His Dark Materials
His Dark Materials

The mulefa (singular zalif) were a species of sapient beings. They were notable for their use of seed pods as wheels and their ability to see Dust with the naked eye. Mary Malone became part of a mulefa society when she travelled to their world.


The mulefa species gained consciousness around 33,000 years ago, at a similar time to humans, when they encountered Dust.[1] The Mulefa were enemies of the Tualapi, another species in the mulefa world.



Having evolved in a radically different way to humans, the mulefa had an anatomy based on a diamond-framed skeleton lacking a spine, with a limb at each of the corners. The front and back legs ended in spurs.

The most notable feature of the mulefa was their use of seed pods as wheels. Once a zalif reached puberty, they were able to fit their spurs into the disc-shaped pods, and propelled themselves along "roads" of solidified lava with their side legs. They had a symbiotic relationship with the wheel-trees. Their use of the pods on the "roads" allowed the extremely hard exterior to crack and the seeds to emerge. These were germinated by the mulefa, allowing the wheel-pod trees to survive.

The mulefa had prehensile trunks which were about as long as the arm of an adult female human. The trunk ended in two finger-like projections, and they were able to vary the tone of the skin in this area from soft to rough to accomplish different tasks.[2]

The eyes of the mulefa were able to perceive Dust.[1]


Mulefa were omnivorous, consuming both plants and meat. They farmed creatures known as "grazers" for their milk,[3] meat and skins.[2] They also catch fish with nets. They ground grains for flour and were able to cook bread.[1]



The language of the Mulefa combined vocalisations with trunk-gestures to create meaning. Mary Malone likened these gestures to the tones of Chinese languages.[4]

Known words of the language include:

Mulefa vocalisation Mulefa gesture English
chuh trunk swept left to right water
chuh trunk curled up at tip rain
chuh trunk curled under sadness
chuh trunk flicked quickly to left young shoots of grass
unknown unknown literally "make-like"; metaphor
unknown unknown literally "night-picture"; dream
sraf trunk flicked left Dust
zalif unknown singular form of mulefa


Mulefa recognise the kinship relations of consanguinity (parent-child relationship) and affinity (marriage). The mulefa had marriage ceremonies in which they symbolically exchanged bands of copper which were worn around the base of one of their horns.[1] They lived in these monogamous couples and raised offspring, who had a long childhood lasting around ten years.[2]


The mulefa formed close-knit communities. Having but a single trunk each, they had to work together to accomplish tasks which a human with two hands could complete alone, such as tying knots to make nets.[2] Grooming each other was a social custom.[1]


Mulefa technology can be likened to that of early bronze age humans. They crafted many things from wood, stone, shell and horn, but they made little use of metals, using it only for ornament.[1] They constructed villages of wattle-and-daub huts.[2] They knew how to use systems of ropes and pulleys to lift things, and used them to construct a platform for Mary Malone to observe the movements of Dust.[5]


Story-telling formed part of the mulefa culture. They had a legend about how consciousness came to them, in which a snake persuades a young female to put her spur into a seed-pod, which opens her mind to Dust.[1] They told stories about their history, such as who first invented the fishing net and how he discovered the principle. They also had a great love story which could be likened to the Romeo and Juliet or Anthony and Cleopatra of Will's world.[4]

Notable mulefa[]

Behind the scenes[]

  • Philip Pullman's inspiration for the Mulefa was revealed in the Independent in 2003: Phillip Pullman got the idea "from strolling round Lake Bled in Slovenia, where the constant rumble of overtaking skateboarders gave him the notion of 'Mulefa', elephant-like animals that use giant oiled seed pods as a means of locomotion"[6]
  • In the TV series the Mulefa lack the unique diamond-like skeletal framework, perhaps due to budget limitations, or difficulty animating the Mulefa in their original design. Instead, they have a chalicothere-like bodyplan (still with a trunk and horns), grabbing the seeds with one forepaw and one backpaw and pedalling with the other two. While in the book they use natural basalt highways, in the show they use created trails to pedal around.



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 The Amber Spyglass, Chapter 17
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 The Amber Spyglass, Chapter 10
  3. The Amber Spyglass, Chapter 7
  4. 4.0 4.1 The Amber Spyglass, Appendix
  5. The Amber Spyglass, Chapter 20
  6. Nicolas Tucker, Philip Pullman: the Dæmon King, The Independent, 30 November 2003
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