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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that His Dark Materials is an adaptation of the popular fantasy book series of the same name. It features some strong themes, including challenging the religious establishment, loss of innocence, and the presence of good and evil. There are some scary moments, too, including child kidnappings, and adults causing children pain and death. Alcohol is visible, as are efforts to poison a glass of wine, and other mysterious substances are present. The show does highlight many of the book's key messages, including love, loyalty, friendship, the importance of free thinking, and fighting for what's right.
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What's the story?
Based on Philip Pullman's fantasy trilogy of the same name, HIS DARK MATERIALS is a fantasy series that follows the life of an orphan in an alternate world. Young Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen) lives in Brytain as a ward of the scholars at Jordan College, Oxford, where she was left as an infant by her uncle, Lord Asriel Belacqua (James McAvoy), in order to be sheltered from the all-powerful Magisterium. As a ward of the college, the master of which is Dr. Carne (Clarke Peters), she lives a sheltered but idyllic life along with Pantalaimon, aka "Pan," her daemon (her animal manifestation of her inner-self), and fellow orphan Roger (Lewin Lloyd). But when Asriel briefly returns from the frozen North and challenges Magisterium doctrine with reports of an alternative universe beyond the Northern Lights, and of a mysterious substance called "Dust," which is only attracted to adults, tensions begin rising. Meanwhile, river boat dwelling Gyptians are claiming that their children are being kidnapped by mythical Gobblers. Lyra is desperate to explore the frozen North, and accepts an invitation from Ms. Marisa Coulter (Ruth Wilson), who promises to take her on a Northern exploration and to help her find Roger, who has suddenly gone missing. But Ms. Coulter is not what she seems, and Lyra finds herself embarking on her own adventure with Pan and an alethiometer, a golden compass that the master entrusted to her before she left.
Is it any good?
This uneven series presents a complicated story that viewers unfamiliar with the popular (and controversial) books will have a tough time following. Fans of the story world will find that significant pieces of the books' plot are missing, and other parts are shifted around, no doubt in an attempt to make it more TV-friendly. But Dafne Keen's performance is strong (despite the fact that she looks very different from the author's description), and the additional robust cast, which includes the likes of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Anne-Marie Duff, and Game of Thrones star James Cosmo, is worth investing in. The series' visual elements, including the physical daemons that play such an important part of the story, are also exceptional. His Dark Materials isn't the best adaptation of a successful book, but it does offer some magical moments that viewers can hold on to.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Philip Pullman's trilogy is considered controversial by some communities. What messages does it offer about Christianity? Science? Adults?
The story of His Dark Materials is inspired by John Milton's poem, Paradise Lost. Does the adaptation stay true to the poem? Are there other differences in the show that feel different from the book series?
- Premiere date: November 4, 2019
- Cast: Dafne Keen, James McAvoy, Ruth Wilson
- Network: HBO
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models
- Character strengths: Courage, Curiosity, Empathy, Integrity, Perseverance, Teamwork
- TV rating: TV-14
- Available on: DVD, Streaming
- Last updated: July 27, 2020
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