Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials
Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials consists of three novels: Northern Lights (1995), The Subtle Knife (1997) and The Amber Spyglass (2000). As an English teacher as well as a drama teacher, I like to stay aware of what novels are popular with children of varying ages (and of course I enjoy reading them myself). When I was given a copy of Northern Lights I was sceptical. I had never been a fan of fantasy novels and wasn’t sure I’d like this one. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised. Northern Lights is exciting, compelling and beautifully written, so much so that I could not put it down and immediately read the second and third parts of the trilogy, finding all three equally involving.
His Dark Materials, the stage play, was adapted by Nicholas Wright and written to be played in the National Theatre’s Olivier Theatre. However, although the adaptation has the Olivier, a vastly resourced theatre, specifically in mind, Wright’s production notes state that he would hope it could be produced equally well in a theatre with no resources. He states that: ‘The fantastic demands of Pullman’s imagination can be fulfilled in many different ways … all that matters is that the story moves swiftly from scene to scene.’
His Dark Materials is two full-length plays adapted from the three novels. They focus on Lyra and Will journeying through worlds, both unknown and familiar, struggling against dangerous enemies. On their quest they encounter rebellious angels, soul-eating spectres, kidnapping Gobblers, armoured bears and the formidable witch clans, before visiting the land of the dead. This scheme works on the assumption that teachers and students have a reasonable working knowledge of the three novels or of the film version of the first novel. Depending on how drama is taught in different schools, watching the film version of Northern Lights, which has been named The Golden Compass, would be a good way to start. I have divided the work into three main sections which may last a number of lessons depending on their length. Although the work is heavily based on the novels and stage play, it does allow students to draw on their own imaginations.
Number of lessons: 3