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YMMV / His Dark Materials

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     The Books 
  • Adorkable: Dr. Malone in the radio drama. Highlights include faking an over-the-top English accent to avoid suspicion, quoting Star Trek to herself, and her introduction:
    Lyra: I've been told you know about Dust.
    Dr Malone: I do! You've seen my flat, then?
  • Alternative Character Interpretation: Is Lord Asriel a callous would-be dictator? A misguided freedom fighter? An amoral Übermensch? An anti-hero? An anti-villain? Even Pullman sometimes seems to be at odds over this character.
  • Anvilicious: In The Amber Spyglass, the series' commentary on the evils of mindlessly deferring to authority, God included, becomes impossible to ignore.
  • Broken Base:
    • This has proven to be a fairly polarizing series. For some, the author seems to be constantly railing against religion at the expense of actually telling a story, with the third book being the worst offender. Others argue that this angle is at least handled much more tastefully than other series with similar tendencies.
    • Even amongst the fanbase, the ending of The Amber Spyglass has been... polarizing. Not to mention the third book's... message regarding organized religion and how it falls into Ending Fatigue (with the actual question of the Final Battle between the Republic and Kingdom of Heaven being intentionally Left Hanging). Yes, the series is ultimately arguing for individual humanism over adhering to any specific ideology (as reflected in how the ending focuses on the love story between the two leads instead of the aforementioned final battle)... but it still can't help but feel somewhat disappointing/anti-climatic to read.
  • Complete Monster: Metatron was once a human named Enoch that turned into an angel by The Authority to act as his regent. Despite his fanatical demeanor, having attempted to kill his own brother Baruch for being gay, he is revealed to be extremely power-hungry, as he turns on The Authority and traps him in a crystal. Under his stewardship the already fanatical institution of the church was prompted to commit several atrocities across the multiverse, ranging from mass Mind Rape of children to the genocide of both human groups and non-human species. Metatron became increasingly convinced that Lyra was the new Eve, so he planned on inquisitions across the Multiverse. Killing Baruch for once and for all, he marched his troops against Lord Asriel's rebel forces in a flat-out apocalyptic battle.
  • Contested Sequel: As mentioned before, The Amber Spyglass is easily the most polarizing entry in the series, with fans split over whether or not Pullman's increased focus on the book's anti-religious themes is handled well, whether they like the path he took with Will and Lyra's relationship, and what they think about the ending itself.
  • Cry for the Devil: The Authority's fate of being rendered a senile, decrepit old man and left to suffer for thousands of years is very tragic, and can make you feel sorry for him. Heck, even Will and Lyra are both sickened when he finally dies.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse: Iorek Byrnison, and by extension the rest of the Panserbjorne. This one's to be expected.
  • Esoteric Happy Ending: After the events of the last book, the underworld is supposed to improve significantly, going from an eternal torture chamber of souls to a transitory corridor after which every soul can become one with the universe. Its former tormenters, the harpies, are left explicitly as judges, tasked with the mission to guide only those souls who have actively lived a fulfilling life back when they were alive. Now, the thing is that Gracious Wings and her kind seem to have a weirdly specific idea of what counts as such: as they stated that Lyra's child adventures were the first truly nourishing life recollection they ever heard, this implies they will only let in people that have been outdoorsy and extroverted like Lyra, ignoring all the other possible forms of enjoyment and fulfillment humans can experiment in their lives. From this perspective, afterlife has improved only marginally, and possibly even worsened for some: it has changed from a place with no salvation to a place with salvation for a few only, while the rest will be left there in bitterness because their own sources of joy happened to be different than mandated.
  • Fandom Rivalry: With The Chronicles of Narnia, with it being outright encouraged due to Pullman's dismissal of Narnia as allegorical Christian propaganda.
  • Fanfic Fuel: What would another work be like if the characters have daemons? In fact, the vast majority of Crossover fics involving His Dark Materials are really just daemon AU fics of the other work.
