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His Dark Materials

Philip Pullman

Study Questions & Essay Topics

Key Facts

Quiz

Study Questions

1. In what way does Mary Malone “play the snake” for Will and Lyra?

Mary Malone plays the snake by introducing Will and Lyra to the idea that sex is not a shameful act. Mary began her adult life as a nun.. She dedicated her life to God by refusing physical pleasures (primarily sex) and ignoring her body’s urges. In the world of the mulefa, Mary tells Will and Lyra how she came to break her nun’s vows. She was at a conference when she met a man who made her happy—mentally, spiritually, and physically. Mary realized that denying her body’s urges didn’t make anyone happier or improve anyone’s life, so she left the convent and dedicated her life to secular science. This story makes Lyra realize that there is a whole realm of pleasure that she has never experienced. Lyra doesn’t understand the kind of physical pleasure that Mary describes, but she recognizes it as something important. Just as the snake showed Eve how to gain knowledge, Mary points Lyra and Will in the direction of adulthood by telling them that sexual pleasure is nothing to be ashamed of.

2. How do daemons reflect the nature of their humans?

When a daemon finally settles (takes one shape for good), it means that the person belonging to that daemon has grown up and attained a fixed identity. The shape that a daemon takes reflects its human’s soul. Servants’ daemons take the shape of dogs, which reflects their owners’ congenial natures and willingness to take orders. Witches’ daemons are most often birds, which suggests witches’ independence and their ability to fly. Lord Asriel’s daemon is a snow leopard, which reflects Lord Asriel’s power. Mrs. Asriel’s daemon is a beautiful but cruel monkey, which reflects her lovely appearance and deceptive personality. The lying, cheating Lord Boreal, also known as Sir Charles Latrom, has for a daemon a tiny snake that hides in his clothing. Will’s daemon, Kirjava, settles into the form of an extraordinarily beautiful cat, which shows that Will is wise, proud, and independent. Lyra’s daemon takes the form of a pine marten. Like Lyra, pine martens are rare and seem wild to outsiders, but are also sleek, graceful, and self-contained.

3. Why do the witches understand Lyra’s importance before everyone else?

The witches don’t follow the rules of the Church and they don’t live among ordinary humans. Coming from the northernmost regions, they fly through the aurora borealis, where the barrier between universes is thinner. They talk to angels and live much longer than ordinary humans. Their knowledge of other worlds and their refusal to kowtow to the Church give them an open-minded attitude toward Lyra. The witches believe that the lives of all conscious beings began at the moment of Eve’s fall, an event they celebrate. When the increasingly powerful Church forbids the accumulation of knowledge, the witches began to look for another Eve, someone who can restore wisdom to the world. Lyra’s destiny fills them with hope and joy.

Suggested Essay Topics

1. Why does the Church want to stop Lyra from growing up?

2. In what ways does Mrs. Coulter change over the course of the trilogy? What causes her to change?

3. What is the difference between armored bears and humans? What changes does Iofur Raknison want to bring about?

4. Describe the differences between Lyra’s personality and Will’s. How do they compliment each other?

5. Neither Will nor Lyra have proper parents. How does this affect their lives and the course of the story?

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