Special Editions of His Dark Materials

2005 marked the 10th anniversary of His Dark Materials, and as such Scholastic Press released beautiful hardback editions.



Not only do they have gorgeous metallic covers and a bound bookmark to help you keep your place, but each book has an appendix filled with additional snippets of information. These bits and pieces are in the form of letters, notes, and drawings by Lord Asriel currently housed in Jordon College Library, notes and drawings from Dr Grumman, and papers by Dr Mary Malone from Secret Magisterium files.

Pullman also includes a small introduction at the start of each appendix offering details about where these files were found, are being stored etc to give a great authentic element that keeps it in the realm of the story.

In Northern Lights the appendix reads:

These papers were discovered among the effects of an anonymous scholar after his death in Oxford. They were sent for auction with all his other books and papers and their significance was recognised by Mr Ian Beck, the celebrated artist, who bought them for a small sum.

How they arrived in this universe is still a mystery. It is possible that there exists wormholes, or doorways, opening from one universe into another, and that somewhere in the Oxford of this world there is such an opening into the library of a college in another Oxford entirely.

If that is the case, there may be other such items in this world still awaiting discovery.

There are a few drawings but it’s mainly notes by Lord Asriel with random thoughts he has jotted down relating to Grumman, Lyra, and the witches, plus  inventory for his trip to the North.


Lord Asriel’s notes


Lord Asriel’s notes
















In The Subtle Knife the appendix reads:

The provenance of these papers is obscure. It is possible that they came into the possession of Lord Asriel and were deposited with his own papers in Jordon College Library, but the absence of a library stamp makes that unlikely. It is known that Dr Grumman travelled widely in the Arctic and Siberia, and had numerous acquaintances among the witch-clans and the native people of the north as well as in the worlds of scholarship, politics, and science. Any of them might have acquired such things and inadvertently, or even deliberately, allowed them to slip out of one world and into another.

Items such as these papers are not uncommon. They turn up frequently in auctions, in book-dealers’ catalogues, and the like. Usually their significance remains mysterious; it is only when they are seen in the context of a larger narrative that their meaning suddenly becomes apparent.

This appendix is filled with drawings of the local landscape and points of reference, instructions for making bloodmoss, Grumman’s thoughts about Lord Asriel and his documentation of witch-clans, plus various shaman related notes.


Drawings by Dr Grumman


Notes and drawings by Dr Grumman
















While the others have long introductions, The Amber Spyglass appendix simply has:

Papers of ‘Mary Malone’

Archive of the Magisterium


In this appendix are various pages of Mary’s notes about the world she went into and her studies on what she found.


Dr Malone’s notes


Dr Malone’s notes
















What is wonderful about these items, as hinted by some of the introductions, is when they’re read in the wider context of the narrative you get more to the story. Seeing Mary’s notes upon her arrival in the new world, drawings by Dr Grumman and even Lord Asriel’s papers gives you insight into their character, an extra side of the story, motivations, and discoveries. In these snippets of letters and diary entries it can reveal a lot more about these characters and the wider story itself.

The Subtle Knife (#2) by Philip Pullman

Published:  16th October 1998Goodreads badge
Scholastic Point
Pages: 341
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

70948Will is twelve years old and he’s just killed a man. Now he’s on his own, on the run, determined to discover the truth about his father disappearance.

Then Will steps through a window in the air into another world, and finds himself with a companion – a strange, savage little girl called Lyra. Like Will, she has a mission which she intends to carry out at all costs.

But the world of Cittàgazze is a strange and unsettling place. Deadly, soul-eating Spectres stalk in its streets, while high above, the wingbeats of distant angels sound against the sky. And in the mysterious Torre degli Angeli lurks Cittàgazze’s most important secret – an object which people from many worlds would kill to posses.

This is the second book in the His Dark Materials trilogy and Pullman begins it by changing not only points of view, but also changing worlds. The Subtle Knife begins in what is presumed to be our own world, with Will Parry the new focus. From early on Will grabs your attention and sympathy, he is a young boy trying to look after his mental ill mother, and doing everything he can to keep from drawing attention to himself for fear of being taken away and his mother institutionalised.

Will is a fierce and strong kid, he is tough as he needs to be and insistent, and has years of wisdom and cunning for his young age. Will has his own troubles and like Lyra, Pullman introduces us to him in the middle of a moment and lets us catch up. Unlike Lyra though, we are given a bit more explanation about Will’s life soon after, which builds a lot of character for Will in a short space of time. When Will meets Lyra the pair joins forces and evidently brings out the best in each other, using both their skills and cunning to help one another with what they need to do.

