His dark legalities : intellectual property’s Psychomachia in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy

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MacNeil, W 2017, 'His dark legalities : intellectual property’s Psychomachia in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy', Liverpool Law Review, vol. 38, no. 1, pp. 11-31.

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This article will explore the vastest, most terminal, and—at least in the natural law tradition–most legal of spaces: namely, the home of the divine sovereign, Heaven. Specifically, I am interested in the contemporary (re)depiction of heavenly space as a ‘Miltonic’ theatre of war, as represented in Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy, His Dark Materials. This spatial mise-en-scene, as spectacular as it is, is a peculiar choice for an avowed atheist and anticlerical like Pullman. For it would seem to confirm than confront the verities of theology and the very structures of belief that Pullman seeks not only to critique but to overthrow. Namely, that Heaven exists, though as an absolute monarchy rather than (as Pullman plugs for) a republic. I will argue, however, that Pullman’s neo-Blakean vision of Heaven-asHell (ruled over by the tyrannical Metatron, as regent for a senescent ‘Authority’, i.e. God) is a metaphor: a metaphor for legal rather than theological space. And the legal space that Pullman metaphorises, I will argue, is nothing less than the imaginary of millennial intellectual property rights, an ideo-juridical inner space more and more projected upon and underpinning spatial notions like the ‘Commons’. The war in Heaven, then, is an elaborate allegory for struggles over the contol of knowledge under the conditions of Global Capital, with Lord Asriel, Lyra and Will functioning as Lessig-style activists, colonizing the new technologies (anachronised here as ‘amber spyglasses’, ‘subtle knives’, ‘alethiometers’ etc.) to topple ‘The Authority’ of intellectual property law and institute a democracy of digitality in which ideas are free to circulate in that most unreal and Real of spaces, the internet.

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