His Dark Materials Creator Discusses Religion in TV Series

Jane Tranter, the woman responsible for bringing His Dark Materials to HBO, pushes back against the idea that the story is anti-religion.

Dafne Keene in His Dark Materials on HBO
Photo: BBC One/HBO

The cast and creators of the His Dark Materials series were at San Diego Comic-Con tonight to give insight into the HBO and BBC adaptation of Philip Pullman’s classic children’s book series known as The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass here in the United States.

One of the more interesting moments in their conversation came when producer Jane Tranter pushed back against the idea that the book series is anti-religion, a claim that has followed the novels since they were first published beginning in 1995. The book series was number 8 on the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books list for 2000-2009.

Later, the claims led to the 2007 feature film adaptation from New Line Cinema to gut aspects of religious criticism from the story. The Catholic League campaigned against the film, declaring that it promotes atheism for kids and attacks Christianity. The story is a retelling of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, which is the story of the battle between Lucifer’s fallen angels and God’s forces. In His Dark Materials, young protagonists Lyra and (introduced in The Subtle Knife) Will face off against an autocratic religious organization known as the Magisterium.

read more: His Dark Materials Season 2 Already Confirmed

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“One of the great things about His Dark Materials is the conversations to have about it, and there are many aspects about the religious parts of His Dark Materials, as well,” said Trantner. “And I think, like all conversations talking about these days, it’s better to have a conversation when there’s some facts on the table rather than lots of assumptions that lots of people who haven’t read the books sometimes make about the religion.”

Tranter then went on to respond to the specific idea that His Dark Materials is anti-religion, but rather anti-autocratic. 

“Philip Pullman in these books is not attacking belief. He’s not attacking faith. He’s not attacking religion or the Church per se,” said Tranter. “He’s attacking a particular form of control wheere there is a very deliberate attempt to withhold information, keep people in the dark, and not allow ideas and thinking to be free. And, at times that can be personified by an authoritaric form of government or a church or whatever it is—in His Dark Materials, it’s personified by the Magisterium, but it doesn’t equate to any particular church or form of religion in our world, and we should be clear on that.”

It sounds like the road bringing this beloved book series to the screen again, especially following the flop that was the feature film, was a long one for Tranter.

“It was a long process,” Tranter said. “The BBC came on from the start; the books are huge [in England]. But as the piece grew and became more expensive, we looked for more partners to come aboard. It was a long conversation with HBO.”

Eventually, the project came together, but, even then, it wasn’t smooth sailing. Jack Thorne (The Cursed Child), who adapted the books for screen, said he wrote 46 drafts of the Episode 1 script before getting it right.

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“This is an anti-superhero story,” Thorne said. “If this were a superhero story, you’d be following Lord Asriel’s path. This is a story about people following greatness and people following the goodness in their heard. Lyra’s always following the good, while Asriel and Coulter are following greatness.”

His Dark Materials is set to hit screens in fall 2019. Find out more about the TV series here.

Read and download the Den of Geek SDCC 2019 Special Edition Magazine right here!