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A Look Into the Figure of The Authority in ‘His Dark Materials’

This is the stuff that blew my little twelve year old mind, let me tell you.

Lyra and Will in key art for 'His Dark Materials'

*** This article contains spoilers for the entire His Dark Materials saga by Philip Pullman, and also for all three seasons of its HBO adaptation. Be warned. ***

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy—composed of the books The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass—and its HBO adaptation might, at first glance, look like your standard fantasy tale aimed at young readers, with a protagonist they can identify with, a sprawling and fascinating world, and unique worldbuilding features.

Everyone who has ever followed the adventure of Lyra Silvertongue and her dæmon Pantalaimon, though, has soon realised that the story goes much deeper—touching on themes of freedom and rebellion and what it really means to be human while bringing theology and spirituality into the mix.

These ideas are represented inside the story by some aspects of the worldbuilding, like Dust, which propels pretty much all our protagonists into action; and of course, by actual characters, like the mysterious Authority—whose creation comes directly from the Abrahamic tradition.

So, who exactly is the Authority? He was the first angel to condense out of Dust—since angels are being made up entirely by Dust, unlike humans, who have Dust settle on them and move through them.

Since he was the first, the Authority then deceived the angels that came after him telling them that he was their creator, exiling those who discovered his secret and establishing his tyrannical rule over the Kingdom of Heaven, spreading it through the different worlds—thanks to organisations like the Magisterium in Lyra’s world. The Authority also created the world of the dead, meant as a prison for the ghosts of those who have died.

All of this was accomplished with the help of his regent, Metatron—who, as the most classic of tales go, began accumulating more and more power until he was powerful enough to overthrow an older and weaker Authority and entrap him in a crystal box while ruling the Kingdom of Heaven in his stead.

By the time Lyra and Will step onto the scene, the Authority has been trapped in his crystal box for centuries—withered by age in both body and mind. During the battle for the Republic of Heaven, one of the culminating events of The Amber Spyglass, Will and Lyra discover the Authority and free him with the help of the Subtle Knife. They are the only ones to witness the Authority’s death—a burst of childish happiness at finally being freed before dissolving into atoms and dispersing into the air.

(via: HDM Wiki; image: HBO)

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Benedetta (she/her) lives in Italy and has considered being in fandom a defining character trait since she was in middle school and wasn't old enough to read the fanfiction she was definitely reading. She loves dragons, complex magic systems, unhinged female characters, tragic villains and good queer representation. A Targaryen stan first and a human second. In this Bangtan Sonyeondan sh*t for life.