With His Dark Materials Season 2 now underway, fans have already begun speculating about this BBC TV series’ future. If that sounds a little over eager, remember that the Philip Pullman fantasy novels the show is based on form a trilogy – and with the second season likely to cover all of Book 2, The Subtle Knife, and the third book, The Amber Spyglass, taking (at most) two additional seasons to adapt, that means His Dark Materials is destined to end relatively soonish.
Or is it? Recently, executive producer Jane Tranter revealed that the creative team behind His Dark Materials is keen to produce an adaptation of The Book of Dust next. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise – screenwriter Jack Thorne has already incorporated material from Pullman’s follow-up trilogy (which is both a prequel and a sequel) in the show, and has plans to work in content from novellas Lyra’s Oxford, Once Upon a Time in the North, The Collectors and Serpentine, as well.
Unsurprising or not, news of a potential Book of Dust adaptation is still exciting for fans of His Dark Materials who aren’t quite ready for Lyra’s live-action adventures wrap up. But while the superficial appeal of a Book of Dust TV series is obvious – not only will we get to see how our favourite characters got where they are, but where they’re headed next, too – there are reasons why the BBC should produce the show that run deeper than this. Read on to find out what they are!
5. It expands the existing mythology
Fantastical creatures are hardly in short supply in His Dark Materials. So far, we’ve seen ethereal witches, sentient armoured bears, ghoulish cliff-ghasts and nightmarish spectres, and as fans of the books already know, there’s still plenty more to come. It’s also not light on exotic locales, especially now that Season 2 has expanded the multiverse-hopping beyond our world and Lyra’s.
Yet somehow, The Book of Dust manages to widen the scope of Pullman’s established mythology even further. Aside from diving deeper into the human/daemon dynamic that’s central to the canon, it also introduces new elements derived from British folklore (think faeries and the like) and visits parts of Lyra’s world (most notably, Asia and the Middle East) that we’ve never seen before – all of which would translate brilliantly to the screen.
4. It helps us understand the characters better
I know, I know: seeing where the characters of His Dark Materials came from isn’t supposed to be a major reason why the BBC should adapt The Book of Dust. However, the benefit of the additional backstory an adaptation would provide stretches beyond mere “a-ha!” moments of fan service, since it’d offer a whole new perspective on certain key characters.
Take Lord Asriel: His Dark Materials paints him in a rather mixed light, which is fair (dude did kill a kid to further his plans, after all). At the same time, beneath Asriel’s aloof, Machiavellian exterior beats a passionate (if hyper-pragmatic) heart filled with noble intentions, which the La Belle Sauvage – the first volume of The Book of Dust – showcases more visibly on several occasions.
La Belle Sauvage also provides a first-hand account of Mrs Coulter’s behaviour when Lyra was a baby (something only hinted at previously), and we get a valuable insight into Coulter’s family life, as well. Then there are minor characters like Alice Lonsdale and Hannah Relf – neither of whom have yet appeared in the His Dark Materials show – who are both wonderful characters only properly fleshed out in The Book of Dust, and who non-readers really do deserve to meet.
3. It introduces us to Malcolm Polstead (and Asta)
Speaking of characters non-readers deserve to meet, let’s talk about Malcolm Polstead. Specifically, let’s talk about how much we need to see him on screen in a Book of Dust adaptation (preferably played by Domhnall Gleeson).
Briefly mentioned in Lyra’s Oxford, Malcolm (along with his ginger cat daemon Asta) makes his proper debut in La Belle Sauvage as a plucky 11-year old, and quickly wins readers over with his courage, sensitivity, and resourcefulness.
He continues to impress as a full-grown man in the next volume, The Secret Commonwealth, where – thanks to his uncommon blend of brainpower, brawn, and dry wit – this career academic emerges as something of a low-key badass!
Frankly, an adaptation of The Book of Dust would be worth it just to witness Malcolm’s exploits in live action. Whether it’s his adventures as a kid navigating his canoe through a raging flood with Alice and baby Lyra in tow, or his espionage antics decades later, Malcolm Polstead is one character you can count on to keep things entertaining.
2. It puts mental health concerns front and centre
His Dark Materials doesn’t shy away from talking about mental health issues. Taking its lead from The Subtle Knife, Season 1 depicts Will Parry’s mother as suffering from occasional bouts of paranoid mania (not helped by the fact that she is actually being spied on!), and the Season 2 marks the arrival of the fearsome spectres, which have an implied connection with disorders like schizophrenia.
It’s great that a story targeted primarily at younger audiences touches on this important topic, but His Dark Materials arguable doesn’t go quite far enough – a shortcoming a Book of Dust adaptation would address. See, The Secret Commonwealth is essentially an extended meditation on what it means to be depressed; Lyra’s fractious relationship with Pan (the living embodiment of her own soul) representing the self-loathing and crushing sadness that comes with feeling blue.
Now, introspective stories tend to be a struggle to translate to the screen. But considering Pullman managed to use these aspects of The Secret Commonwealth’s story as the driving force of a propulsive, gripping narrative, there’s a more than decent chance a Book of Dust TV show would buck this trend.
1. It adds more nuance to the series’ portrayal of religion
As anyone who has read His Dark Materials will tell you, Philip Pullman is no fan of organised religion in general, or the Catholic Church in particular. Admittedly, the TV series soft pedals this aspect of the books somewhat, however, the Magisterium is still clearly meant to represent the Church, and Pullman’s commentary on the evils carried out (supposedly) in God’s name is still very much part of proceedings.
And while taking the Church to task for its history of repression and abuse – not to mention poking some pretty gaping holes in Church doctrine, as well – helps to elevate His Dark Materials above other, less ambitious fantasy tales, this does make it a bit one-sided, too.
This is something an adaptation of The Book of Dust could rectify. Both La Belle Sauvage and The Secret Commonwealth add an extra layer of sophistication to His Dark Materials’ commentary on religion, presenting people of faith who are genuinely benevolent and even heroic, reflecting the real-life truth that there are good people who believe in a higher power (and bad people who don’t).
It makes things whole lot less binary and leaves fans with more to wrestle over intellectually. Just like Malcolm in La Belle Sauvage and Lyra in The Secret Commonwealth, we’re left trying to reconcile the cruelties of faith and faith-based institutions with the kindness of those who belong to both – and in these increasingly partisan times, that’s something we need more of on TV…