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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary
devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
The narrator makes repeated references to Lyra’s destiny,
a fate that is unknown to Lyra herself. It is said that Lyra is
preordained to put an end to destiny forever. The main struggle
in the trilogy occurs between the forces of the Church, who want
destiny to exist, and the forces of people like Lord Asriel, who
want to eliminate destiny and allow people to control their own
lives. This conflict is not just about freedom and knowledge—it’s
about the right to live without fate, to be in control of every
moment of your life.
In Pullman’s trilogy, a fundamental difference exists
between innocence and experience. Here Pullman clearly speaks to
William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience,
which he regards as a huge influence on his work. Innocence is the
stage of Adam and Eve before they leave the garden, and, in Lyra’s
world, of children whose daemons haven’t settled. Dust is not attracted
to innocence in the same way that it is to experience. In Lord Asriel’s
photographs, it seems that Dust accumulates only around adults,
not around children. Dust is the physical manifestation of human
consciousness, and children aren’t thought to be conscious beings
in the same way adults are. They’re usually not allowed to make
decisions about their own lives, but they’re also spared the pains
and responsibilities that come with adulthood. Like Dust, specters
aren’t attracted to pristine little souls that live without pain
or responsibility. Both cluster around the experienced soul. Children,
because they are innocent, are thought to have almost no souls at
all. It is experience, both good and bad, that forges a human soul.
The Church of Pullman’s novels loathes physical pleasure
above all else. The monks, nuns, and priests of the Church live
without pleasure and condemn those who choose less austere lives.
Mary Malone eventually leaves the Church when she realizes that
denying herself physical pleasure serves nobody and prevents her
from experiencing life fully. The witches are said to live their
lives more fully because they revel in physical experience. They
sense air passing over their bodies and the light of the stars and
the glow of the aurora borealis in ways humans cannot. The kind
of pleasure that the witches take from the physical world makes
the Church condemn them. Pullman reinforces the importance of physical
pleasure by making Will and Lyra’s physical pleasure the tonic that
saves the world.
Ace your assignments with our guide to His Dark Materials!