Sabriel Belacqua

{April 19, 2010}   A Jungian Analysis of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy

Phillip Pullman has been hailed the next Tolkien and CS Lewis, as he transports the reader into many different worlds through the astonishing power of his imagination. His Dark Materials Trilogy, which comprises of The Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, is essentially a coming of age story for the two main characters, Will and Lyra. The trilogy follows Will and Lyra through several different parallel universes, as they go on an epic journey which culminates in a great battle for the destruction of The Authority/God. The trilogy has also been described as a retelling of the Christian ‘Fall’ by Pullman,

“I try to present the idea that the Fall, like any myth, is not something that has happened once…but happens again and again in all our lives.” (Phillip Pullman, cited in Frost’s The Definitive Guide to Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, 2006).

Pullman’s ideas are similar to that of Jung’s theory’s relating to personal myths and archetypes. It is for this reason that this paper will endeavour to critically analyse His Dark Materials Trilogy using a Jungian perspective. Using this Jungian spotlight, several themes can be explored, including that of the anima and animus, the collective unconscious, the shadow, the transcendent function, the Self, individuation and Jung’s four stages of analysis. These can be portrayed through Pullman’s use of Dæmons, which are the visible souls of the people from Lyra’s world. As well as Dust, which works the Alethiometer (truth reader/symbol reader) and attaches itself to all conscious beings and things made by conscious beings, and the Magisterium, which is a very controlling Church power. We can also apply Jung’s theory to The Land of the Dead, which is a prison camp for the dead, as well as pulling together the overall storyline.

The most strikingly obvious point from which to start analysing His Dark Materials is with the dæmons. We are introduced to Pullman’s concept of a dæmon in the first sentence of the trilogy,

“Lyra and her dæmon moved through the darkening Hall” (Pullman, 1995, NL, p3).

As the story continues we learn, that dæmon’s are the visible soul of the people from Lyra’s world. They take the form of animals, and are almost always the opposite sex of their person. According to Jung, “every man carries within him the eternal image of the woman, not the image of this or that woman, but a definite feminine image.” From this alone it would be safe to speculate that Pullman’s dæmons are a manifestation of Jung’s anima and animus. Jung also said,

“Woman is compensated by a masculine element and therefore her unconscious has, so to speak, a masculine imprint…The animus corresponds to the paternal Logos just as the anima corresponds to the maternal Eros.”

Both the anima and animus act in our dreams and imagination as mediators of the unconscious to the ego. We can speculate that this parallels Pullman’s dæmons who sometimes act as co-conspirators as well as sometimes vocalising the other side of an argument, normally for the better. In The Amber Spyglass, Serafina Pekkala tells Pan and Kirjarva what the role of a dæmon is,

“You must help them and guide them and encourage them towards wisdom. That’s what dæmons are for.” (Pullman, 2005, AS, p500).

Pullman’s concept of dæmons is that they are the visible souls of the people from Lyra’s world, although even if, as in Will’s case, you are from another world without dæmons, they still exist, just on the inside.

‘”You have got a dæmon,” she said decisively. “inside you.”…”You wouldn’t be human else. You’d be…half dead. We seen a kid with his dæmon cut away. You en’t like that. Even if you don’t know you got a dæmon, you have.”’ (Pullman, 1997, SK.)

Jung describes the anima and animus as “soul-images” and the “not-I”, for they are experienced as something mysterious and numinous, possessing great power. Jung said, “The character of the anima can be deduced from that of the persona” because “Everything that should normally be in the outer attitude, but is conspicuously absent, will invariably be found in the inner attitude.” This is the case with Lyra and her dæmon, Pan. Lyra is a very gutsy and daring character, she rarely thinks through the dangers involved, Pan however, is a lot more cautious. This becomes apparent at the start of the trilogy when we’re first introduced to Lyra and Pan.

‘“You’re not taking this seriously,” whispered her dæmon. “Behave yourself.” Her dæmon’s name was Pantalaimon, and he was currently in the form of a moth, a dark brown one so as not to show up in the darkness of the Hall. “They’re making too much noise to hear from the kitchen,” Lyra whispered back. “And the steward doesn’t come in till the first bell. Stop fussing.”’ (Pullman, 1995, NL, p3.).