  • Fridge Horror:
    • It must be somewhat uncomfortable to have your inner nature projected for everyone to see, if not outright dangerous in some cases (eg the same-sex daemons = homosexuality theory).
    • It's mentioned that after Svalbard became uninhabitable to the Panserbjørn from Lord Asriel's successful window, the bears have had to flee elsewhere, going to the Himalayas in search of a safer environment. However, Iorek then complains that they can't find anything to eat there either. Will the bears survive? Or will they be reduced to a Dying Race that slowly goes extinct?
  • Genius Bonus:
    • Shortly after they meet, Will and Lyra question why "electricity" refers to what is called "ambarism" in Lyra's world, and why the stone called "electrum" in Lyra's world is called "amber" in Will's. Though neither child realizes the connection, the evolution of both terms alludes to the fact that the first observations of electricity (in our world, anyway!) came from pieces of amber imparting static charges to feathers and other small particles.
    • Lyra's last name, Belacqua, comes from The Divine Comedy, where in Purgatory Dante meets a Brilliant, but Lazy friend who is working their way towards Heaven, but gradually, and is trapped between the world of Purgatory and the shores of Hell.
    • The daemons themselves are rooted in Greek mythology and philosophy, being especially close to agathodaemons, a concept which is not too dissimilar to a guardian angel. There is also a story mentioned by Plato as well that way back when, humans weren't singular entities like today but like conjoined pairs of twins called androgynes- since most were a pair of man and woman but there were in fact man-man and woman-woman pairs as well. The gods, however, fearing the power the androgynes might have, separated them, creating the current status quo, and it is said that if you find your soulmate, it's the person who was your other half before you were torn apart.
  • Magnificent Bastard: Lord Asriel is secretly the father of heroine Lyra Silvertongue and a brilliant, bold man who looks at the natural order of Heaven under the Authority, only to seek to tear it down. Forming secret plans, Asriel kills Lyra's dear friend to open a gate between worlds and gathers whole armies to oppose the forces of heaven while outwitting everyone in his path; from the forces of the aristocracy to heaven, to Lyra and to Lyra's mother Marisa Coulter, his old flame and enemy. Uncovering a plot to kill him via a bomb, Asriel foils it and tears a hole open to the abyss before luring even the monstrous regent of heaven Metatron into a trap to destroy him to save Lyra.
  • Memetic Loser: The Authority is often joked about for dying to the wind. What people forget is that all angels turn to dust in the wind when they get too old, meaning that was not due to lack of durability.
  • Nightmare Fuel: The series as a whole contains very disturbing elements.
  • Offending the Creator's Own: Pullman wrote the story as a sort of atheist answer to the Christian weight of The Chronicles of Narnia, and it can be felt in many of the trilogy's plot points, characters and references. However, you can also find a fair share of atheists that disagree with the books' message and/or execution, sometimes to the point of consider those actually fall in several of the very flaws they attack.
  • Shocking Moments: In The Amber Spyglass we get a battle scene in another dimension between armies composed of angels, witches, ghosts, cosmic horrors, interdimensional aliens, jet fighters, at least one Physical God as well as God himself, badass lilliputians, steampunk airships, soldiers armed with rifles, machine guns, flamethrowers and poison gas guns, monsters, animal spirits, floating fortresses, thunder and lightning, and, of course, armoured polar bears. It is undermined - intentionally - by the fact that the battle is not really focused on. Instead the story follows the two protagonists' brief appearance where they search for their daemons before killing God and hauling ass.
  • Uncanny Valley: How people in Lyra's world perceive people who don't have daemons. Lyra was about to vomit upon seeing Tony (a victim of the Gobblers) without his daemon, likening it to seeing someone without a face or with their chest open. She was struck by seeing Will and uneasy visiting his world, but soon concluded that these people kept their daemons on the inside.
