Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for Seasons 1-3 of His Dark Materials.HBO’s fantasy series His Dark Materials, based on Philip Pullman’s book trilogy of the same name, follows the thrilling adventures of protagonist Lyra (Dafne Keen), as she travels across realms, unearthing secrets and mysteries. At the heart of her journey, however, is a certain substance, one playing a central role in bringing these very adventures upon Lyra. This substance happens to be none other than Dust.
Where Did Dust Come From?
The books establish Dust to have come into existence hand-in-hand with consciousness, the latter having actually created the former. The substance, in turn, is believed to have condensed into Angels, having also aided the growth of sapient species in humans and mulefa.
The substance was first discovered by Boris Mikhailovitch Rusakov, when he came across a field dealing with consciousness. The very existence of this field implied the existence of a particle much similar. Hence, Dust — then known as the “Rusakov particles” — was discovered, naturally known to be attracted to consciousness to the point where the two are often understood to be one.
In a universe much familiar to ours, however, Dust originates through the work of Mary Malone (Simone Kirby). First called “shadows” by Malone in reference to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, as the researcher explores dark matter.
Going by the many religious references and undertones in the franchise, Dust, in Lyra’s universe can also be referred to as the “original sin”, originating from when Adam and Eve’s fell from grace. The Magisterium especially identifies the substance as such and sees it as taboo and a threat. According to Pullman, Lyra realizes that ‘Dust is everything that is best about humanity — love, kindness, and curiosity — and must be encouraged rather than destroyed.’
Dust Can’t Be Seen by the Naked Eye
An interesting quality of Dust happens is its imperceptible nature. No character can touch, taste, hear or even smell Dust. The naked eye cannot grasp Dust as it is without aid. In many ways then, a huge chunk of the premise of the entire book trilogy, and by extension the television series, revolves around the various attempts to witness the existence of Dust itself.
So rare is the phenomena of Dust-spotting, that only a handful of people can be rightly considered to have seen it, albeit, again, through technological aid. Since the beginning, it is understood that Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) stands as one of such fortunate people, having perceived it through photograms.
Later on, Mary Malone finds her own way of coming in contact with Dust, as she creates a computer program that allows communication with the subject via a detector and some questions. When she visits the world of the mulefas, she is able to pick up a piece of amber from their world to look through and see the dust seeping out of their world.
Is Dust Connected to Puberty?
Dust is especially attracted to consciousness that has matured, and since this stage holds different significance for different groups, the particle’s special attraction takes many forms. In Lyra’s world, the state of maturity begins when a being’s dæemon is fixed in shape, while for the mulefa, it is signaled by adolescents using wheels. It seems generally accepted that when children go through puberty, Dust begins to settle on them, as they are transitioning out of childhood and into adulthood.
Dust Is Vital to Life
Lyra discovers that “without dust, people will not be able to survive”, hence Dust is essential to life. The bond between a child and their dæemon is extremely important, to the point that both the child and dæemon could perish upon its severing, and since Dust is what ultimately connects the two, it also serves as a sort of life source.
Before her departure to London with Marisa Coulter (Ruth Wilson), Lyre received the alethiometer from Dr. Carne, a device that helps her figure out the truth. “Powers of this world are very strong”, says Dr. Carne, “Men and women are moved by tides much fiercer than you can imagine. This, hopefully, will provide you with some protection.” The alethiometer essentially reveals the ‘truth’ by communicating with Dust. However, the alethiometer only answers the questions asked via a combination of complicated symbols that Lyra must figure out on her own. For adults, the reading of the alethiometer takes years of studying and practice, but for Lyra, this skill comes instantly and naturally because she is Eve and a child of prophecy.
In the finale, Lyra follows the alethiometer to find Mary, who explains the nature of Dust, proving that the religious people were entirely misguided about the essentiality of Dust. After this time with Will (Amir Wilson), Lyra is no longer able to naturally read the alethiometer, because Pan settles and she’s transitioned out of childhood.
What Does Dust Have to Do With Lyra and Will and the Prophecy?
As mentioned before, Dust is attracted to maturity. In particular, it is the experience of emotion as strong as eros, or romantic love that causes Dust to settle on Lyra and for Pan to settle as a pine martin. Lyra experiences this when she realizes that she is in love with Will.
When they kiss, Dust stops flowing. It swirls and seems to fall straight down. The angels don’t seem to have closed the windows to the other worlds. Why, then, does Dust seem to flow exactly as it should the moment Lyra and Will realize their love for each other?
In realizing her feelings for Will, Lyra fulfills the prophecy about her being the new Eve. Her experience of adult emotions, eros, in other words, is as strong as that of Eve, which brings back balance to the natural flow of Dust and enables it to once again flow towards humanity. Of course, in order to keep this balance, they are told that they must close all the windows in all the worlds, so Dust won’t escape, which means that Will and Lyra will be permanently separated in their worlds.