One of Jung’s more popular ideas was his concept of the collective unconscious. This was an idea that he’d had since he was a child when he realised that occasionally his dreams had components that came from somewhere beyond himself. As his career progressed he developed this idea further to say that the collective unconscious potentially contained the entire psychic heritage of mankind.

“In addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche, there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. The collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents. (Jung, 1936).

By analysing His Dark Materials it becomes evident that the basic concepts of Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious mirror that of Pullman’s idea of Dust. Pullman introduces us to Dust early on in the Northern Lights,

‘”It’s coming down,” said Lord Asriel, “but it isn’t light. “It’s Dust.” Something in the way he said it made Lyra imagine Dust with a capital letter, as if this wasn’t ordinary dust.’ (Pullman, 1995, NL, p22.).

As the story continues the reader learns that Dust surrounds conscious beings, and has done for at least “thirty-three thousand two hundred and fifty-four years before the present day”, it also surrounds objects created by conscious beings. Lyra’s Alethiometer is controlled by Dust, and provides truth and guidance. We could go so far to say that Dust is the collective knowledge of all consciousness. It’s easy to conjecture that Pullman’s Dust, is a representation of the collective unconscious, which is a record in, and of, the psyche of humankind going back to its remotest beginnings. The collective unconscious consists of ‘primordial images’ and ‘mythological motifs’ and this is how Dust first communicates in the Northern Lights. It conveys it’s meaning through the symbols on the Alethiometer, “there was an anchor; an hourglass surmounted by a skull; a bull; a beehive… Thirty-six altogether”. According to Jung “the content of the collective unconscious is made up essentially of archetypes.” These archetypes are pre-existent forms, “which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents.” We can surmise that this secondary consciousness is what Lyra induces to access Dusts knowledge. In the Northern Lights, Farder Coram explains that the Alethiometer works by “pointing to three symbols you can ask any question you can imagine, because you’ve got so many levels of each one”. He goes on to say,

“It only works if the questioner holds the levels in their mind. You got to know all the meanings, first, and there must be a thousand or more. Then you got to be able to hold ‘em in your mind without fretting at it or pushing for an answer, and you just watch while the needle wanders. When it’s gone round its full range you’ll know what the answer is.” (Pullman, 1995, NL, p127).

These endless meanings for the thirty-six symbols on the Alethiometer indicate that they are archetypal images. Dust and the collective unconscious can be linked even further if we take into consideration that both the theory of Dust and the theory of the collective unconscious and archetypes don’t stand alone in the trilogy or in reality. Jung’s “concept of the archetype, which is an indispensable correlate of the idea of the collective unconscious” is referred to in Mythological research as “motifs”. There are many different theories that offer different explanations of the archetypes of the collective unconscious,

“in the psychology of primitives they correspond to Levy-Bruhl’s concept of “representations collectives” and in the field of comparative religion they have been defined by Hubert and Mauss as “categories of the imagination”. Adolf Bastian … called them “elementary” or “primordial thoughts”. (Jung, 1959).

Similarly to this, in His Dark Materials there are many schools of thought that have come across Dust, the scientists in Lyra’s world call Dust “Rusakov Particles”, Mary Malone, the physicist in Will’s Oxford, calls them “Shadows” or “Dark matter”, and the Magisterium of Lyra’s world call it Dust due to a reference in their bible which suggests that Dust is the physical evidence of “original sin”.

The Magisterium is the Church of Lyra’s world; it holds a lot of power and is “a tangle of courts, colleges, and councils.” (Frost, 2006). The Magisterium’s different councils are often rivals and they greedily guard their power, going so far as to employ censors, which act as “foot soldiers in the Magisterium’s campaign to suppress any findings or speculations that contradict its teachings”, (Frost, 2006). The General Oblation Board is an agency that the Church funds to carry out experiments into Dust, which they believe is evidence of original sin. In order to carry out their experiments they kidnap children and “cut” their dæmon’s away. Although the work they carry out is an abomination,

“it suits the Magisterium to allow all kinds of different agencies to flourish. They can play them off against one another; if one succeeds, they can pretend they’ve been supporting it all along, and if it fails, they can pretend it was a renegade outfit which had never been properly licensed.” (Pullman, 1995, NL, p373-4).

