Last year I read the Golden Compass series, His Dark Materials, for the first time while rewatching my favorite Disney films. I couldn’t help thinking what a good hand-drawn animated film it would have been. I know classic Disney animators would have had a blast with Lyra’s shape-shifting animal daemon Pan.
Concept Artist Tiffany Diep must have read my mind in addition to the books because she’s rendered some gorgeous illustrations of the Golden Compass just in time for wintry weather!
Lyra Belacqua lives in a parallel universe where human souls take the form of animal companions called daemons. Before a child reaches puberty their daemon will change into different animals. Once the person matures into an adult their daemon settles into one animal form reflective of the person’s personality.
Lyra is an active, rebellious girl. She lives at Jordan College and gets into trouble with the local street children.
Lord Asriel is Lyra’s mysterious uncle who is conducting experiments with a powerful substance known only as Dust. Lord Asriel has made an enemy of the oppressive religious institution known as the Magisterium. Dust is considered heresy and the Magisterium will shut down any investigation into its existence.
The Golden Compass (or Northern Lights in the UK) is like the Chronicles of Narnia in reverse. In this version, Christianity is an antagonistic force and the main characters already live in a fantasy world. The goal of Lord Asriel is to open a portal in the North Pole to our regular non-magical world.
Mrs. Coulter is a recurring villain in His Dark Materials. Beautiful and clever Lyra initially looked up to her when they first met. However, Mrs. Coulter’s true nature is revealed by her daemon, a silent sadistic golden monkey.
Like the witches in many legendary fairy tales, Mrs. Coulter abducts children.
The design of Mrs. Coulter’s apartment is to reflect that of a gilded cage. She lures in children with her charisma then sends them away to be experimented on by the Magisterium.
The Magisterium seeks to separate children from their daemons before they “settle” into their true forms. Once a child reaches puberty and becomes sexually aware, they attract Dust, and according to the Magisterium, are corrupted by sin.
The world of The Golden Compass is a cleverly disguised metaphor to critique religious extremism, sexual suppression, and genital cutting.
Much like the Narnia kids, Lyra gets an giant wild animal companion. In this world, polar bears are sentient. While they do not have daemons of their own, the Ice Bears make armor that reflects their personality and status.
During the third act of the Golden Compass novel, Lyra must rescue Lord Asriel who is being held captive by Armored Bears. In a chapter literally titled “Mortal Combat” there is a deadly showdown between two opposing Armored Bears. Lyra’s bear wins the day and eats his opponent’s heart. FATALITY!
While it’s a shame that we will never see an animated adaptation of His Dark Materials, the BBC is producing their own live-action adaptation. The series stars Dafne Keen (Lyra), Ruth Wilson (Mrs. Coulter), James McAvoy (Lord Asriel), Ariyon Bakare (Lord Boreal) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Lee Scoresby. I hope that the BBC is faithful to the religious satire and sexual subtext of the books.
We can expect the TV series to debut on HBO in 2019.