Buddy’s Dark Materials

With a Game of Thrones-size void left in my TV-watching schedule, and shows I care about — The Expanse, The Last Kingdom, The Witcher — either between seasons or yet to debut, I’ve been watching HBO’s newest big-budget fantasy adaptation, His Dark Materials.

Based on a series by the British novelist Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials follows the adventures of Lyra, an 11-year-old girl living in a parallel world that resembles a steampunk version of Victorian England.

What sets the series apart, aside from its fantastical setting, is the prominent presence of animals. Lots and lots of animals. Animals everywhere: Rabbits, foxes and cats underfoot, hawks and eagles in the air, snakes slithering on the shoulders of their humans.

In Lyra’s world, the human soul isn’t a nebulous concept or incorporeal entity. Instead, each person’s soul takes the physical form of an animal.

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James McAvoy plays Lord Asriel, whose daemon is a powerful and intimidating snow leopard named Stelmaria. Credit: HBO
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Stelmaria looks just like a real snow leopard, a credit to the show’s visual effects team, who had their work cut out for them with this adaptation. Credit: HBO

These animals — somewhat controversially called daemons in the books and series — are fully sapient creatures with the ability to speak, and they often serve as the conscience and voice of reason for their humans. The bond between humans and their daemons are sacred, the series informs us, and they cannot be separated.

The daemons of children can change form, taking the shape of virtually any animal, but upon adulthood each person’s daemon “settles” as a particular animal and no longer shifts. A daemon in its settled form, the series tells us, reflects the true nature of a person.

Nomadic people’s daemons often settle as hawks. Sneaky or evil characters have daemons who settle as snakes and insects. Protagonist Lyra’s daemon, Pantalaimon, hasn’t “settled” yet in the series, and he’s been seen as a cat, a moth and a fox — among other forms — but he usually takes the form of a snow white ermine:

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Lyra (Daphne Keen) and Pantalaimon, the tiny ermine to the left. Credit: HBO
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Ruth Wilson plays Mrs. Coulter, whose daemon is a snub-nosed monkey. Credit: HBO
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Lin Manuel Miranda plays the roguish aeronaut Lee Scoresby, whose daemon is a rabbit named Hester. Credit: HBO

Of course, were I to occupy Lyra’s world, my daemon would be a massive and powerful tiger. I mean, let’s face it, no other animal would do me justice. 🙂

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Who would mess with me if I had my own tiger? Credit: Andrew James

Alas, I already have one, and his name is Buddy. While watching the show, I couldn’t help but notice the way the animals follow their humans is precisely the way my cat follows me. The show’s daemons are never far from their human counterparts, and straying too far away causes them pain. To hear Buddy yowl when I’m on the other side of the bathroom door, he feels the same way.

Unfortunately he wouldn’t be much help in a fight, but he’d be a hell of a wingman!

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“You’re never getting away from me, dude!”

 

2 thoughts on “Buddy’s Dark Materials”

    1. That’s exactly what it is. The Golden Compass was the first attempt to adapt the story, planned as a movie trilogy, and it bombed. HBO took a big risk adapting it as a TV series, and so far it’s entertaining and has done a good job introducing its world and concepts.

      I haven’t read the books, but from what I understand, the show is pretty faithful to them.

      Like

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