His Dark Materials

It was a fantasy trilogy that captured the imaginations of young readers in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Now, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials is getting a follow-up trilogy called The Book of Dust. Pullman’s fantasy world centres around a young girl called Lyra, who grows up in an alternate universe similar to our own — but with a few key differences. Magic, science and religion are all intertwined. There are witches, talking polar bears, and every human has an animal companion (called a Daemon) which is a manifestation of their soul. Through this strange world, Pullman’s story addresses some of the central questions in our own world — including religion, science and death.

Religion

In Lyra’s world, the Church has an enormous power over ordinary people, and it goes to great lengths to restrict their knowledge about the world. Her father, Lord Asriel, is on a mission to destroy religion’s influence over society — and Pullman once described his books as being “about killing God”.

Science

Pullman’s world may be fantasy, but it frequently references scientific knowledge gained in our own world — especially particle physics and the mysterious dark matter, which we know exists but cannot see. It is also a world where multiple parallel universes exist, an idea that some physicists believe is possible.

Children

Throughout the trilogy, children are pitted against the adults around them. Unsurprisingly for a book with an 11-year-old protagonist, the “innocent” children are often seen as more pure and moral. Their Daemons can change form as their characters develop, and Lyra herself is compared to Eve before the Fall.

Animals

In Lyra’s world, a human’s Daemon companion is part of their soul: it stays with them for their entire life, reads their thoughts, and cannot stray too far or will cause them both pain. Meanwhile, some animals — particularly the armoured bears — are highly sophisticated, with societies that exist alongside humans.

Truth and lies

The Church goes to great lengths to obscure and suppress the truth. Lyra herself is a natural liar, a talent which gets her out of many difficult situations. But she also has truth on her side, in the form of the amazing Alethiometer, a Golden Compass which reveals the truth to whoever can understand it.