So, we all know that Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is inspired heavily by Milton’s Paradise Lost, but I have a feeling that most people in our class (myself included) have not read Milton’s work and probably have little to no idea what it’s about.
Out of curiosity, and possible preparation for my research paper, I’ve been looking up deeper connections between Pullman and Milton’s works, further than just “two books where god is killed”. So far, I’m finding some pretty interesting things.
Pullman once stated himself that the aim of his work was to create Paradise Lost in three parts for adolescents. The quote that begins Golden Compass is from Milton’s work and what Pullman’s series is titled after. The actual instrument, the golden compass or alethiometer, is also mentioned by Milton:
Then staid the fervid Wheeles, and in his hand
He took the golden Compasses, prepar'd
In Gods Eternal store, to circumscribe
This Universe, and all created things
In Paradise Lost, Milton proposes a unique view on the creation of the world, and Pullman builds off of his theory. Many ideas of the world’s creation include “Chaos”—a term from Ancient Greece referring to an initial state of universe, a darkness or abyss. In mythology, Chaos is the void from which everything in existence appeared. Milton asserted that Chaos did not create God, but rather that God first created Chaos from himself and then created the world from a portion of Chaos. This theory suggests that only some of Chaos was used in the making of our world, leaving enough left over to create the existence of many more worlds. Pullman may have been following Milton’s more mythological theory in his use of multiple worlds, rather than the scientific theory we discussed in class.
Pullman’s creation of daemons as a duel nature may also be a loose mimic of Milton. Milton believed that man has two opposite natures fighting within him—reason and desire. In HDM, Lyra represents desire while Pan represents reason. Milton believed that reason was the more powerful of these two natures, and thus in the end of HDM Lyra chooses reason over desire when she leaves will forever, despite having fallen in love with him.
Finally, I would like to comment on Satan within both PL and HDM. Milton represented Satan in his work as an epic hero, yet there is no concrete character ‘Satan’ in HDM. Both Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter could represent him—Lord Asriel is a strong ‘hero’ waging war on God, and Mrs. Coulter forces Lyra into drug induced sleep forcing her to dream, as Satan did to Eve in Milton’s tale.
The most interesting thing I found in my light research on the similarities between these two works is that Milton wrote his work intending to test readers’ faith in God. He wrote Satan as an epic hero as a ‘trap’ for his readers to fall into—he was not purposely inserting his own anti-religion opinions into his book as Pullman did, but rather trying to strengthen and make aware of religion by challenging it.