How His Dark Materials drew inspiration from Donald Trump and Boris Johnson

His Dark Materials season 3, premiering Dec. 5 on HBO
His Dark Materials season 3, premiering Dec. 5 on HBO /

His Dark Materials is nominally a YA fantasy drama. Based on the books by Philip Pullman, it’s about a couple of kids who stumble into alternate worlds and go on adventures. Sounds pretty standard, right?

But the themes get a little heavier than those you’ll usually find in the genre. In this story, young Lyra and Will are on the run from the Magisterium, a tyrannical theocracy that wants to control people by severing their souls from their bodies. And at the end of the story, they, uh…SPOILER alert…they kill God.

The HBO show drills down on these themes by spending more time with the (often awful) adults in the story, including Magisterium bigwig Father MacPhail. “We deliberately introduced Father MacPhail much earlier than the books did, because we wanted to understand his journey,” writer Jack Thorne told Polygon. “We wanted to understand how someone does this to themselves and does this to their country.”

And then there are some of the real-world events we’ve been grappling with over the last handful of years, including the rise of interest in fascism around the world, drummed along by the deepening political divisions between ordinary people, a recent rash of book bans, and lawmakers being openly bigoted in a way we haven’t seen in a while. All of that went into the gumbo that was the final season of His Dark Materials.

“I’m very scared of where we are, as a world right now. I think we all are a bit scared of where we are as a world,” Thorne said. “The way that we’ve put ourselves in our binary boxes and gone, If you’re not on my team, then you’re on the other team. And the forces that have arisen that have taken advantage of that. You think especially of Trump, and you think of Boris Johnson in my country, and the scary way they found to manipulate news to support their ego-driven agendas. That does live very strongly in [His Dark Materials].”

Why is everything (including His Dark Materials) about the multiverse lately?

There are other ways that His Dark Materials seems strangely in sync with the world around it. Its central conceit involves the multiverse, something that has been hugely in vogue lately, what with movies like Everything Everywhere All At Once and the unstoppable juggernaut that is Marvel Studios.

“Why are we drawn to the multiverse? What is it about the time we live in now that we want the possibility of the other? Uh, you know, yeah, I can think of several reasons why we might,” Thorne mused. “Our time is so — it feels like we’re living through something quite profound. I don’t think we’ll realize quite what a revolution it’s been until we’re at the other side of it. I think it is a young-person-driven revolution, and it is about identity at its heart. And when we work it out, at the end of it, that stuff — the His Dark Materials books, and the Avengers films, and everything — will seem like they exist in a new context.”

His Dark Materials drops new episodes each Monday on HBO and HBO Max. We’ll be watching and reviewing the show right here!

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