How Philip Pullman’s Book of Dust appears in the BBC’s His Dark Materials

EXCLUSIVE: Here’s how the BBC adaptation adds the new novels to the existing story – contains minor spoilers

James McAvoy as Lord Asriel in His Dark Materials (BBC)

Nearly 20 years after the His Dark Materials trilogy concluded, the Philip Pullman novels are finally coming to TV – but Pullman hasn’t been idle in the intervening decades, with the acclaimed author recently undertaking a new trio of books set in the same magical reality dubbed The Book of Dust series.

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And as Pullman’s earlier trilogy was being adapted for screen, writer Jack Thorne and executive producer Jane Tranter decided that it would be the perfect opportunity to include some elements of The Book of Dust in His Dark Materials’ onscreen incarnation – beginning with its very first scene, as RadioTimes.com can exclusively reveal in new images.

James McAvoy as Lord Asriel and Helen McCrory as Stelmaria in the His Dark Materials Book of Dust flashback (BBC)
James McAvoy as Lord Asriel and Helen McCrory as Stelmaria in the His Dark Materials Book of Dust flashback (BBC)

“We discussed it with Philip Pullman who very kindly gave us permission to include this element,” Thorne and Tranter told RadioTimes.com.

“We’ve used it very carefully as readers of the Book of Dust will realise. But we think it gives the series the epic beginning it deserves.”

The first Book of Dust novel, 2017’s La Belle Sauvage, is set over a decade before original His Dark Materials entry Northern Lights, and follows series heroine Lyra (played by Dafne Keen in the TV adaptation) as a baby when two resourceful children save her from a terrible supernatural flood and other more earthly enemies.

And as unveiled at a star-studded BFI screening in London, the opening moments of the BBC and HBO’s His Dark Materials are snatched straight from that recent work, specifically the very last scene of La Belle Sauvage when Lord Asriel takes Lyra through the floodwaters to Jordan College, Oxford, where she can be protected by an ancient principle of scholastic sanctuary.

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Lord Asriel and Lyra in His Dark Materials’ Book of Dust flashback (BBC)

In the TV adaptation fans can see Asriel fly Lyra in a gyrocopter through the flooded streets before wading through the water to place her in the arms of Jordan College’s Master Dr Carne (Clarke Peters) along with her truth-telling alethiometer, with actors James McAvoy and Peters playing the younger version of the major roles they play in the main storyline.

“I love the Book of Dust, it’s got a very different tone I think, it’s a smaller story and a smaller world but no less epic in its internal life for the characters,” actor McAvoy, who plays Lord Asriel in the series and the flashback scene, told RadioTimes.com.

“All that stuff added to the series from the Book of Dust is fantastic.”

“We wanted to show Lyra’s origin story and link the alethiometer from her arrival in Jordan College to the time she leaves,” Thorne and Tranter said.

“Plus, when you have cast of the calibre of James McAvoy you want to use him as much as possible!”

The baby Lyra Belacqua in His Dark Materials' Book of Dust flashback (BBC)
The baby Lyra Belacqua in His Dark Materials’ Book of Dust flashback (BBC)

It’s currently unclear whether more flashbacks from the 2017 work will appear, or whether sequel The Secret Commonwealth – released just this year, and catching up with Lyra as a 20-year-old many years after the events of His Dark Materials – could also be ripe for adaptation.

But for now, fans will be glad to see one more crossover within the stories Philip Pullman has created.

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His Dark Materials begins on BBC1 on Sunday 3rd November