On the His Dark Materials series
Coming of Age in Svalbard, and Beyond
By Kim Dolgin
A wonderful aspect of literature is that everyone brings something of his or her own into the reading of the text. As I am a developmental psychologist, what struck me most strongly about Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is that it is a delightful “coming of age” story. This is especially true of Lyra, who begins as a willful, self-centered child, flies through the development normally associated with adolescence and ends as a caring, responsible young adult. (If the time frame within which this occurs is considerably accelerated and unnaturally precocious, well, these are fantasy novels.) Will, conversely, is a child-adult from his introduction in the second novel with one significant exception: he does not mature–he does not need to mature–to the same degree as does Lyra.
At the beginning of the book Lyra is most certainly childlike. Everyone around her, even her d¦mon, agrees. “Spying is for silly children…” Pantalaimon chides her early on. “… and I think it would be the silliest thing in a lifetime of silly things to interfere.” “Why should a distant theological riddle interest a healthy, thoughtless child?” muses a Scholar. Lyra is consumed with her wars against rival groups of children, spitting plum pits on the heads of passing Scholars and disrupting instruction by hooting, owl-like, outside of classrooms. Her interests do not go beyond relieving her own boredom, dodging her lessons and establishing her place in the juvenile pecking order. Events, however, quickly begin to widen her horizons beyond her own …