The Subtle Knife moves between three universes, Lyra’s, our own, and a third different again. The different worlds Pullman creates are always curious and remarkable, and this time is no different. With multiple worlds to describe Pullman gives each one depth and detail, and provides description within the narrative, keeping the flow of the story strong while making it vivid and complex at the same time. With three worlds there are a range of stories to follow, but Pullman links them all together seamlessly, and each one progresses the novel on, even when the events are not technically connected.

One thing I always notice upon reading The Subtle Knife is how much it makes me miss the world in Northern Lights. Don’t get me wrong, reading about Will, the knife, the entire adventure of finding new worlds is enjoyable and exciting, but there are moments, especially in the beginning, where I long to be back on the snow-covered landscape of the North. This feeling does pass as you become invested in Will’s story, and watch as Lyra almost takes a backseat to Will’s journey. I think having Lyra out of her element and in a world she doesn’t understand makes her seem smaller and less assured. She initially goes back to being a bit lost and a follower, instead of the brave girl who marched North to rescue her friends. But she gains confidence again and the old Lyra is clearly still there.

Pullman intricately and skillfully combines the characters of Northern Lights with new characters introduced from various worlds. Favourites from Northern Lights journey into new worlds on missions of their own and in doing so show off more about these new worlds, but also add crucial aspects to the story. Even when he appears to be telling one story, Pullman is pulling together pieces for the bigger picture, subtly and quietly in the background.

Once again Pullman is also a master at limiting obvious explanations yet still offering full understanding. Through character thoughts, conversations, and various descriptions Pullman manages to explain a lot about what is happening, whether it is the detail and appearance of a window to another world, strange beings such as angels, or the strange and mysterious Spectres. This is especially important since there are moments of great technicality, especially understanding scientific matters regarding Dust, also known as dark matter. Pullman makes these explanations appear natural and real, making readers understand things alongside characters, while also using casual remarks that have a lot of meaning behind them to answer questions and fill in gaps. Pullman puts a lot of faith in the reader to put the pieces together and understand various aspects of the story, no matter how big or important, without needing to spell it out for them.

There is a different tone in this book than the first, certainly due to the content, but there are still moments of the same excitement, suspense, mysteries and surprises that were in the first book. Pullman lays hints and clues as he goes along which make for thrilling discoveries, and seeing the mixture of characters interact with one another is enchanting. The language is intellectual but simple, and the story is thrilling to read and is marvellously written. This book is both a follow-up to the first novel and a stepping stone into the last; another step towards the grand finale we’ve been told about from the start. With intelligent writing Pullman keeps this momentum going and builds on it gradually, blending it seamlessly with the  main story and managing to fill you with anticipation, captivation, and an eagerness to jump right into book number three, as is the Pullman style.

You can purchase The Subtle Knife via the following

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Book Depository | Booktopia

Bookworld | QBD

Dymocks | Kobo


Characters in The Subtle Knife

Many of the characters from Northern Lights make an appearance in The Subtle Knife, but there are many new characters introduced as well. The story focuses a lot on the new characters and the new worlds, but there is a great mixture of existing characters and introduced ones, woven into the story superbly to show off the new world, introduce new faces, as well as continue the story on. Returning characters include Lyra and Pan, Mrs Coulter, Lee Scoresby, and Serafina Pekkala, while the minor character, Lord Boreal, from Northern Lights reappears. Most returning characters have small but important roles, but all work together to move the story on with important details and plot points.

 Will Parry

his_dark_materials___will_by_citrus_shoodWill is a character that comes from a place that is presumed to be our own world. He lives in England and is the only child to Elaine Parry. Will is a tough kid, he is strong willed and protective. Having had to grow up fast after realising his mother had mental problems, he does everything he can to protect her and himself from any unwanted attention. Wil’s life seems simple but after learning there were men who were after something that belonged to his father, he defends his home and his mother. After being attacked by and accidentally killing home invaders, Will flees his home and finds a window into another world. There he finds Lyra and Pan and becomes the bearer of the Subtle Knife. He is around the same age as Lyra, if not slightly older, but still prepubescent.

Pullman is brief on physical descriptions, but Will is described as having dark hair with straight black eyebrows, with eyes that are noticeably fierce and wide with a jutting jaw and broad cheekbones. Will travels with Lyra through multiple worlds, new ones as well as his own. Will has real world smarts that Lyra lacks, especially as his world is so much different than her own, but they both balance out in intelligence in a range of areas and Lyra knows things he doesn’t, especially regarding Dust. Being from the real world, Will has no daemon, but like people from others worlds, his daemon is on the inside.


