AffiliationUniversity of Chester
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AbstractPhilip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (and indeed the side trilogy, The Book of Dust) focus on the separation of truth from faith. Yet, when we actually dig into the type of truth proposed by Pullman, we can glean valuable lessons about how truth works in itself, and how we define it. Pullman is aware of the power of interpretation: ideas of truth and divination are expertly woven around notions of storytelling, and the presence or absence of the author. This quite postmodern notion – separation of author from content and the freedom of the reader to interpret – influences a number of important themes, characters and objects within Pullman’s texts. The truth-telling alethiometer, the I Ching and Mary Malone’s Dust-detecting computer - even Dust itself – all toy with ideas of fate, free-will, and truth. As well as this, there are factors in the text that offer truth; things like the Magisterium preach that their word is fact. Particularly in the Book of Dust, Pullman focuses on a regime that wishes to stifle speculation and assert truth. This conflict suggests that there is the potential to glean objective, universal truths, but only through a paradoxical combination of constructivist epistemology, correspondence and epistemic investigation. His Dark Materials’ truth-telling devices need to be interpreted. They offer a truth that is rooted in self-discovery. This is somewhat paradoxical, as it suggests that objective truth exists, but that it is centred around subjectively bringing your own experiences to bear on the interpretation of it. Pullman’s themes both reflect and comment on the current post-truth and post-fact political climate. A re-reading of his texts in this light can offer a valuable commentary on the slippery nature of truth itself. This article examines Pullman’s creation of truth through the lenses of structuralist and post-modernist critics. It examines the notion of socially constructed ideas of truth in the texts through Marx and Hegel, before moving to consider truth in the postmodern world in light of more contemporary philosophers such as Slavoj Zizek. Pullman dissects the whole notion of assumed truths and enforced faith, yet still appears to believe in a spiritual sense of destiny and a universal truth. This article aims to establish just what type of truth this is, and what lessons we can learn from it in a world where the truth may or may not exist.
CitationLeahy, R. (2020). His Dark Materials in a post-truth world. In R. Greene & R. Robison-Greene (Eds.) His Dark Materials and philosophy: Paradox lost. Open Court.
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