His Dark Materials: Which Books Are the HBO Series Based On?

Which books are the His Dark Materials TV show based on again? We get it... it's maybe been a while since you read them.

His Dark Materials premieres on HBO tonight and, while you may have read some or all of the Philip Pullman books the TV show is based on, maybe it’s been awhile, and maybe you don’t remember exactly what the deal is with this literary world? Don’t worry. We’ve got your covered…

For the most part, His Dark Materials Season 1 is following the first book in the Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, which is composed of three books: The Golden Compass (Northern Lights, in the U.K., published in 1995), The Subtle Knife(1997), and The Amber Spyglass(2000). All three in-universe artifacts referenced in the book titles are also visually referenced in the credit sequence of the show, which is pretty cool.

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While the first episode of His Dark Materials the TV show follows the first four-ish chapters of The Golden Compass pretty closely, the very first scene in the show—which shows Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) bringing baby Lyra (played as a child by Dafne Keen) to Jordan College during The Great Flood—is actually a scene from the His Dark Materials prequel/sequel trilogy: The Book of Dust.

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The Book of Dustfurther charts Lyra’s life story. So far, the first two books in the series have been published: La Belle Sauvage (2017) and The Secret Commonwealth (2019). La Belle Sauvage takes place 12 years before the events of The Golden Compass, and follows two children’s efforts to keep baby Lyra safe. (Honestly, a full-time job.) The introductory scene of the His Dark Materials TV series is the final scene from La Belle Sauvage, as outlined in this EW article.

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“We discussed it with Philip Pullman who very kindly gave us permission to include this element,” His Dark Materials TV show scribe Jack Thorne and executive producer Jane Tranter told RadioTimes.com about the inclusion of the scene. “We’ve used it very carefully as readers of The Book of Dust will realize. But we think it gives the series the epic beginning it deserves.”

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The Secret Commonwealth, the second installment in the Book of Dust trilogy, catches up with Lyra when she is 20 years old and—should the His Dark Materials TV show become a success and continue past the three seasons it will take to presumably cover the events of the original His Dark Materials book trilogy—the TV show could pull from The Secret of the Commonwealth and, perhaps, the third as-of-yet unpublished book in the Book of Dust trilogy.

In addition to His Dark Materials and The Book of Dust series, Pullman also published Lyra’s Oxford (2003), which mostly consisted of a short story set two years after the end of The Amber Spyglass, when Lyra is 15. Basically: show’s got plenty of source material, should it need it.

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His Dark Materials premieres Monday, November 4th on HBO. Find out more about the TV series here.

Kayti Burt is a staff editor covering books, TV, movies, and fan culture at Den of Geek. Read more of her work here or follow her on Twitter @kaytiburt.