think all witches are female? Why are dæmons usually the opposite gender of their human counterparts? Is the fact that Lyra is a girl-child relevant to the themes of the story?

9. Alongside human society in The Golden Compass, there exists the community of the armored bears, who have their own hierarchical structure and moral code. In one way Svalbard seems little more than an interesting foil to the human condition, yet the bear kingdom is also a final destination, the site of the story's climactic conclusion. What do you think is the author's purpose in inventing - and exploring - the world of the armored bear?

10. The author has filled this novel with binary imagery: person-dæmon; mother-father; Iorek-Iofur; Lyra's universe-the universe in the Aurora. What other binarisms can you find in the structure, landscape imagery, and vocabulary of this fantasy? How do these dualistic elements affect the novel's larger themes?

11. Discuss Lyra's "betrayal" of Roger in relation to other betrayals that occur in the novel. Has reading The Golden Compass altered your understanding of the act of betrayal?

12. Are Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter in collusion or are they fighting each other? How and in what way?

13. Curiously absent from The Golden Compass are four words that are prevalent in most fantasy adventures: right, wrong, good, and evil. Can these terms be applied to this story? How and why, or why not?

14. On the last page of the book, Lyra and Pantalaimon recognize that they are still "one being; both of us are one." The expression resonates with a phrase from marriage ceremonies. Contrast this moment in the story with the preceding interplay between Lyra's parents.

15. The Golden Compass is the first book in the trilogy His Dark Materials, which gets its name from a passage in John Milton's Paradise Lost, quoted at the beginning of the novel. Philip Pullman has said, "Milton's angels are not seriously meant to be believed - beings with wings and halos and white robes. They are psychological qualities, conceived and pictured as personalities. With them, Milton tells one of the central tales of our world: the story of the temptation and fall of humankind." Discuss the passage from Paradise Lost and this statement from the author in relation to The Golden Compass.

16. When Lyra walks "into the sky" at the end of Book One, we can presume that she is walking into the world of Book Two of His Dark Materials - "the universe that we know." What do you think will happen to her and Pantalaimon when they cross the bridge?

Suggested Readings

The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander
The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks
The Left Hand of Darkness and The Earthsea Tetralogy by Ursula K. Le Guin
A Swiftly Tilting Planet and A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'Engle
The Chronicles of Narnia and The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Paradise Lost by John Milton
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien


From the Hardcover edition.

Teacher's Guide



NOTE TO TEACHERS

Each of the novels in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy offers an exciting adventure that takes readers, young and old, on a journey through different dimensions to unknown worlds. The electrifying plots and unusual and mysterious characters make these novels excellent choices for reading aloud.

Themes of good vs. evil, betrayal, courage, fear, trust, and love raise important questions, offering students a wonderful opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue. This guide offers questions for discussion and includes activities that connect the language arts, social studies, science, music, and art curriculum.

ABOUT THIS BOOK

Philip Pullman’s intriguing and haunting trilogy sends fantasy lovers on an incredible journey through other worlds where they meet mysterious creatures and a brave and extraordinary 12-year-old girl, Lyra Belacqua, who has the power to seek truth.

In The Golden Compass, young Lyra Belacqua journeys to the far North to save her best friend and other kidnapped children from terrible experiments by evil scientists.

The Subtle Knife takes Lyra to Cittagàzze, where she meets Will Parry, a fugitive boy from our own universe who becomes her ally and friend. On their journey from world to world, Lyra and Will’s lives become forever intertwined as they uncover
a deadly secret.

And finally, in The Amber Spyglass, Lyra and Will, with the help of two tiny Gallivespian spies and Iorek Byrnison, the armored bear, set out to a world where no other living soul has ever gone, to make their most haunting discovery yet.

ABOUT THIS AUTHOR

Philip Pullman is the highly acclaimed and popular author of novels–from contemporary fiction to Victorian thrillers–plays, and picture books for readers of all ages. He received his degree in English from Oxford University and has taught middle school English for many years. The Golden Compass, the first of Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, won the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Fiction Prize, and is considered one of the best juvenile fantasy novels of the past 20 years. The Amber Spyglass, the trilogy’s astonishing finale, was the first children’s book in history to win the Whitbread Book of the Year Award. It was also nominated for the Booker Prize. Mr. Pullman lives with his family in England.

TEACHING IDEAS

PRE-READING ACTIVITY

Religion plays an important part in many works of fantasy, which often include themes of good versus evil and characters searching to understand the basic foundations of their faiths. Ask students to use the Bible, a storybook, or an encyclopedia to read about the Garden of Eden and the fall of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2, 3). Have students discuss original sin, why God forbade Adam and Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, and how Adam and Eve’s lives changed once they gained knowledge.

THEMATIC CONNECTIONS

Betrayal–Ask the class to look up the various meanings of the word betrayal. How does Lyra betray Roger in The Golden Compass? Discuss whether she was aware that she was betraying him. How does she try to rectify this betrayal? What is Lyra’s great betrayal in The Amber Spyglass? How do Lyra’s mother and father betray her–and then protect her? Discuss how Lyra deals with these betrayals.

Good vs. Evil–The trilogy challenges our assumptions about good and evil: some witches are good, while some members of the church are evil. What are other examples of unexpected forms of good and evil in the trilogy? At the end of The Amber Spyglass, what do Will and Lyra learn about good and evil, about actions versus labels? How will this affect the way they will live the rest of their lives?

