Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials is an incredible trilogy, and for once I mean that word in the way it was originally intended: it strains credibility that this series even exists. These three books, ostensibly for children, are about killing God. People often categorize the series as fantastical atheism (you know, for kids!), but Pullman's said of himself and His Dark Materials, "I suppose, technically, you'd have to put me down as an agnostic. But if there is a God, and he is as the Christians describe him, then he deserves to be put down and rebelled against." This is a wild stance to take in a YA fantasy series, and one that works beautifully, powerfully, amid the backdrop of an alternate Victorian multiverse.
His Dark Materials has been adapted in various forms over the years, least successfully in Chris Weitz's 2007 feature adaptation of its first novel The Golden Compass, which really should have worked better than it did considering its cast, but that still managed to lack even a grain of the magic that makes the books so imaginatively prosperous. But I have high, high hopes for the news, announced today, that BBC One is making an eight-part mini-series of the trilogy. Why? Well, BBC One's most recent, near-perfect adaptation of a seemingly unadaptable novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (which I reviewed here and here), certainly inspires confidence, but Pullman himself says it best in the announcement:
It’s been a constant source of pleasure to me to see this story adapted to different forms and presented in different media. It’s been a radio play, a stage play, a film, an audiobook, a graphic novel — and now comes this version for television.
In recent years we’ve seen how long stories on television, whether adaptations (‘Game of Thrones’) or original (‘The Sopranos,’ ‘The Wire’), can reach depths of characterization and heights of suspense by taking the time for events to make their proper impact and for consequences to unravel. And the sheer talent now working in the world of long-form television is formidable.
For all those reasons I’m delighted at the prospect of a television version of ‘His Dark Materials.’ I’m especially pleased at the involvement of Jane Tranter, whose experience, imagination, and drive are second to none. As for the BBC, it has no stronger supporter than me. I couldn’t be more pleased with this news.
Yes, exactly! An eight-part miniseries ("initial" eight-part miniseries, at that) will give this vast, rich world a chance to breathe, to develop at the luxurious pace it deserves. And Tranter - formerly a producer on Rome, Torchwood and much more - is just the sort of vet that an undertaking of this scope needs. I'm also pleased that His Dark Materials is being retold by a woman, not least because I'm always pleased when a project is spearheaded by a woman, but also because the story, though written by a man, is really Lyra's. Lyra Silvertongue is a distinct female voice, and I'm excited to see a woman adapt that voice for the screen.
If you need a synopsis of the books, you can find one, but really you'd just be best to buy the cheap paperbacks and dive in. They will transport you someplace entirely new and absolutely wonderful.