Reading His Dark Materials as an adult for a relaxing dose of magic

I remember first reading Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials book series at nine or ten years old; jumping into the world of dæmons, the animals that every being has by their side, and Dust, mystical particles at the heart of the book’s quest. I’ve now rediscovered it through the BBC & HBO adaptation.

Like many of us, I fell out of the habit of reading fantasy books as I grew older. I’ve only started changing that in recent years with books like The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon and revisiting J.R.R. Tolkien.

Why is it that we stop seeking magical worlds when we become adults?

Maybe it’s because of responsibility, or needing to be in the real world, or being too mature and wise for such things.

But oh, it’s such a joy to rediscover fantasy books like His Dark Materials. When we’re experiencing anxiety, low mood or depression, or going through tough times, escaping this world for another – Jordan College, Hogwarts, Narnia, or the Shire – can be a welcome retreat.

When someone asks me about the books I’d recommend for the most difficult days, I often want to shout, read the children’s and young adults’ books you love!

However, you can hardly class His Dark Materials as a trilogy just for children, or even young adults. The BBC & HBO adaptation is very much marketed to adults, especially those who read the books when they first came out. And the themes aren’t exactly easy-going.

Philip Pullman has some big messages at work in His Dark Materials. The church, the government, personal freedom and justice… all come into question as the plot develops.

After watching the 2019 adaptation, which I loved – Dafne Keen, Ruth Wilson, and most others are spectacular – I remembered just how beautifully crafted Philip Pullman’s world is. And I wanted to spend as much time there as possible.

As soon as the first episode aired, I fell in love with Jordan College, Lyra Belacqua, and the world she lives in once again. And oh, how I’d love to have my own dæmon (the BBC website has a quiz where you can find out what your dæmon would be.)

Before season 2 of the HBO/BBC adaptation of His Dark Materials airs (probably this year, they filmed most of the two seasons in unison, so hopefully we won’t have too much of a wait), I’ve decided to reread the books. Iain will join me, he read the series several times when he was younger but couldn’t say no for another round.

The book starts with a quote from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, from which the series gets its name:

“Unless the Almighty Maker them ordain/ His dark materials to create more worlds,–/ Into this wild Abyss the wary Fiend/ Stood on the brink of Hell and looked a while,/ Pondering his voyage; for no narrow frith/ He had to cross.”

We then tumble into the halls and secret rooms of Jordan College with Lyra and her dæmon, Panteleimon, where we join them for disquieting plots, intrigue, and overheard secrets that start the adventure to come.

It couldn’t be a better time for me to read His Dark Materials – my workload has stepped up with some big clients who want a lot of my time. It’s a good problem to have, I won’t complain too much, but it has left me slightly frazzled.

If anything can soothe my soul and help me to breathe deeper, it’s a good book. So bring it on, Philip Pullman.

Top image from HBO

Lucy
It's good to meet you! I started Tolstoy Therapy back in 2012 to share my healing journey through anxiety and PTSD with books. I also climb mountains, go on solo adventures, and write over at livewildly.co.