As the story progresses the Church uncover a prophecy regarding Lyra, a prophecy that puts her “in the position of Eve, the wife of Adam, the mother of us all, and the cause of all sin.” (Pullman, 2000, AS, p71). The Magisterium sends out Father Gomez, an assassin, to kill Lyra because “if it comes about that the child is tempted, as Eve was, then she is likely to fall. On the outcome will depend … everything. And if this temptation does take place, and if the child gives in, then Dust and sin will triumph.” (Pullman, 2000, TAS, p71). Using the Jungian spotlight of analysis we could surmise that the Magisterium is the Shadow. The underhand way that their agencies act, parallels that of the shadow, which Stevens describes as the “disowned sub-personality for there is inevitably something ‘shady’ about it, hidden away as it is in the dark lumber-room of the Freudian conscious.” (Stevens, 1994, p64). In dreams the Shadow is normally shown as the same sex as the dreamer and is represented with the archetype of the Enemy, the Predator, or the Evil Stranger. Drawing comparisons from His Dark Materials, I conjecture that the Shadow is mainly in the form of the Magisterium’s agency, the General Oblation Board, which is run by Mrs Coulter, a devious and power hungry woman. Here we can surmise that as Mrs Coulter is the same sex as Lyra, she plays the archetype of the Enemy and the Predator. It is because of Mrs Coulter that Lyra is on this path. Mrs Coulter would lure children away in order to perform “cutting” experiments on them,

“He’s lost already. He was lost the moment his slow-witted dæmon hopped on to the monkey’s hand. He follows the beautiful young lady and the golden monkey down Denmark Street”. (Pullman, 1995, NL, p43).

When the General Oblation Board kidnaps her best friend, Lyra vows to find him. Thus, the General Oblation Board conjectures more similarities with the Shadow, as “unwanted though it is, it persists as a powerful dynamic that we take with us wherever we go as a dark companion which dogs our steps”. (Stevens, 1994, p64). At the end of the Northern Lights Lyra realises that she can’t let the Magisterium destroy Dust, because “if they all think Dust is bad, it must be good.” (Pullman, 1995, NL, p397). Jung said that there is much Self potential and instinctive energy locked away in the shadow and therefore is unavailable to the total personality. By identifying the bad aspects of the Magisterium, Lyra is unlocking her potential and her instinctive energy, enabling her to fulfil her Self’s potential. Further speculatory evidence of Pan as Lyra’s animus comes at the end of the Northern Lights, when Pan expresses her unconscious thoughts,

‘“We’ve heard them all talk about Dust, and they’re so afraid of it, and you know what? We believed them, even though we could see that what they were doing was wicked and evil and wrong… We thought Dust must be bad too, because they were grown-up and they said so. But what if it isn’t? What if it’s – “ She looked at him and saw his green wildcat-eyes ablaze with her own excitement … If Dust were a good thing… If it were to be sought and welcomed and cherished…’ (Pullman, 1995, NL, p 397-8).

Here, we can speculate that as Pan guides Lyra in incorporating aspects of the shadow, he is fulfilling the role of the animus. We can further speculate that the Magisterium considers Lyra its shadow, hence their wish to destroy her. If Lyra plays the role of Eve, then the “Fall” will happen again and we’ll all have original sin again. However, the fact that the Shadow needs to be incorporated into the persona is apparent, because if Eve hadn’t been tempted, then her eyes wouldn’t have been opened, she wouldn’t have become conscious, and she wouldn’t have bore children, meaning the human race wouldn’t exist. The Magisterium needs to realise that “original sin” is a part of us that needs to be accepted. Even God admits to being a sinner as Lord Asriel points out in the bible,

‘“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return…” … the whole verse is a kind of pun on the words “ground” and “dust”, and it really means that God is admitting his own nature to be partly sinful.”’ (Pullman, 1995, NL, p373.).

By acknowledging and incorporating the shadow, one is much further along in unlocking their full potential, however, to go further one needs to undergo the transcendent function.  

The transcendent function posited by Jung is a “dynamic, multifaceted concept that encompasses method, function and process. It includes also the final result.” (Dehing, 1993, cited in Papadopoulos, 2006, p228). The transcendent function brings about the achievement of personality integration and higher consciousness when the ego and the Self confront each other through the mediation of the transcendent function. Jung describes it as,

“a process and a method at the same time. The production of unconscious compensations is a spontaneous process; the conscious realization is a method. The function is called ‘transcendent’ because it facilitates the transition from one psychic condition to another by means of the mutual confrontation of opposites.” (Jung, 1939/1954, cited in Papadopoulos, 2006, p228-9).

