Now that the series based on Philip Pullman’s novels has ended in Italy, let’s go and see why it is a much more adult and mature story than it seems to those who stop at the cover, of the book like from the tv series.
Never judge a book by its cover. And not even a series. We often tell ourselves this but just as often we tend to fall into the trap. The latest example, which ended up on TV on Sky Atlantic and NOW a few days ago, is His Dark Materials, thanks to the troubled gestation of the serial. Philip Pullman’s trilogy of novels had in fact already been adapted into The Golden Compass, a film for the big screen directed by Chris Weitz (already behind the camera for About A Boy) starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig.
A real flop that did not give life to a film trilogy as the producers hoped. The “fortune” came many years later in 2019 from Jack Thorne (the pen from the musical miniseries The Eddy and the two films dedicated to Enola Holmes, all on Netflix). Three seasons – just like the paper trilogy – unfortunately passed on the whole on the sly, compared to the initial intentions, but which would have been worthy of more attention. Perhaps because in the HBO and BBC co-production that gave life to the television transposition, the intention of the second, the English public service, which has chosen to set up a simplified story with respect to the world building read in novels, for the early evening Sunday audience. Let’s try to give them more attention in this article.
From novels to TV series
In Pullman’s novels, winners of the Nobel prize for children’s literature, which we published by Salani Editore, we first entered the dystopian world that seemed to be set in the past of the protagonist Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen). Only later did we get to know what would prove to be the co-star of a pas de deux, and not of a single female story: Will Parry (Amir Wilson), an inhabitant of our modern world. Theirs thus revealed themselves to be only two of the many existing parallel universes, which it was possible to cross with a gash made by the Subtle Bladea magic dagger that only Will can control, orienting himself thanks to a Golden Compassthe alethiometer, which only Lyra and a few others can read.
In the serial co-produced by HBO and BBC, everything is presented in chronological order, thanks to simplifying the plot and making it suitable for the whole family, as we said, such as some characters played by well-known faces such as James McAvoy in the role of Lord Asriel . Lyra’s father is in fact introduced right away, making us understand the kinship that binds him to the girl, and not later in the narrative, thanks to her highly recognizable face. The last book – and the last season of the serial – focused instead on the Amber telescopethe instrument that Mary Malone builds in the world of Atal and which will serve to definitively see the fine dust particles, which represent the human conscience and soul, and this is the season that more than any other has given maturity and depth to the serial, accomplices the topics covered.
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The soul and religion
The religious theme remains the preponderant in His Dark Materials, both in the novels and in the TV series. All history and the world built by Philip Pullman are in fact nothing more than a great allegory of religion when it becomes dangerous extremism. In Lyra’s world people walk with a daimon at their side, or an animal that embodies their soul, but the Magisterium (which will later be the Authority and in fact the Church in Will’s world) is trying to sever that link because they are beings made of pure Dust. The latter is a substance that is lost once you grow up – this assumption already opens up a thousand scenarios for reflecting on the meaning of Dust and on the loss of childhood innocence and purity. Lord Asriel himself has been studying it for years, we know it from the beginning of this story, but thanks to the last chapter we also discovered why: the purpose is “to kill death itself”. Once again, children are the key to an ancestral story: they are as much the solution as the problem, with that innate purity and that genuine curiosity towards the world and the next.
At the same time, an ancient prophecy says that Lyra is the incarnation of Eve (precisely that of Adam), therefore the biblical First Woman and the representation of primordial Sin. At this point a whole discourse opens up on the Church’s attitude towards female figures and on the fact that the apparent only protagonist of a story turns out to be, according to an ancient prophecy, not the heroine but the villain to be annihilated, the guilt to atone for . Will and Dr. Mary Malone (Simone Kirby) represent Adam and the Snake, and then the Temptation that ensnares Eve. Nothing more curious and apt that in this story the seduction is represented by a woman who has for part of her life repressed her sexual identity and her desires, as she admits in the finale.
In the epilogue of novels and series, it is Mary Malone who makes Lyra open her heart to love and possibility, not only to attraction and the first curiosity about sex, because fear leads nowhere and is the most dangerous feeling to live through. The situation is reversed and Lyra therefore becomes the solution and not the problem: the prophecy had been misinterpreted, as often happens when it comes to ancient scriptures and above all religion. The danger does not lie in the cult itself but in its interpretation by the faithful and ministers. The third book and the third season represent the beginning of maturity for the characters of Lyra and Will: they face Death and the curiosity for their own bodies and for each other’s. They also learn the hard way what sacrifice means: to save all the worlds and make the Dust flow back they cannot be together. They cannot therefore bend to love and attraction, after all. At the same time it’s a story in which adults are either unimportant or don’t care about young people, including children, as happens to Lyra with her parents and to Will who has to fend for himself for other reasons.
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The Multiverse before the Multiverse
Philip Pullman in his novels he spoke of Multiverse before others. Certainly not the first ever, but one of the first in a children’s literature which, as we have tried to explain in this article, is also for adults and much deeper than it seems. Perhaps the most ingenious idea is to initially make us believe that we are telling a dystopian world set in the past, bringing the story into the genre young adultto then instead tell us that that was only one of the many worlds we will visit, and that the co-protagonist of the story comes from our own.
A world in which daimons do not exist, but we are simply not ready to see them, hear them, get in touch and relate to them. As will happen to Will and Dr. Malone in the finale, making them somewhat complete; or rather, more self-aware. After all, how would you feel if you could physically talk to your soul? We deliberately leave for last the combination of science and faith, well represented by Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson), Lyra’s parents. A dichotomy present since the dawn of time in literature as in the audiovisual sector, which therefore does not invent anything, but in this case it has a particular and “extreme” meaning due to the so opposite vision of the two parties. Religious extremism, in fact. Who knows if this reading has made you want to read a book or a TV series, and above all hasn’t reminded you of the most important thing: never judge a product by its cover.