Tuesday, September 20, 2011

His Dark Materials

Lyra Silvertongue

This is Lyra, the heroine from the 'His Dark Materials' trilogy written by Philip Pullman. For those who have read it: I imagine this image takes place sometime after the events in third book. 

I loved how unpredictable these stories where. It's not like reading Harry Potter, where you're constantly being reminded of every other fantasy book you've ever read. (Lord of the Rings much, lady?) Let me append that statement by saying I've read and enjoyed all the Harry Potter books... and I should probably say something about imitation being the best form of flattery... It's just I found His Dark Materials to be a more unique in it's vision. No deja vu to speak of.

It really wasn't my intention to attack on Harry P here, so I'll drop it cause there are other better reasons why you should read these books. If you're a fool for stories about gods and myth that's a good start, because Lyra is essentially a modernish Eve that helps save the world from the rule of a false god. What I like about Philip Pullman's take is that she isn't portrayed as a negative mother-of-all-sin Eve. Instead the Fall is seen as a positive, and that's a beautiful thought. It reinterprets original sin and the fall from grace as a great moment that brought consciousness, knowledge and love to beings in all worlds. (yes, plural.) I love that it turns the guilt and regret you're expected to feel on its head to become a desirable event that made us the wonderfully curious and complex creatures we are. Eve mother-of-all-knowledge! (P.S. Sexy-time is awesome.)
The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides. - Carl Sagan
You don't have to dig theology to get swept into these books though. It's a fun coming of age adventure like so many great stories. It's about embracing curiosity and wonder, and living life the best way you can. Which is a universal theme anyone can enjoy.

I wanted to share a couple of things that influenced me while working on this illustration... simply because they're cool. This is a statue I found while flipping through a massive volume of religious art in architecture at the bookstore. I liked the color, the texture, the aged gilded goodness... even the break neck angle of Mary's head. With those eyebrows, I can only assume this was the result of a Vulcan neck pinch. I'm also just assuming that is Mary, because I was an idiot and didn't write down the name of the book or the name of this piece. This is a cell phone shot... and on a second trip to Powell's Books I was unable to find it again. If anyone recognizes this please let me know!

Another fun resource was this tumblr blog called Ye Olde Fashion. While trolling the archives I saw this summer dress from 1912 and could picture an older Lyra wearing it. I imagine she would have a simple style with 'Gyptian' (gypsy) influences.

That's all for now. This was a personal project, hope you enjoy it.

*EDIT: This image is now available for purchase on Society6.


  1. I think this might be my favorite of yours thus far! :-) I love, love the palette. So very Autumn. How might someone talk you out of a print???? :-)

  2. Hi Kate! I'll be putting it up for sale in a number of sizes at Society6 sometime soon. Probably sometime today even. :) Here is a link to my store:


    I'm glad you like the colors, I was trying to keep it pretty simple and golden. Thanks for the feedback!

  3. Nice illustration. I like the colors and composition.

  4. Absolutely beautiful! I loved "His Dark Materials." It's a shame Hollywood wussed out when they made "The Golden Compass," and truncated the ending (and then wondered why no one liked it.)

    1. Thank you so much!

      I didn't think the movie was too bad. It's so hard to capture good books in such a short amount of time... I try (hard emphasis on "try") to give movies a little leeway for that. I agree though, it sucks they didn't get a chance to take it further, and had to water it down so much for mass appeal. And then, even after being diluted, it still pissed religious folks off enough to call for boycotts. People are silly silly beasts.

  5. Wow. This is stunning. Wonderful combination of colours, the mood of the piece - plus she's such a terrific character and the daemon, I just love all of it.

    I'm so glad someone else mentioned a possible print, as well - because it is so perfect.

  6. This is very beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Hey Allyson - the figure resting his head on Jesus is the apostle John. In some translations of John 13:25, it says that John rested his head on Jesus's chest at the last supper. John is usually depicted as being very young and beardless, since he was supposedly still alive in the year 100 A.D.

    Don't know anything about that particular sculpture though!

    1. Wow, thank you Everett! I got a little obsessive just now, and googled this new information. Finally found some things:

      The statue is either called "St John Resting on Jesus' Chest," or "Christ Saint John Ensemble." I've found information listing it as either by an unknown artist or by a Master Heinrich of Konstanz, from Germany.

      Even me mistaking him as being female makes a lot of sense, what with all the theories buzzing out there about why Saint John is often depicted as effeminate in certain periods of art.

      Also, it was carved around 1300 for a convent in Switerland. I wonder if John's feminine looks could have been in part because nuns identified so deeply with him? Perhaps, it's more likely that this is just how ideal young men were styled and depicted at the time.

      That was fun, and just the sort of information I was hoping for. Thanks for the knowledge bomb. :)