In The Amber Spyglass Will and Lyra – motivated by Lyra’s dreams of Roger – journey into the Land of the Dead. However, in order to get there they must leave their souls behind, in Lyra’s case her dæmon whom she’s connected to by a physical bond.

“It’s her misfortune that she can see and talk to the part she must leave. You will not know until you are on the water, and then it will be too late. But you all have to leave that part of yourselves here. There is no passage to the land of the dead for such as him.” Pullman, 2000, AS, p296).

The pain of leaving their souls on the jetty was physical as well as mental, described as,

“something secret and private was being dragged into the open where it had no wish to be, and Will was nearly overcome by a mixture of pain and shame and fear and self-reproach, because he himself had caused it.” (Pullman, 2000, AS, p300).

I conjecture that by undergoing the process of leaving their souls behind without fully realising the pain it would cause, Will in particular, is in the “process stage” of the transcendent function. Upon their return from the Land of the Dead, Will and Lyra find their dæmons, and Will meets his dæmon Kirjarva for the first time. This conscious realisation that he had all along, a hidden feminine side of him is the “method stage” of the transcendent function. Overall, we can surmise that the way in which Will’s anima becomes known to him, facilitated the transition from one psychic condition to another, by means of the mutual confrontation of the opposite sides of him. By symbolically shifting his psychological attitude from one state to a new healthier state Will is achieving individuation using the transcendent function.

Jung believed that the purpose of life was to achieve the goal of individuation by realising one’s own potential, to follow one’s own judgment of the truth, and to become a whole person in one’s own right. It has been described as a rather narcissistic process as it involves a lot of ego development. I speculate that for Will, individuation is achieved when he meet’s his dæmon. But also throughout the trilogy we can surmise that this is a journey for Will and Lyra to follow their destiny, to achieve their potential, and to achieve individuation. They do this by following their own judgement, such when Lyra realised that “if they all think Dust is bad, it must be good.” (Pullman, 1995, NL, p397). Will makes many decisions based on his own judgement and in part selfishness when he abandons his mother with his old piano teacher, in order to seek out his father. But without these fundamental decisions Will and Lyra would not have fulfilled the witches’ prophecy, nor would they have achieved individuation.

“Individuation is the raison d’être of the Self.” (Stevens, 1994, p61). The fundamental notion of Jungian psychology is that the Self is the centre and the totality of the psyche. According to Colman, “the self is the goal towards which the process of individuation strives. It represents psychic wholeness and the process by which self-division may be healed.” Colman, cited in Papadopoulos, 2006). By applying this theory to His Dark Materials we can speculate that the dæmons of children can change form because they have not yet achieved individuation. However, at puberty when dæmons take on a settled form, we can surmise that a certain degree of selfhood has been achieved. Lyra explains to Will,

“usually they end up something that fits. I mean something like your real nature. Like if your dæmon’s a dog, that means you like doing what you’re told, and knowing who’s boss, and following orders, and pleasing people who are in charge. A lot of servants are people whose dæmons are dogs. So it helps to know what you’re like and to find what you’d be good at.” (Pullman, 2000, AS, p483.)

When Will and Lyra’s dæmons take their settled form it is a reflection of the people they have become. Pan takes the form of a pine-martin and looks “like a large and powerful ferret, red-gold in colour, lithe and sinuous and full of grace.” This resembles the graceful young woman Lyra has become. Kirjarva becomes a cat, which has always been Will’s favourite animal and companion, “but she was a cat of no ordinary size, and her fur was lustrous and rich, with a thousand different glints and shades of ink-black, shadow-grey, the blue of a deep lake under a noon sky, mist-lavender-moonlight-fog… To see the meaning of the word subtlety you only had to look at her fur.” (Pullman, 2000, AS, p527). The subtlety of Kirjarva’s fur could be a symbolic reflection of the Subtle Knife, which although broken and never to be used again, Will is the rightful bearer of it, and it was pivotal in Will’s journey to Selfhood.

