On the His Dark Materials trilogy

Introduction: The World of the Golden Compass

His Dark Materials and the Idea of North
By Scott Westerfeld


Here’s a secret about us writers:

Many of us dread the question, “Where do you get your ideas?”

It’s just too complicated to answer, and at the same time too simple–both silly and sublime. I’ve probably been asked it a thousand times, and yet I still don’t have a real response.

Phillip Pullman has also admitted difficulty with the question. Not only with answering it, but with why anyone would ask. As he puts it: “I can’t believe that everyone isn’t having ideas all the time.”

Now that answer makes sense, at least in Pullman’s case. He’s got more ideas than most of us.

As this anthology began to take shape, one complaint became constant among the contributors: Pullman had provided them with an embarrassment of riches. Or perhaps a confusion of riches. His Dark Materials simply contained too many ideas. There were talking bears to be wrangled, poetic allusions to analyze, and a canvas that stretched across “ten million other worlds . . . as close as a heartbeat” (TGC 164-165). And on top of that, the characters’ souls were flitting around outside their bodies. Where was the humble essayist to start?

As Maureen Johnson fumes within these pages: “His Dark Materials is a kind of symbol scrap yard. . . . There are even symbols imprinted on symbols (the golden compass itself).” And just as with the alethiometer, the symbols are layered with meanings that change every time the needle  …

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