The one thing that drew her out of her boredom was the alethiometer. She read it every day, sometimes with Fader Coram and sometimes on her own, and she found that she could sink more and more readily into the calm state in which the symbol meanings clarified themselves, and those great mountain ranges touched by sunlight emerged into vision” (U.S. Knopf 2002 paperback edition pg. 150)

“The protagonist of this complex fantasy is young Lyra Belacqua, a precocious orphan growing up within the precincts of Oxford University. But it quickly becomes clear that Lyra’s Oxford is not precisely like our own–nor is her world. For one thing, people there each have a personal daemon, the manifestation of their souls in animal form. For another, hers is a universe in which science, theology, and magic are closely allied. But Lyra’s carefree existence changes forever when she and her daemon, Pantalaimon, first prevent an assassination attempt against her uncle, the powerful Lord Asriel, and then overhear a secret discussion about a mysterious entity known as Dust. Soon she and Pan are swept up in a dangerous game involving disappearing children, a beautiful woman with a golden monkey daemon, a trip to the far north, and a set of allies ranging from “gyptians” to witches to an armor-clad polar bear.” (from amazon.com)

After writing his Sally Lockhart mystery series, Philip Pullman was discussing ideas with his publisher for his next book. He threw out an idea he had for a modern version of Paradise Lost by John Milton. The publisher told he to run with it, and the His Dark Materials series was born.

Called Northern Lights in the U.K., the title was changed when it arrived in the U.S. (much like the first Harry Potter). It was well received, and won numerous awards. The third book, The Amber Spyglass, received the Whitbread Award-awarded by other writer’s as the best book of the year. It was the first children’s book to win, and this opened the door for a film adaptation. The movie was not the first adaptation of the books. They did very well on the London stage, running multiple years at different times.

Writer/Director Chris Weitz (New Moon) was a fan of the books, and wanted to stay very close to Pullman’s ideas. Pullman was on set some days, and available for collaboration, since the film was shot near his home in Oxford. While writing the script, Weitz had to be aware of the religious controversy that the books had caused and walk the line between being accessible to the audience and staying true to the book. The first book really has the least controversy in it; how they thought they would be able to adapt the rest of the series (especially the third one) is beyond me.

The movie was received with mixed reviews, especially in regards to the special effects and accuracy to the books. Many diehard fans of the books felt that the movie over-simplified the main concepts in the books in order to attract a wider audience. Chris Weitz has defended his adaption as an introduction to the world; at the time all three books were going to be made into movies.

The Similarities:

– The location, and the way the college is set up.
– The importance of the daemons.
– The groups of characters: the gyptians, the panserbørne (the ice bears), and the witches for instance, are all there and just as important.
– How the other characters relate to Lyra, which evolves over the course of the series and is very important.

The Differences:

– The deaths of certain characters were removed to make the movie more children friendly
– The ending; the movie ends with Lyra and Roger flying away in with Lee Scoresby and Iorek Byrnison-the book continues on for another few chapters.
– Some of the order of the scenes has changed.
– The Magisterium is more sinister in the movie-they are the bad guys. It’s a much more grey area in the books. The same is true with “the gobblers”.
– One character from the second book is added to the movie, to provide a platform for what would have been the complete series. Two of the children are combined into one character. And the name of the king of the bears was changed.

Overall Accuracy: 3.5 out of 5
The general tone was toned down to create a blockbuster movie; I highly recommend the book first.