Skip to main contentSkip to footer

Confused about His Dark Materials? Here is episode one explained

Your queries about His Dark Materials explained

his dark materials james
Emmy Griffiths
Emmy GriffithsTV & Film Editor
Share this:

While fans who have read the His Dark Materials book series seemed to be universally delighted by the BBC One adaptation on Sunday night, viewers who had yet to read the novels took to social media to express their confusion at the somewhat complex plot of the opening episode. One person wrote: "Just turned on to #HisDarkMaterials Already confused. Why is James McAvoy in conversation with a mountain cougar?" Another added: "Don't know what is going on, it appears to assume that the viewer has read the book and knows the story." To give confused fans a hand ahead of episode two, we have broken down the premiere for you right here…

What are daemons?

The world of His Dark Materials is very similar to our own, but with key differences that will certainly answer why Lord Asriel was speaking to an animal. In this parallel world, every single person has a 'daemon', an animal which represents a person's soul. Daemons often act as their person's conscience or reveal their inner thoughts and feelings. In Lyra's case, her daemon Pantalaimon is cautious and sensible to counteract her wildness. Daemons can often give you a good first impression of a person as well – for example, if someone has a snake daemon, it means they are sly and cunning.

daemons 1

Lyra's daemon is named Pantalaimon

While adults' daemons stay in one shape, like Asriel's snow leopard or Ms Coulter's monkey, children's daemons can shift and change, which is why you see Pantailamon skip from an ermine to a bird to a pine marten throughout the first episode. That is also what Rodger and Lyra are discussing in the crypts when they ask each other what they think their daemon will 'settle as'.

READ: Everything you need to know about Britannia series 2

The Magisterium

This other world also differs in other ways to our own; that it is ran by an all-powerful religious order called the Magisterium, who put the church first above everything else and attempt to stamp out any radical or heretical thinking. This, of course, brings us to explaining Lord Asriel's storyline.

dark 1

What is the deal with Lord Asriel?

Lord Asriel is Lyra's uncle, and charged her in the care of Jordan College, where he is a scholar. Rather than keep an eye on her, Asriel is a scholar and an explorer, and visits the college after spending a year in the north to tell them that he had learned that 'Dust', a mysterious force that the Magisterium fears, doesn't settle around children, and contains the sort of power to lead him to parallel worlds. His research is considered heretical and he is only protected from the church by 'scholastic sanctuary'. Fearing from the college, and for his ward, Lyra, the Master tries and fails to poison Asriel to stop him from carrying on with his investigation into Dust.

his dark materials asriel

What is the device that the Master gives to Lyra?

Before Lyra leaves Oxford to become Mrs Coulter's new assistant, he gives Lyra an 'alethiometer', a device which he explains will tell her the truth. Lyra is just as confused about the object as the viewers are at the moment, as she tries to use it to tell her what has happened to Rodger and it doesn't seem to do anything. We suspect things will become clearer, particularly since the first novel is called The Golden Compass, alluding to the device.

READ: 5 questions we have for His Dark Materials episode two

golden compass

A behind the scenes snap of the alethiometer

What is happening in the scene with the Gyptians?

The Gyptians are a community of people who travel by the river, and are settled in Oxford. The children often play with Lyra and Rodger, who know plenty of them by name. In the scene where Billy goes missing, the Gyptians are celebrating teenager Tony's daemon settling as a hawk, marking him as a man. It also explains why poor Billy would have felt a little upset by his big brother growing up before he went for a walk and was caught by the gobblers.

his dark materials ma

More TV and Film

See more