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Television: His Dark Materials, “Lyra’s Jordan”

Yeah, yeah, I’m a week behind because I hadn’t realized the show had already begun airing. Lovely think about television these days is that if you miss an episode, you no longer have to wait for a rerun. I’m old enough to remember a time before that, a time when if you wanted to record a show you had to have a blank tape and VCR. Yeah, I’m old.

First things first: I did read The Golden Compass once many years ago and it left very little impression on me. I never even bothered with the subsequent books. I don’t know what it was about that book that failed to grab me; I remember almost nothing about it except the big bear and a vague sense of not liking any of the characters, which is probably why I didn’t want to spend any more time with them. So I won’t be comparing this to the books because I remember so little of the one I read, which is actually kind of nice because I’m coming at this relatively fresh and unbiased.

This episode, which is the first of the series, begins with a lot of title card reading. Stuff like that always gives me pause because if the screenwriter and director couldn’t accurately convey the world in the, you know, actual film part, maybe they shouldn’t be adapting this material? Any movie, or even book, that requires that much information before it even gets started… needs to be rethought. Viewers (and readers) aren’t entirely stupid. They can figure things out without you having to bury them in pre-info.

That aside, I did find this a relatively engaging series premiere. James McAvoy plays Lord Asriel, an explorer who leaves a baby named Lyra in the care of Jordan College in Oxford. (Note that this is an alternative dimension to our world, meaning some things are familiar and some things aren’t. For instance, everyone has a “daemon,” which is basically their soul, but in the form of an animal outside their body.) There seems to be a prophecy around Lyra, because of course there is. She grows up none the wiser and at around age 12 is selected to become the assistant to Ms. Coulter (Ruth Wilson). Meanwhile, children have been disappearing, including Lyra’s friend Roger. Ms. Coulter promises Lyra that once they reach London she will help find Roger (and, possibly by extension, other missing children as well).

Before Lyra leaves with Ms. Coulter, the Master of Jordan College gives her an alethiometer, a device that—once Lyra can figure out how to work it—will tell her the truth. It’s something she must keep hidden because it’s illegal to possess without permission from the Magisterium. Of course, the first time that Lyra tries to use it, it doesn’t work. Why the Master couldn’t tell Lyra how to use it is unclear. Probably because he wanted to be sure there was more tension in the plot.

There is also a plot involving Lord Asriel’s explorations into something called “dust,” and the fact that the Master of Jordan College tried to poison him… This seems fundamentally to be a disagreement between the Magisterium and science/academia. Which is to say, a fight between religion/faith and hard facts.

Bottom line is that Lyra is a chosen one and the fate of the world as everyone knows it seems to depend on her choices. *yawn* I’m so over these kinds of stories, AND YET… I did really enjoy this, surprisingly so. It’s nicely done, and while I don’t love any of the characters, I don’t dislike them as much as I did when reading them. If that makes any sense? There is a real sense of dread around the kidnappings, and the central mysteries are set up well, designed to draw the viewer along. I’ll definitely watch the next episode at least.

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Comments (1) for post “Television: His Dark Materials, “Lyra’s Jordan””

  • I’m even older. I remember when there were no VCRs, so if you missed it, you were just out of luck and calling friends to catch you up. On a land line. With a spirally cord that kept you attached to the chair while you talked.

    I haven’t read the books, so I will probably pass on the series. There are so many things I want to watch. I’m getting stingy with my watch time.

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