07 November 2019, The Tablet

Not so smart: Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials adapted for TV

Not so smart: Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials adapted for TV

Dafne Keen plays Lyra in the TV adaptation of Pullman’s trilogy
Bad Wolf, Alex Bailey


His Dark Materials

Philip Pullman’s gloriously imaginative trilogy of novels, His Dark Materials, like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potters, have been enjoyed as much by adults as children. This crossover may seem mystifying to some grown-ups – but Pullman’s parallel worlds, his reworking of origin myths and the Fall, the villainy he attributes to institutional religion and an oppressive God plays well in the age of Game of Thrones. The first episode (3 November) of the new BBC/HBO adaptation suggests that Jack Thorne’s screenplay is aimed squarely at children. Personally, although I greatly enjoyed the novels, I found it both shallow and heavy-going. It certainly takes itself extremely seriously.

Pullman’s Oxford, where the series opens, is like our own Oxford but not quite, a time-slip away from the world we know. The souls of its occupants are represented by their constant companions, animals known as daemons, and they travel (thrillingly) by airship and barge. Although everything is magically low-tech and folklorish, all thought, scholarship and scientific endeavour is ruthlessly controlled and censored from Geneva by the Magisterium, the ruling authority of Holy Church, always on the lookout for heresies to crush. The most important of these is the idea that Dust, composed of particles drawn to sentient adults, confers consciousness.

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