Retellings and History in Paradise Lost and His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman

Retellings and History in Paradise Lost and His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman

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While Phillip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy, His Dark Materials, does examine the “big ol’ metaphysical questions,” – the great Miltonic questions of free will, love and obedience among others – it is also about the act and art of reading. Or as Shelley King describes it, he focuses on the “process of textual interpretation and the role it plays in the framing of metaphysical questions within a culture” (106). The fantasy worlds of His Dark Materials are as shaped by the history and interpretations of texts as ours. The first book, The Golden Compass is an extension of Paradise Lost, leaving the reader in just as much moral confusion by the end as Milton did. As the series continues, it further amplifies a “latent” orthodoxy of Milton; creating a Satanist reading that intends to (and succeeds in) overthrowing God. All texts follow a model of literary history, drawing from and commenting on those that came before them; simply put, new texts focus and amplify the resonance of old texts. In order to do this, Phillip Pullman creates a close relationship between his trilogy and Milton’s Paradise Lost. Through an intimate relationship with his source text, Pullman explores methods of reading text, writing a varying text, and the nature of repeated stories, to cast His Dark Materials as a response to, and cognate of Paradise Lost. Pullman’s series is an unfaithful retelling of Paradise Lost, itself an unfaithful version of The Bible, and that is what makes its retelling a fruitful endeavour.
Published between 1995 and 2000, Pullman’s trilogy is comprised of The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. Set across a multiverse, the reader is first introduced to Lyra, a young girl living in an alternate universe Europe that is...


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...Eds. Laura Lunger and Gregory M. Colon Semenza. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006. Print.
King, Shelley. “’Without Lyra we would understand neither the New nor the Old Testament’: Exegesis, Allergory and Reading The Golden Compass.” His Dark Materials Illuminated: Critical Essays on Phillip Pullman’s Triology. Eds. Millicent Lenz and Carole Scott. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2005. Print.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Ed. Scott Elledge. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1993. Print.
Pullman, Phillip. The Golden Compass. New York: Knopf, 1995. Print.
---. The Subtle Knife. New York: Dell-Laurel Leaf, 1997. Print.
---. The Amber Spyglass. New York: Knopf, 2000. Print.
Shohet, Lauren. “His Dark Materials, Paradise Lost and the Common Reader.” Milton in Popular Culture. Eds. Laura Lunger and Gregory M. Colon Semenza. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006. Print.

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