The Golden Compass

by Philip Pullman

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Student Question

Why is the series titled His Dark Materials?

Quick answer:

His Dark Materials is a reference to a line in John Milton's Paradise Lost which goes "Unless th' Almighty Maker them ordain / His dark materials to create more Worlds."

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The title of Philip Pullman's fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials is a reference to John Milton's seventeenth-century epic Paradise Lost. Paradise Lost is a retelling of the story of the Fall of Man in the Book of Genesis and it takes place after Satan is cast into Hell after losing his attempted coup of heaven.

The phrase itself comes from book 2 of Paradise Lost, when the banished Satan leaves Hell to travel to the newly created earth in order to tempt Adam and Eve into disobedience as vengeance against God the Father. The passage is marked with a sense of chaos and even wonder as Satan begins his nefarious scheme:

Into this wilde Abyss,
The Womb of nature and perhaps her Grave,
Of neither Sea, nor Shore, nor Air, nor Fire,
But all these in their pregnant causes mixt
Confus'dly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless th' Almighty Maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more Worlds,
Into this wilde Abyss the warie fiend
Stood on the brink of Hell and look'd a while,
Pondering his Voyage; for no narrow frith
He had to cross.

Pullman liked the sound of the phrase he ultimately chose to title his series with because it reminded him of the concept of dark matter in astrophysics.

The choice is fitting since His Dark Materials shares much thematic material with Milton's epic, even if Pullman's worldview is not a religious one. Both works deal with temptation, authority, knowledge, innocence, and human freedom. However, Milton's God is ultimately presented as a just one (though some have argued Milton makes God seem cold and unloving, transferring such positive qualities onto the Son instead), while Pullman views such a notion of God as tyrannical, making his work as much a reaction against Milton as it is inspired by him.

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