Searching for Dust

His Dark Materials Theme

I’ve not read a lot of fiction. Growing up I was a big fan of factual books. This hasn’t changed much over the years but I have a great love of TV Dramas and watch a lot of films. Like theatre, screen dramas can draw us into another world, a place to explore our emotions, our experiences and our beliefs.

I was excited to hear on Radio2 a couple of weeks ago that His Dark Materials was returning to our screens. Philip Pullman has not had great press within the church but as with all these things (Harry Potter, Dogma, Life of Brian etc), I am keen to engage with contemporary culture and draw out what we can about the divine, spirituality or religion. I don’t entirely disagree with Mr Pullman who is quoted as saying we need to

“reclaim a vision of heaven from the wreck of religion”.

I have definitely been more interested in exploring spirituality than ‘religion’ over the last decade. In a society that is post-secular and is content to reconcile science and faith, I wonder how long the church will continue to see the world in black and white, simplifying and paraphrasing rather than engaging with what I describe as a framework of complexity?

One of the threads throughout the His Dark Materials trilogy is that of ‘dust’. I’m intrigued by the idea that something unseen is holding the universe together. I’ve always assumed this to be ‘spirit’, something of the divine, uncreated, unending that we can ‘tap into’. The interesting thing about Philip Pullman is that he seems (at least in series one of the adaptions) to have equated this ‘dust’ to something religious rather than something spiritual. In season two it appears that ‘dust’ may be explored from a scientific perspective. I’ve not read the books so I don’t know if it’s explored through a different lens in book 3?

I do have to disagree with Mr Pullman when he says we can be spiritual without God. I think there is a lot to be said for the human spirit and compassion and empathy etc but I do believe in something bigger. I am not as content with calling that ‘God’ as I used to be and I hope to develop a healthy discussion here rather than losing lots of readers but I would say I’m verging more towards universalism as the years role on.

That’s the other thing I’m intrigued about with fiction such as His Dark Materials, Harry Potter and Star Wars – are there really goodies and baddies? Can we really make a distinction, and do we need to? I’m increasingly interested in whether these great literary (and filmic) works point us towards reflecting on ourselves in a more holistic manner. Less right and wrong, black and white, secular and sacred towards a journey of self understanding, self confidence and self esteem.

Reflection Questions

  • How would you define what dust is?
  • Are you religious and/or spiritual?
  • Do you think your work within a framework of simplicity or complexity?
  • Can we be spiritual without something divine, something bigger?
  • what do you find most intriguing about His Dark Materials?

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