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Our Materials for “His Dark Materials”

  • Posted by: Daniella Snyder
  • Posted Date: November 20, 2019
  • Filed Under: Library News

I’m Daniella Snyder, a second-year graduate student at Villanova University, and your ‘Cat in Falvey Library’s Stacks. I’ll be posting about academics– from research to study habits and everything in between– and how Falvey Library can play a large role in your success here on campus!

Between Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and Lord of the Rings, we’re no longer surprised by news of our most cherished fantasy books from childhood getting adapted into television shows or movies. However, despite the frequency of these adaptations (both good and bad), there is still an expectation and hope for the adaptation to be really great.


There has been a buzz over the last few weeks about His Dark Materials, the new HBO and BBC television adaptation of Philip Pullman’s trilogy, more commonly known as “The Golden Compass” books. I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone who hasn’t read the books, so I’ve linked a summary of the trilogy here. Given the critical failure of the 2007 movie version of The Golden Compass, fans are still skeptical about this eight-episode series.

According to our resident Golden Compass super-fan Sarah Wingo, the subject librarian for English Literature, Theatre, and Romance Languages and Literature, part of why the ’07 movie failed is because the book is difficult to adapt to visual media. She uses the example of the “daemons,” the animal version of a human’s soul in the book series. Wingo says the danger is that they just appear to be “an animal sidekick” complete with the ability to talk, think, and reason, but they are so much more. “While they work really well on the page,” she remarks, “it’s difficult to achieve them on screen.”

Other difficulties with the adaptation lie in the trilogy’s political undertones. Pullman offers a critique of the Catholic Church through the “Magisterium,” the theological powerhouse that governs the world he creates, and codes them as similar to that of Catholic leaders, in regards to dress, symbology, and titles. The ’07 movie received tremendous backlash from religious organizations, and Wingo fears that the television show might try to remove the religious aspects entirely. “But,” Wingo admits, “if you strip that out, the narrative ceases to work further.”

However, Wingo and other Golden Compass fans are still certainly interested in the way the rest of the season will play out, as the third episode dropped this past Monday night.

The reviews of the show have been positive so far. Following an interview with Jack Thorne, writer for His Dark Materials, Reid Nakamura concluded that the HBO show “learned from the failures” of the movie. Other critics would go so far as to say that “His Dark Materials is the tv adaptation that The Golden Compass deserves.” According to Laura Miller, in an article for Slate, “His Dark Materials [is] conclusive proof that TV is now the best medium for bringing epic literary fantasy to the screen,” and tv critics from VICE, The Ringer, and other online sites agree.

I was never a Golden Compass fan myself, but I watched the first episode of His Dark Materials this past weekend and now I can’t wait to read the book. Thankfully, Falvey Library has so many resources to help me enter into the conversation surrounding the books and new show.

The library has all three Golden Compass books in the permanent collection. They also have an amazing amount of additional reading materials, including reading companions like Dark Matter: Shedding Light on Philip Pullman’s Trilogy His Dark Materials and His Dark Materials Illuminated: Critical Essays on Philip Pullman’s Trilogy, which features a chapter by Dr. Lauren Shohet, a Villanova English professor. And, with a quick InterLibrary Loan request, you can get your hands on the graphic novel, books about the ’07 movie, and other fantastic reading guides.

Every time Sarah Wingo re-reads The Golden Compass trilogy, she sees something new. “I like books that can grow up with a kid,” she admits. Now, as an adult, Wingo finds a different perspective that she never would have found in her earlier readings, and Falvey Library hopes you’ll do the same. Whether this is your first time reading the series, or if you’ve grown up with the story since you were a kid, Falvey hopes the resources in the library lead you to see– and learn– something entirely brand new.

Daniella Snyder HeadshotDaniella, our graduate assistant for Communication & Marketing, loves Stranger Things and Harry Potter the most in terms of fantasy or science fiction. What fandoms are you in? Tweet us @FalveyLibrary or DM us @villanovalibrary on Instagram.





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Last Modified: November 20, 2019

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