Gender Essentialism in Phillip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy

Without getting too stuck down in what I actually thought of the books in general (it is important to note here that I LIVE for fantasy novels and have a tendency to ignore many flaws in the face of clever character names and a bit of abracadabra), I was Deeply Shocked at the revelation (spoiler) that the pre-adolescent Will and Lyra were effectively Adam and Eve reincarnate.

Aside from my general disappointment in this narrative development, I was disgusted to realise that all of Lyra’s charming character traits – her warmth, emotional intensity, spontaneity, generosity of spirit and personableness (yes that is the correct noun form of personable) – were merely an attempt to caricaturise the archetypal female. What I had foolishly mistaken for warmth, passion, spontaneity and generosity of spirit was actually cleverly disguised irrationality, instinctive nurturing and a tendency to be overly-emotional.

In deliberate contrast, Will exhibits the quiet stoicism and strength of will (pun!) required by everyone’s favourite First Man of the Universe.

Pullman, I bite my thumb at you. I can think of no more comprehensive a way to ensure young readers absorb a theory of sex-determinacy than by turning the proud and lovable young heroine of a truly delightful novel (Northern Lights) into the one half of a classic gender essentialist paradigm. Also: theĀ  WOMAN WHO (allegedly) BRINGS SHAME AND SIN UPON THE REST OF HUMAN EXISTENCE.

For heaven’s sake man (seeing as you appear to be into that sort of thing), could you kindly leave a generation of young women who have only just (and very debatably) escaped the essentialising of their sex to having Irrevocably Fucked-Up and being ultimately deserving of dire suffering for ever and ever, the fuck alone?

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