• The Publishing Post

His Design Materials

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy has seen lots of stunning cover designs over the last 25 years, but today we want to shine a light on the 2019 gift editions, illustrated by Melissa Castrillon, and the upcoming 25th anniversary illustrated edition.


Northern Lights

For the first instalment in Pullman’s trilogy, Castrillon has chosen a striking dark blue background reminiscent of previous editions of Northern Lights and varying shades of blue for added details. The best part of these new covers are the illustrations on the cover you won’t understand until you have read the book. From the balloon of the aëronaut Lee Scoresby, the alethiometer hidden at the bottom, mountains of The North, Iorek Byrnison taking centre stage with Lyra standing on top of him, and the swirling of northern lights above!


In the story, Dust is being studied in The North, where kidnapped children have been taken. Lyra travels to Bolvangar to rescue the children from the Dust research, along with friends and the alethiometer which help her on the way. I think it is important that Lyra has been depicted as bravely standing on top of the panserbjørn, Iorek Byrnison, because it shows how Lyra was able to befriend an armoured bear and gain his loyalty so she could travel to The North. I also love how Castrillon incorporated the alethiometer into the bottom of the cover as it is very important for Lyra, and having it partially hidden highlights the nature of it only being for Lyra’s eyes.


The Subtle Knife

For the second instalment in Pullman’s trilogy, Castrillon has selected a striking array of greens which is again a nod to a previous edition of The Subtle Knife, however appears far more modern and less moody. In this cover the knife is anything but subtle, being the central image depicted on the cover, and the green compliments this imagery by creating a sense of mystery. Will is depicted in the same stance as Lyra in the previous instalment of Northern Lights’ cover, perhaps to indicate the camaraderie to be formed between the two, although the two characters could not be more different.


The second cover stands strongly on its own, however, it has clear links to the first book in order to market the trilogy as a strong brand. Indicators of this are the same usage of the curved lines, which may be a visual representation of the dust all around us. Castrillion uses lines very cleverly to create distinctive forms, such as the mountains which all have diagonal lines.


One distinct detail which sets this cover apart to me is how Castrillon incorporates Pullman’s name in the hilt of the dagger with the horizontal lines above and below his name. This is not present in any of the other covers and shows how well Castrillion can incorporate text into her covers and her illustrations.


The Amber Spyglass

For the final instalment in Pullman's trilogy, Castrillon has selected another striking colour scheme, this time of red, orange, yellow and white. The illustrations are stunning and cleverly depict many of the story’s central elements - a zeppelin, an angel, Lyra and Will, the swirling northern lights and, of course, the amber spyglass itself.


In Pullman’s world, Dust is an elementary particle which represents knowledge and the loss of innocence that occurs as a person progresses from childhood into adulthood. The amber spyglass allows humans to see and study Dust, thus serving as a symbol of scientific investigation, knowledge and curiosity in the story. I think it is important that Castrillon positions Lyra and Will on top of the spyglass, boldly looking out, because it illustrates how they both come to understand Dust in a way that many of the other characters refuse to. They aren’t scared of it and instead realise that the journey from childhood to adulthood, from innocence to maturity, is natural and should be embraced. This idea is further signified by Castrillon's clever incorporation of the sun illustration at the bottom of the spyglass, playing into the classic idea of darkness as a symbol of ignorance and sunlight as a symbol of knowledge and understanding.


Northern Lights 25th Anniversary Edition

In a new hardback, gift edition of Northern Lights illustrated by Chris Wormell, whose design credits includes George and the Dragon and The Big Ugly Monster, this release coincides with the 25th anniversary of the first publication of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy in 1995.


Speaking on this, Pullman admired the new design interpretation, saying

“this new edition is a great delight for me, and I hope people who already know Lyra and her friends will all buy new copies, and that readers who haven’t come across them yet will enjoy them too.”

The stunning art in this edition begins on a cover that features protagonist Lyra and her faithful polar bear companion Iorek Byrnison set against a backdrop of realistic northern lights, and continues onto page after page of coloured story elements.


Multiple covers were designed by Wormell and were presented in a poll to fans of the series on Twitter, with Scholastic announcing that the design with the highest number of votes by readers would be chosen, with the winner announced by Pullman in a livestream event.


As a part of a further campaign, reusable face masks featuring Wormell’s cover design were announced free to bookseller’s across the UK as a thank you from Scholastic Books.


This edition also looks enticing as a digital copy as well but many are looking forward to its physical release in order to add this intricate version to their collections.


The new edition will be released on November 5, 2020.