John Parrytumblr_n8pniyNxSm1sk2kvno1_400

John Parry is the father of Will Parry, who in Will’s world went missing when he was an infant. In his world John was a famous explorer and during a trip to the Alaska he wandered through a window to another world and couldn’t return. In this new world John changed his name and become an explorer there as well, upon entering Lyra’s world his daemon appeared, an osprey named Sayan Kötör.



Lord Boreal

green_ink7_595Lord Carlo Boreal makes an appearance briefly in Northern Lights, but has a bigger role this time around as a main antagonist. Going by a different name and in a new world, he has interests in the Subtle Knife, as well as the alethiometer. He has connections with many characters, Lyra and Will initially, but also Mrs Coulter and Dr Mary Malone. Coming from Lyra’s world he has a daemon which takes the form of a serpent.

Dr. Mary Malone

tumblr_mk9639hlDI1r0388go1_500Dr Mary Malone is a physicist from Will’s world. She is investigating dark matter, the name of Dust in her world. Lyra meets her first, trying to find information about Dust, and with Lyra’s help finds a way to interact with dark matter, much like Lyra and the alethiometer. Mary discovers she has an important role to play in both Will and Lyra’s lives and she embarks on a journey of her own, discovering a new world with strange creatures. She will be the one to construct and utilise the Amber Spyglass.


balthamos_by_ryerdBalthamos is an angel and part of the rebellion from the Kingdom of Heaven looking to join Lord Asriel’s army. Balthamos plays a larger role in The Amber Spyglass where his mission is to guide the knife bearer (Will) to help Lord Asriel. Angels are described as being luminous and humanlike, barely visible to the human eye. They can transform and are capable of flight though their wings have no corporeal form. Balthamos is cautious and sarcastic, and his relationship with Will has an air of ironic contempt. He also has a same-sex partner, Baruch, another angel who is also part of the rebellion.


balthamos_and_baruch_by_blackmage339Baruch is an angel who is part of the rebellion from the Kingdom of Heaven alongside his same-sex partner, Balthamos. Baruch is courageous and often is the one to fix any of Balthamos’ failings. The connection and affection between the pair is evident, they are deeply loyal and in love. Both Baruch and Balthamos are low ranking angels, but they are determined to carry out their mission at all costs. Like Balthamos, Baruch plays a larger role in The Amber Spyglass, but is introduced first towards the end of The Subtle Knife.

Fun Facts about The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman


The Subtle Knife is the second book in the His Dark Materials trilogy. It was first published in 1997 by Scholastic Point. Unlike Northern Lights that remains solely in one world, The Subtle Knife begins to explore other parallel worlds, and frequently jumps between three worlds.

The story opens with a new perspective, this time with Will Parry, a young boy from our world. And just like he did with Lyra, Pullman introduces these characters in the middle of a moment and expands the story around them. Will’s life is nothing like Lyra’s, and in our own world a lot more familiar, and after fleeing from his own problems stumbles across a window and finds Lyra, Pan, and a range of new things, both exciting and terrifying. Together Lyra and Will continue on their destined paths and open up a whole other level of Pullman’s creation adding even more depth and complexity to that established in the first book.

Just like Northern Lights, Pullman has included his own mini illustrations. The chapter illustrations are there once more, but Pullman has also thought it would be helpful for the readers to “have unobtrusive running-heads on each page, saying ‘Lyra’s world’ or ‘Will’s world’”, but his editor suggested he do it with little drawings instead; an alethiometer for Lyra’s world, a hornbeam tree for Will’s, a (subtle) knife for Cittàgazze etc. He chose not to explain them because it would be fun for readers to work out themselves that they’re for and what the symbols mean.

The title refers to the dagger found in Cittàgazze by Will and Lyra. Named The Subtle Knife or Æsahættr (pronounced “as-hatter” by the BBC Radio adaptation) meaning “God Destroyer”, it is described as looking like an ordinary dagger but able to cut through any material or substance – lead, flesh, even able to cut through the membrane that separates the worlds from each another. It has also been called “Teleutaia makhaira” which means “the last knife of all”.

The Subtle Knife has won a range of awards. It has won the Parents’ Choice Gold Book Award, American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults, Booklist Editors’ Choice, Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, Horn Book Fanfare Honor Book, Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book, Book Links Best Book of the Year, as well as American Bookseller Pick of the Lists.

