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Literature Study GuidesHis Dark Materials

His Dark Materials | Study Guide

Philip Pullman

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In text

(Course Hero, 2017)



Course Hero. "His Dark Materials Study Guide." December 11, 2017. Accessed June 5, 2023.


Course Hero, "His Dark Materials Study Guide," December 11, 2017, accessed June 5, 2023,


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Philip Pullman

Years Published

The Golden Compass (1995) The Subtle Knife (1997) The Amber Spyglass (2000)





At a Glance

His Dark Materials is a trilogy that reinvents the story of English poet John Milton's Paradise Lost, which retells the biblical story of Satan's banishment from heaven, his temptation of Adam and Eve, and their fall from a state of innocence. In this version, though, it is two children who are tempted, and their "fall" is not tragedy but redemption. The story takes place in parallel worlds and follows the developing battle between the Church and those who are rebelling against it. On one side is the tyrannical Magisterium, the authoritative body of the Church, and its god, known as the Authority. On the other side are the rebel forces led by Lord Asriel, along with his daughter Lyra Belacqua and her friend Will Parry. Lyra is prophesied to be the new Eve, whom the Magisterium fears and the rebels view as a symbol of hope. Will is the chosen bearer of the subtle knife―a device that can cut windows in the fabric between worlds and is essential for a rebel victory. As the narrative progresses it becomes clear the two children, and not the adults around them, will be responsible for the salvation or destruction of humankind.

Perspective and Narrator

His Dark Materials features third-person omniscient narration. Readers learn about events through the perspectives of multiple characters.


His Dark Materials is told in the past tense.

About the Title

The title of the series, His Dark Materials, comes from a passage in Book 2 (lines 910–20) quoted from the epic poem Paradise Lost (1667) by English poet John Milton. Paradise Lost tells the story of the Fall of Man, the temptation of Adam and Eve by the fallen angel Satan, and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The phrase his dark materials comes from a portion of the book where Satan is looking at the "wilde Abysse" that is the "Womb of nature and perhaps her grave." There all of the Almighty Maker's "dark materials"—land, water, air, and fire—are combined in undifferentiated chaos until God is ready to form them into more worlds.


This study guide and infographic for Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials offer summary and analysis on themes, symbols, and other literary devices found in the text. Explore Course Hero's library of literature materials, including documents and Q&A pairs.

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