Posts Tagged ‘The Amber Spyglass’

His Dark Materials: series 2

December 21, 2020

Last night saw the final episode of the second TV series based on Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. It was something I’d looked forward to all year, and it did not disappoint, although apparently COVID prevented the filming of one stand-alone episode, I read somewhere: I hope we get this eventually! In fact, it was some of the best TV I’ve watched in years, all things considered.

The special effects are superbly done, so well that everything about the parallel universes feels quite natural. More work seemed to have been done on the daemons in this series, and they were very effective. Casting was strong: the creepy leaders of the Magisterium, with their sinister daemons; Mrs Coulter and her perverted relationship with her daemon underlining her conflicted but ultimately evil nature; Will and Lyra’s companionship and development of trust I found utterly convincing.

The screenplay is adapted from three long and complex novels, and whereas in the first series they stuck to The Northern Lights, in this series elements from both the second and third books have been introduced and carefully interwoven; it’s clear that in the translation from novel to screen changes and simplifications were going to be required, but the strong characters and the essential plot-lines have been retained, and developed effectively.

Conceptually, Pullman’s key ideas are well-anchored; the idea of dust has been clearly explained, the link to original sin brought out, and the innocence and experience/ Adam and Eve element of the Will and Lyra pairing was made evident in the final episode. These ideas are crucial to the novels and obviously fully explained in them, but it’s to the scriptwriters’ credit that they have neither laboured these ideas nor written them out of the plot.

So, what have I particularly noticed and liked about this series? The development of Mrs Coulter’s character has been really well done, and through the use of the monkey daemon the aspects of a person’s nature or soul that the daemon represents becomes very clear. She is conflicted in her relationship with her daughter: maternal instinct crosses a sense of philosophical or religious conviction of what is right and wrong, and this torment has a long way to go yet.

The relationship between Will and his father has been forefronted, at least compared with my recollection of the novels, and this is a welcome development. On screen I have experienced a much clearer picture of a boy on the cusp of adulthood wrestling with all kinds of inner demons. Mary Malone has been an interesting character thus far, and I shall be very interested to see what the scriptwriters do with her in the next series. Her spiritual side is important: we’ve had a single brief reference to her being an ex-nun, and the casting of the I-Ching has been shown several times.

I will be intrigued to see how both the scriptwriters and the SFX people cope with creating and making the mulefa work; they are crucial to the story and yet are surely the creatures furthest removed from familiarity in Pullman’s text. Equally, how the replay of Armageddon will be performed… lots of opportunity for spectacular effects, but how much of the significance of the battle can be conveyed? Even in the book I felt that some of this was a little unclear.

But, in this weirdest of years, I am grateful to have been so fully and grippingly entertained for seven consecutive Sunday evenings, and I can’t wait for the next series…

***You can read my review of the first series here

Philip Pullman: Daemon Voices

April 8, 2018

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A writer writes about his craft, his inspirations, and how he works: fascinating, in the same way that Ursula Le Guin doing just that was fascinating. He doesn’t disappoint in the way he writes, either – there’s more of the fluent clear language and sentence-crafting that one experiences in his novels. Pullman is a very readable writer, accessible, communicating effectively. You may think, well, yes, he would, but that’s not always the case…

He’s very strong and forthright on a writer’s responsibilities, fascinating on how stories work, and challenges literary theorists. He writes about his experiences as a teacher and rages against the insanities and inanities of our ‘National Curriculum’. He’s forcefully and coherently atheist, anti-God; this I found quite challenging myself, and though I appreciated his stance, decided to continue to differ with him there…

Out of his atheism there arises a sense of wonder: for Pullman, the more we discover, the more wondrous the universe seems to be, an approach which chimes in with my own ever since my childhood excitement at looking at the skies and learning about other worlds.

Clearly I was looking for further understanding of the genesis of, and intentions behind, the Dark Materials trilogy, and I was not disappointed. There was a detailed personal response to Milton‘s Paradise Lost, and how the Fall story and his anti-religious stance worked together to create a story in which the Fall was a good thing: the loss of innocence and a knowledge of good and evil is what makes us human; that knowledge of evil does not imply that all humans therefore embrace it. There is a myth of the Fall in the world of the mulefa in The Amber Spyglass; it both resembles the one in our world and is very different from it, and Pullman’s clarification was very interesting.

Pullman is interesting on the craft of the writer, too, and open about his need and desire to make a decent living out of it. He’s scathing about Tolkien‘s trilogy, which he compares with Middlemarch (!) from the perspective of characterisation, and finds seriously wanting, and he has no time for C S LewisNarnia books either, because of their reactionary, anti-human, anti-life and pleasure content. I didn’t disagree with him there, either. Perhaps the most eye-opening section for me was a chapter on the nature of the narrator, where he raises a whole raft of issues with which I was familiar as a life-long student of literature, but to contemplate them from the perspective of a practising writer was really illuminating. He also takes issue with the current trend for people to write stories in the present tense and demonstrates clearly how limiting a choice this is.

Pullman shares a good deal of himself with his readers here. Most of the pieces in the collection were originally lectures or talks; a few are introductions he has written to various books. The whole is a book full of surprises; I found him reflecting on a wide range of books I had also known and loved in the past, and also came across a few recommendations for my to-read list. As an insight into the mind and art of one of our best living writers, it’s really good: challenging and thought-provoking.

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