Adaptations wise, The Subtle Knife was included in the 2003 His Dark Materials audiobook with Northern Lights, as well as the 2004-5 play, and was also formed part of a radio drama on BBC 4. In terms of film, the details and information of a film adaptation are contradictory and ever changing. Deborah Forte, producer of The Golden Compass, is adamant she’ll finish the trilogy, and originally New Line Cinema said a sequel would only be made if the first film was a success, but despite making twice its budget worldwide, the film did poorly in the USA, making the sequel’s fate unclear. Pullman said in 2011 that because of these poor sales in the USA no sequel would be made, but he has admitted he would still like one. I think The Subtle Knife has slightly less obvious religious controversy that I’ve noticed so it may go down better in some places, but even then it is all about doing the story justice. It’s too important not to.

You can read an extract from The Subtle Knife here.


Why I Love His Dark Materials

HDM trio Disclaimer: I really wanted to make a post gushing about how amazing His Dark Materials was, and how much I adore it, cherish it, and am fascinated by it, and I hope in part to have done that. Writing about why I love a series was harder than I thought, there is too much to say and too many feelings to try and put into words without taking a week to write it and have it be a few thousand pages long on each book. So forgive the clunkiness of this post and just remember this post is simply an extension of “Oh my god this series is amazing, it will make your mind dazzle, your heart break, and make you envious, disgusted, proud all at once. It is a masterpiece of literature I have loved since I was 12 years old and I will continue to adore it for as long as I can read. READ THIS SERIES! READ NORTHERN LIGHTS! Fall in love with Lyra and Iorek, read the entire trilogy and be moved by Will, fascinated by the mulefa and have your heart beat out of your chest in so many moments of anticipation, suspense, action and dismay. You will not regret it.” So keep that in mind 🙂

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

The first time I read Northern Lights was when I was in year seven at high school. I cannot remember exactly how I was introduced to the series, I have a feeling it may have been a friend at the time, but either way I was hooked from the very beginning. I remember walking between classes, head in the book, navigating around students with instinct alone, never once looking up from the pages. I would read and reread each book in the series incessantly; getting lost in the world of Lyra and Pan, riding on the back of Iorek through the snow covered North, falling in love with Will and being amazed at Mary’s discoveries, but most of all my heart would ache to live in a world with daemons. From my first reading and even now I long to have a daemon of my own, not just for the marvel of having a companion that changed form, that was absolutely a part of you, but because when they settled you are able to discover the kind of person you truly are. It sounded magnificent. There is so much to love about His Dark Materials. I love that the people at Jordan college have come together to raise Lyra. I love that through every book there is so much joy coupled with intense sadness and heartache but also so much bravery and determination. I love that this incredibly complex story remains easy to read but is filled with the most complex ideas and theories. I love that daemons change for kids as often as their emotions change, that they are a visual representation of their soul, their feelings, and their strength. The entire series is an amazing concept and a wonderful retelling of a classic tale. Rereading Northern Lights has reminded me of all the wonderful things that make His Dark Materials the brilliant series it is. The light heartedness, the danger, the magic and the mysteries, the heartbreak and the horror, all mixed together into this phenomenal story. There is a certain magic about revisiting old favourites. Falling in love all over again with Lyra and Pan, Iorek and the Gyptians is easy, each time feeling like a first time read, even knowing where the story will go. The excitement is still there, the fear, and the disgust and sadness when terrible things happen. Another advantage of rereads is the fact you can always pick up something you have never seen before. But while there are new things to discover, there are the same moments, the same characters, that stay with you forever, moments you’ll never forget. In my typical cryptic and spoiler free way I will tell you I have never, not once, gotten over Tony. I find myself thinking about this series quite often, Lyra in the cupboard, Will and his mother, Lee Scoresby and Hester on the hillside, but I still feel so much sadness thinking about that boy with his fish. Reading it again was just as painful as the first time, Pullman has a way of making you feel everything like it’s the first time. It’s spectacular, but very emotional. What was also wonderful is that from the first pages to the last I pictured everything in my head just as I had always done, my images of characters and places were the same as when I was 12 years old, it was like returning to a familiar place after years being gone, to find it was just how you left it, the same faces welcoming you home. From Northern Lights to The Amber Spyglass there is nothing to lose by reading a series like His Dark Materials. The way Pullman migrates from Lyra in Northern Lights to Will in The Subtle Knife is seamless, and the gradual build up of characters, perspectives, worlds, and ideas is magnificent and should be (and has been) commended. I cannot imagine not having read this series, it hasn’t changed my life exactly, but it so much a part of my life it may as well have. These books have given me a story that is simply stunning, one that I will never forget, and one that I look forward to rereading again and again for many years to come.