Fans of Philip Pullman, who have waited very patiently for quite a while, will be rushing to bookshops from midnight tonight to buy the first book from his new trilogy. The Book of Dust has Lyra again at the centre of the story and returns to her world, with many characters from His Dark Materials making an appearance.
Pullman worked as a senior lecturer for many years in Oxford and enjoyed telling stories to students in his class. The Iliad and The Odyssey were two Greek myths that he regularly told and he claimed that it was through storytelling that he discovered what type of writer he was. Therefore, it is no surprise to find elements of Greek mythology and history scattered throughout his stories. Let’s take a very brief look at this in His Dark Materials.
In Greek mythology, Odysseus travels to the land of the dead in search of the blind prophet Tiresias. In His Dark Materials, Lyra and Will also journey to the land of the dead, a place which is controlled by the Authority and guarded by harpies. Harpies, depicted as birds with the heads of maidens, often appear in Greek mythology. They are described in The Wanderings of Aeneas (from the Aeneid) as “terrible, evil smelling, monstrous birds with girls’ faces and long talons.” In The Amber Spyglass Lyra and Will are confronted by a fearsome harpy. “The thing was a great bird the size of a vulture, with the face and breasts of a woman. Will had seen pictures of creatures like her, and the word harpy came mind as soon as he saw her clearly.”
In His Dark Materials, Pullman creates a world where humans are accompanied by dæmons – an animal or bird usually of the opposite sex. While a child’s dæmons can change shape, an adult’s dæmons cannot. The idea of a ‘dæmon” can be found in Greek history and is often linked to an inner voice or guardian. Socrates believed that his dæmon was a spiritual being who watched over him and warned him of mistakes. Pullman’s dæmons play a vital role in his stories, as losing a dæmon is akin to losing an individual’s soul.
Pullman once suggested that if he had a dæmon it would probably be a jackdaw or magpie! What would your dæmon be? Maybe that is something that you can ponder, along with other aspects of Greek mythology, while queuing for The Book of Dust tonight or tomorrow morning. Happy reading!
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In case you don’t have the time to read his new BOOK OF DUST. BBC RAdio 4 are broadcasting this SATURDAY afternoon. Why not tune in for a treat..