An Analysis of the Role of Light as a Determinant of Inner Purity Children’s fairytales have always been one of the best places for a writer to let his or her imagination run wild. From dragons to goblins, kings and princesses, there is a never-ending source of inspiration to be tapped into. While some of these aspects of fantasy may never change throughout time, other more unassuming aspects of these books have the capacity to reflect changes in society, thinking, and the idea of childhood. One such aspect is the use of light. Light is everywhere, permeating every aspect of life.
More specifically, life cannot continue without light. Generally light is thought of as being pure, and in some cases, it is exactly that. However, this “purity” that is inherent to light have been changing, degrading, or becoming impure, which has in turn affected how the romantic vision of the child is portrayed. Using examples from The Princess and The Goblin and The Golden Compass, the degradation of what is viewed as pure will become quite evident. In The Princess and the Goblin, light makes itself known all throughout the book.
It resembles a sort of purity and ethereality, in the sense that it is everywhere, but only to certain people. Two examples of the light, one from the text and one from the illustrations depict this quite nicely. The great-grandmothers mystical orb of light embodies all the qualities of pureness that one can see in light. It is neither real nor imaginary, everywhere but nowhere at the same time. It is the purest, softest white. Not only in it’s appearance does it emanate purity, but in its purpose as well. It is there to guide whoever needs guiding, serving as a lighthouse.
It could also be thought of as the celestial manifestation of the magic gossamer strand that the great-grandmother gave to Irene. Both are only there for those who need it, and serve as guidance to the final destination. The second example of the purity and spirituality of light comes not from the text, but from the illustration of the scene where Irene is talking to her father about her great grandmother for the first time. If one looks closely at the picture, what looks like a hand made of light can be seen resting on the father’s shoulder (pg. 77).
Again, we see that light is making something out of seemingly nothing, manipulating its self to conform to the situation. This strange manifestation of the light emphasizes its purity. It can be interpreted as the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Not only does this provide strong evidence of light’s purity, but also, the presence of a snow-white pigeon that lands on Irene’s head reinforces both the holiness and the spirituality of the scene. The dove’s landing upon her head gave the image of a sort of “living halo”, its bright white feathers beaming all around the poorly lit space (pg. 7). To this end, the snow white pigeon plays its role in the image of the perfect Romantic child. In this scene, the child exhibits her closeness with nature, best exemplified with the quote, “At that moment, a snow white pigeon flew in at an open window and settled upon Irene’s head. She broke into a merry laugh, cowered a little, and put her hands up to her head saying: ‘Dear dovey, don’t peck me. You’ll pull out my hair with your long claws if you don’t mind. ’” (Pg. 77-78). Most children would be extremely afraid of an animal landing on them, but Irene takes it in stride, showing her closeness with nature.
Indirectly, this scene also shows Irene’s sense of innocence playing into how her way of thinking and knowledge is different from everyone around her. In the previous example, she is using her senses in a way that lets her find out the truth for herself, and is not swayed to simply follow the glowing orb, even if it might seem like the easy way out. All throughout the book, light and its color are cast in only a positive view, being spiritual, helpful, and beautiful all at once. However, this does not hold true to The Golden Compass. The Golden Compass portrays light completely differently.
As I read this book, it seemed that everything was very dimly lit, the only illumination coming glaringly from the anbaric lamps. However, light makes itself evident in many other ways that are not visible to the naked eye, just like in The Princess and the Goblin. In The Golden Compass, it is not so much about the light that is seen, but that which is unseen, and more about light in the sense of color than physical light. The first example comes from the very beginning, where Lyra was first introduced to “Dust”. This Dust is of course invisible to the naked eye, but with the right tools it can be viewed.
What is interesting is the fact that dust represents sin, more specifically original sin. This is the antithesis to what MacDonald portrayed in The Princess and the Goblin. However, what is the most interesting is that when viewed with these special tools, what seems to be an “aura” is emanating from the child, essentially shielding them from this sin residue. (pg. 21). This contrasts MacDonald again, because the purity that light embodies is not physically visible, unlike the celestial orb that served as a guide in The Princess and the Goblin. If light is viewed in terms of hue and color, then even more surprising conclusions can be made.
Most striking is the great bear, Iorek. Iorek seems to be what resembles a polar bear, which is paradoxically fascinating. Polar bears have black skin under their bright white coats. This duality between light and dark can be analyzed further if we then incorporate the fact that he had sinned, here representing his dark skin, but shows that he is essentially pure hearted through his white coat. If one then takes into consideration his armor, a layering effect can be seen. Iorek’s armor represents his soul, and his armor gleams brightly in the sun, reflecting his inner purity that has been present all along, shining bright for all to see.