  • Unfortunate Implications: As a review pointed out, it's kind of ironic that Phillip Pullman labels other works like Narnia as sexist and full of class snobbery, when Will, the male hero, is the one who gets to fight the most and even becomes The Chosen One in control of the mystical Subtle Knife, while Lyra's greatest feats are accomplished by "feminine" wiles like lying and manipulation. The class snobbery manifests in that Lyra is the (illegitimate) daughter of aristocrats and is vastly superior in intellect and wits than her friends in Oxford (who also happen to be the children of servants) and Will is the son of a Royal Marines officer from the beginning.
  • The Woobie:

     The BBC/HBO TV Series 
  • Adaptation Displacement: The appearance of Serafina Pekkala seems to take more from Eva Green's portrayal in The Golden Compass, where the character was given an Adaptation Dye-Job to become dark-haired (she's blonde in the books) and wears a similar dress.
  • Alternate Character Interpretation:
    • Mrs. Coulter. Did she deliberately have Roger kidnapped by the Oblation Board in the first place in order to deprive Lyra of her only friend to convince her to live with her, or did he happened to get kidnapped by them because he was a poor child with no family and she took advantage of the situation?
      • When Mrs. Coulter visits Bolvangar and writes down dictated letters from the children "to send to their families," she is very shocked when Roger says he's writing to his friend Lyra; this seems to indicate that Roger's kidnapping was completely coincidental, but wound up being very advantageous to Mrs. Coulter.
    • Father Macphail: Does he actually despise Mrs. Coulter because he disagrees with her views and methods, or is he a competitive misogynist who secretly lusts after her?
  • Author's Saving Throw: Season 2 has a significant increase in visible daemons. Presumably, the greater proportion of scenes in our world where fewer special effects are necessary freed up some of the budget for it.
  • Awesome Music: Quite a lot of it.
    • Lorne Balfe's main theme for the show is a majestic but eerie piece that's a perfect fit for the franchise. Bonus points for the Ominous Latin Chanting given the story's themes of the dangers of all powerful religion. The Latin being sung is a translation of the prophecy of the witches.
    • "The Compass Points North' excellently captures Lyra's awe at the North and the dangers that await her there.
    • The Gyptians' funeral dirge "Dear Son" is hauntingly beautiful and has all the gravitas to be believable as a centuries-old tradition.
    • 'The Silver Guillotine' is also an awesome track starting low with scare chords, with a small sad motive in middle, before gradually exploding into a full-blown epic opus. And this is the track that plays when Lyra realizes she's been abducted to Bolvangar.
  • Base-Breaking Character:
    • Lyra's portrayal in the series. While a camp likes it over her book version for being much more serious, heroic and focused from the start, as well as being more likable, another camp sees it as not anything more than an unoriginal, cookie cutter "child heroine"-type character that erases precisely all which made the original Lyra unique, including her character development and realistic child quirks. A third camp prefers not to compare between both the books and the series, and just consider the new Lyra a different character for a different kind of history altogether.
    • The show reimagines Lee Scoresby from a grizzled, taciturn cowboy to a young, wisecracking Han Solo-type, more in line with his characterisation in the prequel story Once Upon a Time in the North. Some fans really liked the younger version for bringing some much-needed humour to the show and being played by the highly popular Lin-Manuel Miranda. Others derided it as a pointless and confusing change and criticize Miranda's casting, especially when compared to the well-received casting of Sam Elliott as the version in The Golden Compass that was more similar to the original character. The fact that Miranda kept forgetting he was supposed to have a Texan accent also didn't help.
    • The witches - interesting characters, or bland and useless? Some have compared them to the elves in The Lord of the Rings, saying that while they're gorgeous and mysterious, the fact that they have little actual flavour or spice to their characters makes them uninteresting.
