Philip Pullman adaptations

Did anybody else watch The Ruby in the Smoke last night? I was very impressed with Julie Walters – she was really quite unpleasant, and you wouldn’t know it was the same actress as was in Calendar Girls at the weekend. I quite liked the rest of the show too, but then I’ve always been a sucker for Victorian murder mysteries. Hopefully it was successful enough that they’ll film the sequels. The original stories are by Philip Pullman, and have been sitting on my to-read shelf for years.

Next Christmas will see the release of the first film from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. It’ll be named after the US book title of ‘The Golden Compass’ as compared to the UK’s ‘Northern Lights’. I never understood why it would have such an odd title – the alethiometer from the tale is clearly not a compass – and the standard response of ‘stupid Americans’ is clearly ridiculous. It turns out that Philip Pullman has explained that while looking for an overall title for the trilogy he temporarily chose ‘the golden compasses’, a quote from Paradise Lost…

Meanwhile, in the US, it was being read by the editors at Alfred A. Knopf. Someone decided (mistakenly, but firmly) that the title referred to Lyra’s alethiometer, which could be regarded as a sort of golden compass, but of the direction-finding and not circle-drawing sort. So the same someone or another someone decided to refer to the first book, for their own internal discussing-a-forthcoming-book purposes, as THe GOLDEN COMPASS.

Meanwhile, back in the UK, I had found the much better phrase, HIS DARK MATERIALS, for the title of the trilogy. I quote the passage from which it comes at the very beginning of the first book. Better, because it’s more atmospheric, and there’s the uncanny resemblance to ‘dark matter’, which figures largely in the story. So out went THE GOLDEN COMPASSES, and in came HIS DARK MATERIALS.

Meanwhile, back in the USA, the publishers had become so attached to THE GOLDEN COMPASS that nothing I could say could persuade them to call the book NORTHERN LIGHTS. Their obduracy in this matter was accompanied by such generosity in the matter of royalty advances, flattery, promises of publicity, etc, that I thought it would be churlish to deny them this small pleasure.

What’s the betting it was just the one guy? I’m quite looking forward to the film. Nicole Kidman as Ms Coulter fits well with the image in my head (the similarities to another Ms Coulter are remarkably prescient, too), and, despite earlier reports, references to God and religion have not been axed from the script. I don’t actually think this would have been possible; the trilogy has a very strong humanist/atheist theme, and the third novel in particular takes no prisoners. Hopefully it’ll open against Voyage of the Dawn Treader 🙂