For Jung, analysis was to be divided into four stages, Confession, Elucidation, Education and Transformation. One could go so far as to loosely speculate that the storyline of his Dark Materials, in particular, the characters of Will and Lyra, undergo these stages of therapy in a symbolic form. Stevens outlines the Confession stage as a time of “initial catharsis when one shares with the analyst the secrets one has been carrying.” (Stevens, 1994, p130). We can speculate that the start of both Northern Lights and The Subtle Knife is the confessional period of His Dark Materials. Will has just murdered a man,

“He couldn’t get out of his mind the crack as the man’s head had hit the table, and the way his neck was bent so far and in such a wrong way, and the dreadful twitching of his limbs. The man was dead. He’d killed him.” (Pullman, 1997, SK, p8).

“In many ways Lyra was a barbarian” a “coarse and greedy little savage”. The next stage in Jung’s therapy is Elucidation, whereby serious work with the unconscious starts. Stevens regards this stage as similar to Freudian ‘interpretive’ analysis. I surmise that we can see this portrayed in the trilogy with Lyra’s reading of the Alethiometer, which gives her access to the collective unconscious, as well as her dreams to help Roger in the Land of the Dead. It’s also portrayed in Will’s mastery of the knife and his memories of games where by he would “take up his father’s mantle”. The third stage, Education, applies the insights gained during the Confession and Elucidation period. Stevens says in this stage “one begins to experience oneself differently and to explore new modes of existing. This usually goes along with an improved adaptation to the demands of society.” (Stevens, 1994, p130). I speculate that this is the stage Will and Lyra are in as they use their abilities to pursue their quest. Lyra gets used to helping Will, being polite, and not lying, which is a radical improvement from the “coarse and greedy little savage” she once was. Also, during this stage Will searches for his father, and comes to terms with abandoning his mother. The last stage is Transformation, in which work with the unconscious enables one to confront the,

“shadow, the anima or animus, and other archetypal components which are activated, as a natural homeostatic compensation, for one’s previously narrow, neurotic, or one-sided development. … The individuation quest is now under way and is associated with coming to ‘selfhood’, a state reaching beyond mere ‘normality’ … to a full … acceptance of oneself as a whole entity in one’s own right.” (Stevens, 1994, p130). 

I surmise that this stage occurs in His Dark Materials when Will experiences the transcendent function and meets his dæmon, thereby confronting his anima. Both Lyra and Will experience love and loss, which are major archetypal rites of passage. During this stage their dæmon’s take the set form of a cat and a pine-martin after feeling “a lover’s touch”. Thereby Will and Lyra reach ‘Selfhood’ and ‘know’ themselves.

In conclusion, I conjecture that by analysing this story through a Jungian perspective, that the anima and animus are embodied in Pullman’s dæmons. Throughout this paper I have also drawn comparisons between Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious and Pullmans notion of Dust. I have also speculated that the Magisterium, in particular, Mrs Coulter’s branch, The General Oblation Board, partakes in this story as the role of the shadow. The process and method that Will and Lyra undergo to enter the Land of the Dead and release the imprisoned ghosts is symbolic of them experiencing the transcendent function. The themes of Individuation, and the Self, are portrayed throughout His Dark Materials, as the story is about achieving one’s destiny and coming of age. The four stages of Jungian analysis was also examined and applied to His Dark Materials. However, Jungian theory isn’t the only theory one can apply to this trilogy. There is also evidence of Freud’s Oedipal Complex, as Lord Asriel sets out to destroy the Authority, who claims to be the Creator. From a Freudian perspective, we can also see themes of power and control. Although, I don’t discount these applications altogether, in order to confine myself to the constraints of this paper this Freudian perspective had to be overlooked as well as not being able to give a more detailed account of His Dark Materials, in accordance with Jungian theory.


Frost, L. (2006) The Definitive Guide to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. Scholastic Children’s Books, London.

Jung, C,J. (1990) The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. (2nd Edition), Routledge, East Sussex.

Papadoppoulos, R, K. (2006) The Handbook of Jungian Psychology: Theory, Practice and Applications. Routledge, East Sussex.

Pullman, P. (1995) Northern Lights. Scholastic Children’s Books, London.

Pullman, P. (1997) The Subtle Knife. Scholastic Children’s Books, London.

Pullman, P. (2000) The Amber Spyglass. Scholastic Children’s Books, London.

Stevens, A. (1994) Jung: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, Oxford.


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