Showing our True Selves? Phillip Pullman’s Daemons in the Real World

In Phillip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’, a daemon is an external part of every person, in the form of an animal, that reflects their true self. They are used by Pullman as a physical metaphor for how people are seen by others, as well as how they interpret themselves. For example, many of the soldiers in the series have dogs as their daemons, embodying loyalty, and obedience. With Pullman in mind, I have considered several ‘what if’ scenarios, considering how a real-life extension of your true self could affect daily life. This led to wrestling with my own daemons.

In the real world, reading other people is a complex process built up by several factors such as body language, tone of voice, a person’s actions, and so forth, that helps us build relationships and get to know other people. So, if we put daemons into our world, what changes? Let’s start with the initial meeting of two people. I always find myself looking directly at someone whilst shaking their hand the first time I meet them, as well as considering their body language, clothing, and so forth. Introducing a reflection of one’s true self into the mix could potentially change this process; instead of making initial judgements from the person themselves, we could instead turn to their daemon to find out so much more. Say that person has a fox, this for me would reflect a more introverted person, quietly intelligent with the capacity for sly cunning, which is much more than most people will get from a handshake and body language.

We can assume that having a daemon then, would allow for us to gain a far more direct initial interpretation of people. Would we choose to befriend someone who’s daemon suggested the negative traits associated with their counterpart such as the sly cunning of the fox? This idea is not limited to actual meetings, and could be extended to many parts of the modern world, televised debates between politicians with their daemons hissing and growling at each other in the background would probably help us understand political and individual agendas far better than any political analyst ever could. Perhaps daemons in the real world would say far too much about ourselves than we would like to, and maybe take away from the pleasures, and occasional misfortunes, of getting to know people.

Whilst this is perhaps a very negative view of looking at the impact of daemons on the real world, there are also many positive ideas that come from the idea of the external ‘true self’. Many of us have internal conversations with ourselves and will seek others out to talk about problems we cannot figure out ourselves. Introducing daemons would give us the unique ability to have that external conversation with a being that truly understands us. Having a daemon to vocalise these internal problems would perhaps make close connections with other people less common, but those who you do end up connecting with would become even stronger bonds. Very few people are able to vocalise their true feelings and feel entirely understood by more than a couple of close friends. The addition of a daemon, then, would allow you to make yourself vulnerable through sharing an external part of yourself, leading to a greater level of understanding with those who surround you. Furthermore, your own personal daemon would, for some, solve loneliness by being able to have a constant companion at your side. Daemons would offer several new ideas to everyday life, revealing more about ourselves to people than we want, but also allowing for closer connections and understandings with both ourselves and the few we would choose to be as close with as we are our daemons.

So how then would we read our own daemons, as a means of evaluating the negative parts of ourselves, or understanding and accepting the things that make us who we are? My own daemon, according to a Pullman fan, would most likely be an alligator. My initial reaction was “that’s sick dude”, what could be better than having one of nature’s coolest predators as your own personal image. Intelligent, strong willed, versatile, I could only see the positives. However, after a while I thought about the implications. Alligators will snap at any given moment, trample their own kind in a bid for the smallest morsel, and generally look out for themselves. Perhaps then, our personal daemons could be a window into seeing those flaws in our character that should be worked on, as well as those traits that we like to see in ourselves and can only hope that other people can see in us. So, what’s your own daemon? Were you happy to find out it was your favourite animal, or was it an unexpected vision of yourself you hadn’t considered? Hopefully it fits in better with the modern world than my alligator!


[Mitchell Welsh – he/him]

[Photo credits: His Dark Materials, dir. Chris Weitz]

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