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In His Dark Materials, Who is Pantalaimon?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

Pantalaimon is a daemon in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials fantasy novels. He is the daemon of Lyra Belacqua, the main protagonist of the novels. Pantalaimon is unsettled at the beginning of the novels, and so is able to change his form into that of any animal.

The significance of Pantalaimon’s name is uncertain. There is a saint in the Orthodox tradition who shares his name, St. Panteleimon. The saint was known for a wide range of miracles which helped to convert people to Christianity. Foremost among these were those that surrounded his execution. A number of different methods were attempted to kill him, from burning to drowning to execution, but in each case an apparition of Christ is said to have appeared and stopped the execution, ultimately converting the executioners. The name itself comes from the Greek roots for all and merciful, panta- and eleison, meaning the all merciful. Lyra called Pantalaimon by the shortened named "Pan."

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Pantalaimon is a male daemon, following the nearly-universal situation of having the daemon’s gender be opposite that of their human. He seems to be much more careful and reserved than Lyra, who is headstrong and impetuous. He is often trying to get her not to do the sorts of things she consistently does throughout the novels that place them both in danger. Once she does commit, however, Pantalaimon is fierce in his devotion to her, and will stop at nothing to protect her.

Pantalaimon takes a number of different forms throughout the novels, before his form has settled. His favored form appears to be an ermine, a member of weasel family. In order to remain hidden or to spy, Pantalaimon often takes on the form of smaller animals, such as a moth and a mouse. He also takes on the form of a wildcat and a leopard, particularly when interacting with Lord Asriel’s daemon, which is a snow leopard. At one point, Pantalaimon even takes the form of a dragon, in order to show contempt for the forms taken by a group of Gyptian children’s daemons. Ultimately, Pantalaimon settles on the form of a pine marten, a form very like the ermine form he prefers throughout the book.

Although throughout most of the books Pantalaimon is restricted in the distance he can travel from Lyra, as most daemons are, this is eventually overcome. After going to the realm of death, Lyra discovers she must leave Pantalaimon behind if she is to continue further and fulfill her promise to her friend Roger. This is seen as the ultimate act of betrayal, fulfilling part of the prophecy the witches have about her. The pain is excruciating for both Lyra and Pantalaimon as Lyra travels away from him, until they are ultimately torn apart. They do eventually rejoin, however, and once they do Pantalaimon is able to travel far from Lyra in a manner usually only exhibited by witches or shamans.

Discussion Comments


Everyone has a daemon.


You have a real daemon?


I love to learn about daemons. My daemon and I are always discussing what his final form will be, and he usually perfers to be a wildcat.

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