Courage–Have students trace Lyra’s courage as she travels from one dimension to another. At what point does she almost lose her courage? How does Will show courage in The Subtle Knife? Discuss how Lyra and Will help one another sustain their courage throughout their quests in The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. Engage the class in a discussion about whether having possession of the alethiometer and The Subtle Knife either gives Lyra and Will courage or threatens it. How does it take courage to leave one another and return to their own worlds at the end of the trilogy?

Fear–At the end of The Golden Compass, Lyra is afraid of her father, yet admires him. Why does he evoke fear in her? How can she be afraid and admire him at the same time? How is fear the basis of Will’s mother’s illness? Discuss how fear is related to courage. Engage the class in a discussion about how Lyra and Will’s fears contribute to their courage as they face the evil forces.

Trust–In The Subtle Knife, Will accidentally kills an intruder who wants his father’s personal documents and then labels himself a murderer. Why does this enable Lyra to trust him? Which characters do Serafina Pekkala and Lee Scoresby decide to trust? Is their trust warranted? Who are the characters that Lyra once trusted, but in the end finds that she cannot? In what other way does trust play an important role in Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy?

Love–In The Amber Spyglass, Will says to Serafina, “Thank you, Serafina Pekkala, for rescuing us at the belvedere and for everything else. Please be kind to Lyra for as long as she lives. I love her more than anyone has ever been loved.” (p. 509) Trace the development of Will and Lyra’s love for one another from the time they first meet in The Subtle Knife until they part in The Amber Spyglass. How does their love affect the fate of the living–and the dead? How does Lyra’s adventure help her to discover a new meaning of love?


CONNECTING TO THE CURRICULUM

Language ArtsThe Golden Compass has been described as a heroic novel. Ask students to identify the qualities of a hero. Who are the heroes in Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy? Have students select a hero from one of the novels and write a poem about that hero. Encourage students to share their poems in class.

It is quite common for writers of fantasy to create their own vocabularies. Vocabulary, including the names of characters, is often symbolic of the underlying themes and messages of the story. Make a glossary for Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy that represents the unique vocabulary he created.

Social Studies–At the end of The Amber Spyglass, Will and Mary return to their world and Will accompanies Mary to her flat. Mary explains to Serafina that she can’t just give Will a permanent home because in her world you must follow rules and regulations regarding keeping children. Find out today’s rules regarding foster care. What is the purpose of foster care? Discuss whether Will would qualify for foster care. Would Mary qualify as a foster mother?

Art–Masks have been used through the ages to represent animals, monsters, supernatural spirits, dream creatures, etc. Ask students to think about which animal would most likely be their dæmon and create a mask to represent that animal. Allow students time to share their masks and to explain why they chose that particular animal as their dæmon.

Science/Health–Mary says that Will’s mother sounds like a “classic manic-depressive.” Ask students to research the symptoms and characteristics of manic-depression or bipolar disorder. How is it different from other types of depression? From anxiety? Research the treatments for various types of depression. What type of treatment is Will’s mother likely to need?

Science–In Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, Lyra has the alethiometer, Will has the knife, and Dr. Malone has the spyglass to aid them in their quests. Though these items are fictitious, scientists have always used tools and instruments to conduct investigations. Have students research the type of instruments used through the ages and construct a time line that reveals their development. What instruments do scientists use today?

Music–Music plays an important role in modern fantasy and science fiction films. Play music from films such as Star Wars and ask students to analyze the music as it applies to plot development. How is music an important link in communicating story? Divide students into three groups and assign each a novel in the trilogy. Instruct them to locate music that would be appropriate for a film of their assigned novel. Allow time to share the selections.

BEYOND THE BOOK

ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION OF PHILIP PULLMAN’S HIS DARK MATERIALS TRILOGY

The Golden Compass 
The author tells us that The Golden Compass takes place “in a universe like ours, but different in many ways.” How do you think Lyra’s universe relates to ours?

Why do you think Lyra is described as an unimaginative child? Why would imagination be dangerous to her? How would it affect her understanding of the alethiometer?

What do you think is the author’s purpose in inventing– and exploring–the world of the armored bear?

Are Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter in collusion or are they fighting each other? How and in what way?

The Subtle Knife 
How has Will learned to make himself unnoticed by others? Relate this to the witches’ ability to make themselves invisible.

How are the Shadows that communicate with Lyra through the computer related to Dark Matter (Dust)? If Lyra can understand the Shadows as she understands the alethiometer, is the computer also acting as a truth-giving device? What is the real origin of the Shadows’ messages?

Giacomo Paradisi tells Will the rules for bearing The Subtle Knife. (p. 188) Why do you think Will must “never open without closing”? What did Paradisi mean by a “base purpose”? Compare these formal guidelines to the instinctive rules Lyra obeys when using the alethiometer.

In what way can a knife that divides pathways between worlds–and can sever bone, rock, and steel–be called “subtle”?

The Amber Spyglass 
Dust, Dark Matter, and Sraf are three different names for the same material. How do these names reflect the different worlds they come from? What kinds of attitudes and feelings does each society have about this material?

Discuss whether Mrs. Coulter is aware that her influence on Will is capable of breaking the knife. What are the connections between Mrs. Coulter and Will’s mother?

Mrs. Coulter goes through a dramatic transformation as her maternal feelings for Lyra break through to the surface. What do you think is the catalyst for this change?

Discuss the significance of human dæmons taking an animal form. Do you think a Mulefa dæmon would take an animal or human form? What does this mean about the nature of dæmons?

By the end of the novel, what similarities can you see between Lyra and Mrs. Coulter? How is Lyra’s storytelling different from Mrs. Coulter’s lying?

COPYRIGHT

Prepared by Pat Scales, Director of Library Services, the South Carolina Governor’s School for Arts and Humanities, Greenville, SC.

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