"In search of Dark Materials" Oxford by KennetRose

Oxford Travel Guide: 1,000 reviews and 2,125 photos

I've been worried for a long time about my Oxford page. I have never lived there nor have I studied there (Liverpool and the Open University, me, and what's wrong with that???) so I don't have an intimate insider's knowledge. I don't relate to it as a tourist either, it's somewhere I go shopping, especially for books and music, and a place I just enjoy for itself. So I found it hard to get an original angle on it, one that would say something nobody else was saying. There are Lewis Carroll tours and Inspector Morse tours and Tolkien tours, even Harry Potter tours, but nobody in Oxford, so far, seems to be doing a Pullman trail!

Early in 2003 I was confined to bed with a nasty virus, so to pass the time I obtained the three volumes of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, a series of childrens (allegedly) books that had been praised highly but which had also been the centre of a storm of controversy for their anti-religious philosophy. At the end of the 1,300 pages I was in a daze. I just went straight back to the beginning and read it right through again. And then I kept dipping into it again and again to hunt down the rich mixture of philosophy and literary allusion that makes it tick.

The scene is set partly in Oxford. Well, two Oxfords actually, the one we know and the one in another universe wherein lives our heroine Lyra Belacqua, a young girl whose journey from "coarse and greedy little savage" to young woman of quite stunning maturity forms the backbone of the story. In Lyra's world, John Calvin has been Pope, the English Civil War never happened and things in Oxford are familiar and yet, as we gradually realise, also very strange indeed. And there I had my framework for my Oxford page!

Next time your children clamour for more Harry Potter, give them His Dark Materials instead, and read it yourself if they will let go of it! The three volumes are: Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. For some inscrutable reason best known to Pullman's US publishers, Northern Lights is called The Golden Compass across the pond.

  • Last visit to Oxford: May 2003
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (22)

Comments (29)

  • ettiewyn's Profile Photo
    Jul 17, 2011 at 10:41 AM

    What a creative page! I am a Tolkien admirer, so I'll rather visit the Tolkien related sights in Oxford, but I enjoyed reading your page very much and think it is a great approach! And I'll visit Blackwell, it sounds fabulous.

  • King_Golo's Profile Photo
    Sep 13, 2010 at 1:39 AM

    What a great page! I've just finished "Northern Lights" and am so much looking forward to tomorrow as it is my birthday then, and rumour has it that the other two volumes will be on the table with the presents... :)

  • Oct 13, 2009 at 12:15 PM

    You have missed out the fact that this memorial is actually to three Martyrs: Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley both of whom you mentioned but you missed out Thomas Cranmer.

  • DAO's Profile Photo
    Aug 22, 2008 at 5:17 AM

    An excellent and comprehensive page!

  • Ruai's Profile Photo
    Sep 9, 2006 at 5:06 PM

    Congratulations on your wonderful Oxford Pages. Now I must try and read the books so I can understand all the literary allusions properly :-)

  • Yasmine03's Profile Photo
    Mar 14, 2005 at 12:17 PM

    I know what you mean about not having an intimate insider knowledge. Can't wait for your books. Already a fan of yours! Regards, Y.

  • Orbital_'s Profile Photo
    Sep 19, 2004 at 3:36 PM

    Ah, I was always intrigued to see more of Pullman's real-life inspiration. Great books of course, and great pages you have here too. Nice work. :)

  • ultchuk's Profile Photo
    Jul 12, 2004 at 12:08 PM

    Just been to Oxford about 2 weeks ago. I like your comments. My aim was visiting the place where Tolkien lived the biggest part of his life. There are a few pics on my home. Thanks for your information.

  • rwlittle's Profile Photo
    Jul 7, 2004 at 9:22 PM

    A great approach to this page, I look forward to reading the books!

  • etfromnc's Profile Photo
    Mar 29, 2004 at 2:40 PM

    I had the great honor of spending a semester at Oxford and your page has certainly made me homesick. I could not relate to all your literary allusions but loved so many of the scenes which you depicted on your page. How about a blue and a red Mercedes?


“Nothing is more repressive than the repression of curiosity.”

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