  • Broken Base:
    • Comparing the series to the maligned The Golden Compass 2007 adaptation, specifically about their respective faithfulness to the material and artistic choices, can bring in a surprising amount of division. It's generally agreed that the series has the clear advantage in setting and story, as the film's decision to remove the religious element crippled the entire adaptation in many people's eyes, but it's also considered that the movie's portrayal of the characters and especially its cast (some of which was considered excellent by Pullman himself) were much more closer to the books. Conversely, people also praise the series for adopting a more realistic, subdued Diesel Punk in comparison to the film's fantastic Steampunk outlook, but it is also acknowledged that the film's visuals were eye-catchingly unique and used the right amount of budget to show daemons in plenty.
    • The armoured bear fight is worthy of mentioning all on its own in the previous comparison: going from the biggest setpiece of the film, shown from dozens of angles in a snow covered field with both bears in full armour, using groundbreaking CGI (for the time), to something that happens in the TV show in a small dark room, gets resolved in a couple of minutes as if it's no big deal, and most insultingly, Iorek's final blow is shown a) out of focus, b) in the background, c) in the dark, and d) obscured by Lyra's face.
  • Captain Obvious Reveal: The reveal that Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter are Lyra's biological parents is treated as monumental, but their behavior makes this blatantly obvious beforehand. The Separated-at-Birth Casting of Dafne Keene, James McAvoy, and Ruth Wilson does not help either.
  • Draco in Leather Pants: This version of Mrs. Coulter has amassed quite an army of fans; while they acknowledge she's done some incredibly horrendous things, they still deeply sympathize with her due to her backstory of childhood abuse, her desperate attempts to connect with Lyra, and her frustration with how the patriarchal institutions of her world have held her back.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse: Ruth Wilson's animalistic and utterly unhinged take on Mrs. Coulter is nigh-universally considered the show's best performance, with even negative reviews tending to say it's worth a look just for her.
  • Genius Bonus: The way the multiple realities are shown in the opening brings to mind String Theory, which is a theoretical study of multiple dimensions by way of quantum physics.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • Dafne Keen being cast as Lyra and James McAvoy as Lord Asriel: Keen played X-23 in Logan opposite Patrick Stewart as an elderly Professor X, while McAvoy plays the younger Xavier in the X-Men Film Series.
    • This isn't first time Andrew Scott has something to do with spectres either.
    • At the exact same time that "The Scholar" aired, with its discussion of the Magisterium's refusal to allow women to be doctors, the Wall Street Journal got in hot water for an op-ed claiming new First Lady Dr. Jill Biden doesn't deserve the title, drawing tons of accusations of sexism.
  • Idiot Ball: In a double whammy with Adults Are Useless, everyone in Lyra's world spends most of season 2 looking all over their world for Lyra, except that no one bothers to check the GIGANTIC GLOWING HOLE TO ANOTHER DIMENSION that just happened to show up right as she went missing. It can be excused that the witches won't go near it because the Magisterium is protecting it (though it doesn't justify that they never even considered it), but it makes no sense that Marisa waited as long as she did to even question Thorold and never even thought of that possibility herself.
  • Just Here for Godzilla:
  • Narm: Lee Scoresby's constantly claiming he loves Lyra even more than her own mother and would do anything to protect her is this, as the characters only briefly met and the two didn't really spend that much time together in the first season beyond the very beginnings of a friendship.
  • Narm Charm:
    • Mrs. Coulter's fighting style involves slapping at people exactly like her monkey daemon, which looks pretty silly but is also a pretty effective show of the bond between them, as well as showing just how unhinged and unpredictable she is.
    • In episode 6 Lyra and Mrs Coulter screaming at each other through the locked door after Lyra's trickery is also pretty silly but a chilling way of showing how similar yet different the two are.
    • Mrs Coulter's scream after finding out what happened to the Intercision machine in the following episode. While some might think it's kind of silly and over the top, other find that Mrs. Coulter's expression is still genuinely terrifying and bestial.
  • Nightmare Fuel:
    • The Ghost Town in episode 5. It's abandoned except for a frightened and dying boy, yet the power is still on the lights working. There is nothing outright dangerous, but Lyra is terrified, and even Iorek is unsettled by it. What's worse is that we are never given an explanation for why it's abandoned or how Billy got there.