If the armor is seen as his top layer, his brilliantly white fur replaces what was once black skin. Essentially, what Pullman is saying is that when bear and armor are made one, sin and impurity are extinguished leaving only purity and goodness. To this end, we can then analyze Lyra’s inner purity as a romantic child. It could be said that the daemon represents her connection to nature, but it may be better stated that her deep bond with Iorek is what exemplifies her Romantic nature.
By fostering and trusting in a bond with such a formidable creature, she shows that she is able to see things that adults can not, by trusting in her belief that his purity was in him all along, using the “different type of knowledge”, via the alethiometer. What I have presented so far may seem to disprove the original thesis entirely. However, a closer examination of all of these examples shows that what was once considered pure has undergone a drastic degradation to what is seen in The Golden Compass.
To help elaborate, I will take a New Historical stance and apply it to both MacDonald and Pullman. Starting with George MacDonald, one of the most crucial things to point out when reading his work is that he did not believe in the idea of a Hell. MacDonald believed only in earth and Heaven, and that all things were inherently good and pure in nature. His writing is almost utopic in setting, and there is nowhere that can be described as Hell. Also, thinking about the time that he lived in, which was the 1700’s, there was much less corruption n society and in the way that people thought. From there, it seems like the idea of the Romantic Child has been perpetually degrading, morphing into something completely different from Irene, and has taken form most recently in the character of Lyra Belacqua. Over 200 years later, it is shocking to see how time has ravaged the image of the child. Lyra is described as a dirty, mischievous young girl that is always up to no good and going places that she isn’t supposed to. She is riddled with sin from her wrongdoings, but there is still a seed of purity deep inside her.
Even Lord Asriel, who had originally seemed so noble and right, turned out to be in the wrong from the beginning. Lyra’s view of his purity had stemmed from Pullman’s father’s death, with Pullman having such an ethereal opinion of him and what he did. This translates to Lyra’s naivety and hints that there is still a small essence of purity within her yet, which means that she has not been corrupted by experience. However, where purity abounds and is a constant presence in The Princess and the Goblin, it seems to have been lost in The Golden Compass, with the story being the journey to find and acquire the purity that had been lost.
Where religious symbolism abounds in The Princess and the Goblin, it is nowhere to be found except from the augmented excerpt of the beginning of the Bible, which is again sensible, since Pullman describes himself as an Agnostic Atheist. While there is clear separation of heaven and earth in The Princess and the Goblin, there are not divisions, nor heaven in the Golden Compass, but Pullman portrays the concept that there are infinitely many other worlds living in a syncytium with ours, but invisible.
This continuity quite literally turns everything that was presented by MacDonald on its head. Lastly, it seems like the very image of light and purity has been tarnished over the years, simply looking at the color that it takes. In The Princess and the Goblin, the light is always portrayed as a soft, crisp paper white. In The Golden Compass, however, it is darker, muddier, and less distinct. Time has taken its toll as if this concept of purity was a piece of silver, gradually losing its luster and shine, to become tarnished.
This could be best represented with the quote, “Iofur looked so glossy and powerful, immense in his strength and health, splendidly armored, proud and kinglike; and Iorek smaller, though she had never thought he would look small, and poorly equipped, his armor rusty and dented. But his armor was his soul. He made it and it fitted him. They were one. Iofur was not content with his armor; he wanted another soul as well. He was restless while Iorek was still” (pg. 349). If anything, the glow that comes from his armor, albeit rusty and dented, puts Iofur’s armor to shame.
His armor may be brilliant and gleaming, but it is facetious. This is showing that this sense of “outward purity” has been abolished from the book completely. It is key to realize is that the concepts of how childhood and the ideal child’s representation are not static. It changes with each author and as time progresses, society changes, and as corruption becomes more and more prevalent. While the essence of the Romantic Child remains throughout time, it is quite obvious that the overall representation of the child has changed drastically throughout the centuries.
Analyzing something such as light to determine how the idea of purity as it pertains to the Romantic child is especially useful as it allows us to look at a bigger picture rather than just focusing on the child alone. By analyzing the way that light behaves in different surroundings, how characters are affected by it, and how it can determine their actions provides a much more comprehensive representation of the idea of what constitutes the Romantic Child. While light may always seem like something that can represent purity, it is up to the author to determine how to use that light to either the benefit or the detriment of the character.