His Dark Materials has enough unfamiliar objects and phrases to confuse even the most avid watcher. Here’s a complete guide to all the words you need to make sense of Philip Pullman’s world. Warning: this article contains spoilers for episode one, so do not read on unless you are fully up to date…
The long-awaited adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials is finally here for all of us to enjoy. The first episode – which saw a frustrated Lyra set off on her own adventure to the North with the mysterious Mrs Coulter – has received some pretty stellar reviews.
But there’s still one question echoing around the internet: what do all these words mean? From the mysterious “dust” unveiled by the intimidating Lord Asriel to whispers of the “Gobblers” abducting children and taking them to London, first-time visitors to the world of His Dark Materials were left with many more questions than when they started.
Luckily enough, we don’t have to wait and scratch our heads for the next eight weeks waiting for the answers to be revealed: we’ve got the books for that. And while we wouldn’t want to spoil the plot for people interested in watching the whole series, we thought it would be pretty handy to break down all those complicated phrases to make the episodes a little bit easier to understand.
No need to frantically google all those questions as they pop up throughout the episodes: we’ve collated this handy glossary so you can sit back and immerse yourself in the wonderful His Dark Materials world.
At the end of episode one, Lyra is presented with an alethiometer, a mystical object which Dr Carne (aka the master of Jordan College) informs her will tell the truth.
Only six alethiometers were ever made, making Lyra’s possession particularly special. Fun fact: the name comes from ancient Greek (alethia meaning truth and meter meaning measure).
In the world of His Dark Materials, humans have a “daemon” companion which takes the form of an animal. Essentially, daemons are physical manifestations of a person’s soul – a big concept, but stay with us.
They can take the form of any animal – throughout childhood, the type of animal will shift and change at will, but in adulthood, the daemon will settle into one final form. That animal will usually reflect their personality.
Out of all the terminology thrown around in His Dark Materials, the concept of “Dust” is probably hardest to grasp. In the first episode of the series, we saw Lord Asriel present evidence of the existence of Dust to a room of scholars at Jordan College, who reacted with shock at the images of Dust Asriel were able to capture.
Dust, also known as Rusakov Particles, are “elementary particles” associated with consciousness. In a 2017 interview with The Guardian, Pullman described the concept as “an analogy of consciousness”. Children do not attract Dust because they are not seen as fully conscious until their daemon settles into one form – that is, until they reach maturity.
Dust is incredibly central to the whole plot of His Dark Materials, so we can’t say too much more right now – just make sure you’re concentrating on the concept as the series develops.
If you’re watching along with the series and feeling confused about the Gobblers, don’t worry: that’s kind of the point.
In episode one, Lyra refuses to believe the Gobblers even exist until Mrs Coulter leads her to believe her friend Roger was abducted by one – and that they’re taking abducted children to London.
All we know now is that the Gobblers are a group of beings we wouldn’t want to be messed with.
The gyptians are a nomadic ethnic group who travel around Lyra’s world on their boats through canals and rivers. As a community, they are tightly knit and loving to each other – this makes the disappearance of a gyptian child Billy Costa in episode one particularly shocking.
In the world of His Dark Materials, The Magisterium is the big dog. Based in Geneva, The Magisterium is essentially the headquarters and ruling authority of the Holy Church.
In episode one, we learn that Lord Asriel’s discovery of Dust will seriously upset The Magisterium – and that even the scholastic sanctuary afforded to the scholars of Jordan College won’t keep them safe.