    • The opening of episode 6. While we don’t see the child getting severed from their dæmon, we do see the nurse standing outside the room with a My God, What Have I Done? look on her face before the scientist snaps her out of it while the rest of the scene is eerily quiet. It somehow drives home how evil Bolvangar is even though we don’t see what’s actually happening.
    • Then it gets worse when it's revealed later the nurse is one of the early adult survivors of experiments at dæmon removal.
    • Will and Lyra rescuing the cat from the city children is this - especially for animal lovers. They start out by hearing terrified, pained screaming, to which Will exclaims that it's not a human making that sound. They then run to find the children surrounding a cat and torturing it, and when Will attempts to rescue the cat, the children look like they're closing ranks around him. Thank god for Lyra and Pan pulling off a Big Damn Heroes to frighten the children off.
    • Actually the whole city of Cittàgazze could count. Like the example from episode 5 of Season One, it's (almost) completely abandoned at first glance, but here, you actually learn why: the Spectres, which are Nightmare Fuel themselves through and through as they suck out the soul of any adult they come across, reducing them to such an Empty Shell they even have lost the will to even move. One victim is shown quite early into the second season, and while it's nowhere near as scary as in the books note , it's still very unsettling.
    • Mrs. Coulter torturing a witch by slowly ripping her cloud pinenote  out of her back with a pair of tweezers.
    • Angelica leading the children of Cittàgazze against Will and Lyra is this - the scene looks like it could be something out of a horror movie!
      Lyra: [collecting water, she stops as she hears whispering and walks over to an alleyway]
      Angelica: [appears out of the darkness at the end of the alley and speaks in a sing-song tone] Lyra...
      Lyra: [She panics and drops the jug of water, racing back to the house with Pan as the children of Cittàgazze march on the house, holding weapons. She locks the door and looks through a gap in the wood, terrified - only to make eye contact with Angelica, who speaks in a tone of pure malice]
      Angelica: I see you.
    • Will and Lyra are confronted by Angelica, Paola and their gang on the roof - you wouldn't think two young girls could be so terrifying. If Serafina Pekkala hadn't shown up, they would have been in serious trouble.
      Angelica: He has the knife!
      Will: Look, we don't want to hurt you -
      Angelica: We want to hurt you.
      Paola: [she swings a staff at Will, but he fends her off with the knife] You killed our brother... and you stole the knife.
      Angelica: It would have protected us, and our adults in the hills...
    • The end of episode 7 of season 1. Most child hero stories would end with a happily ever after once Lyra and Roger find Asriel. But his behavior is so eerie and unlike a father's. First screaming at Lyra to get out, then changing his attitude completely as soon as he sees Roger, giving him a horrific creepy stare (made even worse by the harsh lighting of the scene and the score bordering on Psycho strings), that you just know something is terribly off.
    • Mrs. Coulter and her army of spectres, which she controls by shutting off her humanity. The completely calm and effortless way she kills the witches with Lyra is terrifying.
  • One-Scene Wonder: Terence Stamp as the previous bearer of the Subtle Knife, who becomes a slightly crustier Obi Wan Kenobi after Will takes over.
  • Padding: Having made the decision to introduce Will in the first book's adaptation makes sense, as readers and viewers can get to know Will before he comes out of nowhere wince we reach the text of the second book. However, the crew seems to believe that we'd forget about him unless they occasionally cut to him wandering around for about 20 seconds or someone sitting in a car outside his house every now and then. The fact that they stretched what amounts to the first few chapters of the second book to match the whole length of the first book goes to show how little there was to tell.
  • Retroactive Recognition:
    • There are a few recognizable faces in Cittagazze, namely Lady Lyanna Mormont and General Zod.
    • Terence Stamp also previously played Lord Asriel in the 2003 BBC Radio 4 adaptation.
