The BBC TV adaptation of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials books continues apace. Watching it in the run-up to Christmas recalls those days in the eighties of watching The Box Of Delights the first time around, this time with my own children. The question was asked of me, "why is it called His Dark Materials" anyway? The answers – include some from Philip Pullman himself weren't satisfactory enough, so I delved deep.
I knew the phrase from Jonathan Milton's Paradise Lost.
Into this wilde Abyss, The Womb of nature and perhaps her Grave,
Of neither Sea, nor Shore, nor Air, nor Fire, But all these in their pregnant causes mixt
Confus'dly, and which thus must ever fight, Unless th' Almighty Maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more Worlds, Into this wilde Abyss the warie fiend
Stood on the brink of Hell and look'd a while, Pondering his Voyage; for no narrow frith
He had to cross.
Basically, unless God instructs the elements to make some more worlds with "his dark materials", what you see is all you've got. However in Phillip Pullman's books, and the spinoff TV series, play and movie, we get to see more of such worlds that Milton dismisses.
It also refers to the concept of Dust as being a dark material, revealed to be what we call "dark matter" in our world. Something unseen but evident in the effect it has on everything else. And forming all these worlds into existence.
The Golden Compass, the US name for the first book in the series, Northern Lights, is also a Milton reference, the device that God uses to define his entire creation.
His Dark Materials, series 1 and 2, are currently both available on the BBC iPlayer. The Box Of Delights should be on a cheap DVD somewhere and is worth its weight in gold. All the books are also readily available for both, too.