Genesis’ Abram, Phillip Pullman, author, Dust ( His Dark Materials ) and CS Lewis’ Narnia, part 1

23 Nov

Phillip Pullman lives in Oxford and in a real sense the opposite of another Oxford resident, CS Lewis. Lewis is champion of Christianity; Pullman is an avowed opponent. Yet, they have more in common than an Oxford life: both have written loved children books in series – ‘His Dark Materials’ and for Lewis, the Narnia narratives. Worlds, alternative lands, ‘dust’ are the settings of each of their series. And they use ‘dust’ to serve as connective tissue in their imaginative universes.

Pullman described ‘Dust’ in a 2017 interview as “an analogy of consciousness, and consciousness is this extraordinary property we have as human beings”.


“Dust came into being when living things became conscious of themselves; but it needed some feedback system to reinforce it and make it safe, as the mulefa had their wheels and the oil from the trees. Without something like that, it would all vanish. Thought, imagination, feeling, would all wither and blow away, leaving nothing but a brutish automatism; and that brief period when life was conscious of itself would flicker out like a candle in every one of the billions of worlds where it had burned brightly.” — The Amber Spyglass, Chapter 34

Dust here is created when we are conscious of we. And we use this dust, along with consciousness of any type, if we don’t create and recreate with it.

CS Lewis has no desire to create a detailed world with Narnia. Lewis wants only to create a brief illusion of some extra dimension. ( or Dust ) And, in at least one reported conversation shows, he was indifferent to breaches of internal consistency in the stories. His good friend, the poet Ruth Pitter, challenged him about how the Beaver family in The Lion manage to produce potatoes for their meal with the children, given the wintry conditions that had prevailed for most of living memory; not to mention oranges, sugar and suet for the marmalade roll.

Yet a world is created, a new garden paradise where sin is overcome by love. Narnia is CS Lewis’ Canaan and Dust is Pullman’s paradise. In one evil and wrong is when consciousness is being stifled and disconnected; in the other awareness of a child’s innocence ( the forgiveness and rescue Edmund ) is is preserved by Aslan’s self-sacrificing love. Sin here is forgiven, then forgotten. In Pullman’s works ‘sin’ is the lost consciousness, forgetting.

Both these series call to mind the journey of Abram from place to place; from being Abram to becoming Abraham. Dust connects Abram from world to worlds. And he walks to get there, growing in consciousness, covering in dust, as he walks. As in here,in Genesis 12,

The Call of Abram

12 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

2 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” 4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. 6 Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.”

Abram travels to an unknown land to grow in knowing himself and his God. The God who created the first man, Adam, out of dust is now using this same dark material to reform Abram, and also his descendants, us.

Genesis 13 continues Abram’s story,

‘But the land ( the dust ) could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. “The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. 15 All the land ( dust )that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. 17 Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.” 18 So Abram went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he pitched his tents. There he built an altar to the Lord.”

Dust in Abram’s walk parallels his attentive look, his call by his God to see, the uncountable stars. ( Genesis 15 ) Each star, each particle, each seed is a new world. We just have ‘walk’ to see, walk to understand, to grow.

Consciousness in these texts come from dust, stars, and from seeing. And from these new worlds of consciousness come life.

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