    • For fans of Good Omens, there's Sister Mary Loquacious as Will's mother, and Ligur as Lord Carlo Boreal.
    • Ruta Gedmintas has gone from playing a vampire hunter to Serafina Pekkala, Queen of a witch clan.
  • Rewatch Bonus: An early clue as to what the Oblation Board is doing is the fact that none of their nuns have daemons.
  • Special Effect Failure:
    • Though the CGI is overall impressive, the shot of Lyra boarding the airship at the end of episode one featured shockingly obvious green-screen work.
    • Shots of Lyra riding Iorek across the snowfields in episode 5 make it quite visible that Keen was composited into the scene.
    • During group shots in the Magisterium the daemons are often in sharp focus, even when the person they're supposed to be standing on is not. Father Graves' spider daemon in particular is guilty of this.
  • Uncanny Valley: For those who have undergone intercision, their eyes don't reflect light properly, instead being flat without reflection, even under harsh light. It's very subtle, but combined with their flat affect, remarkably unsettling.
  • Unintentionally Sympathetic: The show rather oddly cuts almost all of Lyra's scenes of telling ridiculous lies, but still has everyone act like she does it all the time, making them come off as completely unreasonable.
  • Visual Effects of Awesome:
    • The daemons of the main characters (or any character who's the primary focus of a scene), look incredible, with very realistic digital effects that feel tangible (in particular Pantalaimon's marten form, which could easily fool a viewer into thinking it was a live action animal).
    • Following on from the daemons, the central armoured bear characters Iorek Byrnison and Iofur Raknison both look unbelievable, and major leaps over the feature film adaptation's rendering by the same people (which won an Oscar in 2007). These ended up winning the series an Annie award for outstanding achievement in character animation.
    • The opening sequence is awesome, especially the image of the multiple worlds stacked on top of each other.
    • One so subtle it's easy to miss, but none of the Oblation Board nuns' eyes reflect light properly.
    • The final battle in season one of Armoured Bears vs. Zeppelins and Paratroopers. At one point the camera follows one of the paratrooper's daemons as it dives out of the Zeppelin with them.
  • WTH, Costuming Department?: The choice of clothes for the Gyptians in this version. It seems as though the BBC were afraid people might not get they were a Fantasy Counterpart Culture to Romani or Travellers unless they were dressed as stereotypically as possible. Similar criticisms were hurled at Gangs of London, pointing out that it leaned very close to Modern Minstrelsy.
    Rocci Williams: "How can we let viewers know that they are Gypsies? I know, dress them like they've walked into a 1980's Oxfam."
  • What an Idiot!:
    • The Season 1 finale gives the distinct impression that Lyra likely could have saved Roger if she hadn't done such a pointlessly long and slow goodbye with Iorek or if she had done something to the generator powering the intercision machine she passed on her way to the top.
    • And there’s the scene in The Daemon Cages where Lyra tries to make a break for it after being summoned to go to the Silver Guillotine room. Despite 100% knowing what's about to happen, she and Pantalaimon walk separately, with him — judging by the shots’ blocking — a good several feet ahead of her. Inevitably when Lyra starts running, Pantalaimon is immediately caught by the scientist that's standing near him. She does something similar in the room itself, getting away from the scientists only to run in the opposite direction from her caged daemon. It’s more forgivable due to the desperation and panic, but still a confusing choice as she seems to be doing exactly the thing she supposedly wants to avoid - being separated from her daemon.
    • Will wraps his hand in a cloth before fighting the boy who has the Subtle Knife, like he honestly thinks that's going to help, immediately after seeing it slice through a gold statue like air.
    • Similar to the season one finale issue mentioned above, Serafina Pekkala gives Lee a piece of cloud pine, telling him that if he ever needs her, all he has to do is hold it and call on her, and she will immediately come to his aid. He uses it during his final stand, when he is injured and in danger of dying, but she proceeds to dither around with Lyra for a few minutes before departing, which gives the impression that if she'd left as soon as he called, he would have survived.


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