His Dark Materials And Me
A compass which tells the truth; a world controlled by the Magisterium; a mysterious, dangerous substance called Dust; a strange city visible in the Northern Lights; rumours of missing children taken by the ‘Gobblers’; a golden monkey; a snow leopard; an armoured bear; and at the heart of it all, a young girl and her daemon journey to save her uncle Asriel and recover her missing friend.
Welcome to Lyra’s Oxford.
Welcome to His Dark Materials.
Tonight marks the television debut of His Dark Materials, he latest adaptation of Philip Pullman’s award-winning young adult trilogy. Produced by the BBC and HBO and touted as the natural successor to Game of Thrones, it stars Dafne Keen (Logan), James McAvoy (Atonement), Ruth Wilson (Luther), and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton), among others. The first episode of eight this season, Lyra’ Jordan, is directed by Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) and written by Jack Thorne (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child).
Okay, there’s the housekeeping taken care of, lets get down to the sheer excitement.
*This article may contain light spoilers based on the book Northern Lights and the wider world of His Dark Materials*
His Dark Materials consists of three books: Northern Lights (or The Golden Compass is the US and some other countries), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. Set in the same world, there is also Lyra’s Oxford and Once Upon a Time in the North (much shorter stories), and the new trilogy The Book of Dust, of which the first books, La Belle Sauvage and The Secret Commonwealth, are currently available.
I discovered Northern Lights in an unconventional fashion. Sat in the cinema waiting for a film I can’t remember to start, I saw a (very) early trailer for The Golden Compass. While I would eventually be hugely disappointed by the film, seeing Lyra’s world teased on the big screen – a steampunk-esque world illuminated by naphtha light, a world vaguely reminiscent to our own but so magically different – had me hooked. The first thing I did when I got home from the cinema was order the entire trilogy from Amazon. I was infected and committed in equal measure.
I didn’t waste any time reading it, and it didn’t take me any time to be totally enthralled. Admittedly, I was never a big reader as a child, but here was a style of writing so utterly absorbing, complex and yet simplistic in equal measure. Words I didn’t know – Tokay, naphtha, daemon – jumped out of the prose, reminding me that this was fiction, was fantasy, and yet so much of it felt real. Lyra’s wars with the Gyptian children and her adventures through alleyways and over rooftops was so akin to my childhood that despite the presence of Pan, her daemon, her soul-made-real, despite the mystery of Dust with a hugely important capital D, in the most human elements of its story I could relate. No, more than relate, I could almost remember.
I won’t take you page by page or chapter by chapter through mine and Lyra’s journey, from Oxford to Svalbard via Bolvanger, or into the worlds of The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. Instead, I’ll pick out a few of my highlights (most of which are characters) from Northern Lights, those moments that mean more to me than any collaboration of letters and punctuation have any right to do.
The Golden Monkey
You don’t know fear until you’ve encountered Mrs Coulter’s daemon. From it’s enticing introduction, this is a character who dominates attention in his every scene; like movement caught in the corner of your eye, when the golden monkey is around, you’re on edge.
Alas, poor Iorek! (Sorry.) Rightful king of the Panserbjørn, Iorek’s journey from alcoholism and oppression is absorbing and unsettling in equal measure, but it’s his relationship with Lyra, his silver-tongued companion, which remains engraved in my soul.
I’m not over this yet.
Without a doubt one of the most heartbreaking pieces of fiction I’ve ever read, the story of Tony Makarios’s daemon is, in essence, the overarching themes of the entire trilogy diluted into a single chapter. I remember reading this on the bus (it must have been my fourth reading of Northern Lights) and having to put the book down because I could feel myself welling up. I am excited/not excited to see how this scene is realised in the show.
Those are my memories of His Dark Materials. If you’re a fan of His Dark Materials, please let us know in the comments below what Pullman’s series means to you. Which parts of the story have remained with you since you first read it?
And, if tonight’s premiere is half as good as it looks like it’s going to be, we (that is to say me, this is very much just a ‘Greg is obsessed’ sort of thing) might do regular reviews of each episode. If the episodes are anything like the film, you’ll find me crying in a corner, using a bread knife to try and escape to a different world.