Ask anyone at university to name their favourite ‘young adult’ book series, and you’ll hear some familiar responses. Harry Potter will fare well, there’ll be a few Hunger Games in there; most concerning of all, even Twilight could pop up. If I had to choose one series that stands out for sheer quality, it’s obvious – Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials.
It’s a fantastic trilogy – comprised of Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife & The Amber Spyglass – that transcends its core demographic, and takes in a whole host of weighty themes – theology and the essence of humanity mixed with the typical coming-of-age narrative.
The books tell the story of Lyra, a twelve year old girl living in an alternate Oxford, in a world much like our own. In Lyra’s world, humans are accompanied by dæmons, a manifestation of the person’s inner self in animal form, while the world is under the rule of the theocratic Magisterium. A discovery of a possible parallel universe, only visible through the Northern Lights, sets events in motion that change her life for ever.
It’s the sort of material that comes alive off the page, vividly painting a picture, and the description I gave there barely even covers half of the basic premise. An attempt in 2007 to adapt it into a major film series – going by the US name for the first book, The Golden Compass – fell far short of its book counterpart, in spite of the impressive cast (if not crew) assembled for the production. It lacked the heart, earnest nature, and most of all, the bite of the book, and the planned sequels, to cover the 2nd and 3rd books, never came to fruition. Yet perhaps the books were never going to succeed as a film trilogy, as there is very little material that can be condensed, chopped up and moved around, unlike it’s aforementioned peers.
All of which is why the recent news of an upcoming television adaptation is so promising. A product by Bad Wolf, a transatlantic studio comprised of ex-Doctor Who crew Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner, and New Line Cinema, it is to be shown front of stage on BBC One when it broadcasts. The news comes in the midst of the current ‘golden age’ of television, an unprecedented era where TV is fast becoming the place where true screen innovation and character work occurs. With more time to explore the concepts and narratives of the subject matter, and less of the financial pressure that a major cinema production encounter, premium television is exactly the right place for such a series as His Dark Materials to be developed. No word yet on a schedule for production or broadcast, but don’t worry, it’s on its way! We’ll be waiting excitedly.