Warning: contains finale spoilers for His Dark Materials season 3.
In the closing moments of Bad Wolf’s majestic adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, a caption on screen tells us what lies ahead for Lyra and Will. After freeing the ghosts from the Land of the Dead and returning healing Dust to the ailing multiverse, the teenagers weren’t granted a happy ever after. Instead, they faced a stark reality: stay together and be complicit in the death of the multiverse, or save it and separate forever.
Dust was leaking out of the worlds into nothingness through the many windows cut between the multiverse by previous knife bearers. Some was escaping in the form of Spectres, and the loss of Dust was destroying the worlds (as seen with the Mulefas’ dying seedpod tree). The flow of Dust had to be stopped by closing every window but one. Angel Xaphania explained that a single window could remain open, as long as people remained conscious and creative and sought out experiences, to counter the lost Dust.
Will and Lyra understood that the only open window had to be the one Will had cut in the Land of the Dead, through which ghosts passed as they escaped purgatory and their atoms reunited with the living worlds. That meant, as neither could live forever in the other’s world (Will’s father Jopari had warned him it wasn’t possible), they would have to seal themselves away from each other for all time.
They agreed to ‘meet’ for an hour on the same bench in their Oxford’s Botanical Gardens every year at midday on midsummer’s day, each in their respective world, and remember one another. The finale showed a montage of these meetings as Lyra and Will grew from teenagers into their early twenties. We learned that Will became a medical student and then a surgeon and Lyra became a scholar at St Sophia’s College in Oxford, where she learned to read the alethiometer again.
Lyra had lost her ability to read the Dust-driven device after she chose experience over innocence when she and Will expressed their love for each other. Put simply, she grew up and it stopped working for her, like Wendy in Peter Pan or Susan in The Chronicles of Narnia. But unlike those two, Lyra had a route back to her girlhood ability: study.
Lyra’s finale caption tells us that she learned to read the alethiometer at her Oxford college, which came in useful for her and Pan’s “next great adventure.” But that, teases the caption, is another story.
Specifically, it’s the story of The Secret Commonwealth, the second in Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust trilogy. Published in 2019, it’s set a few years after the end of The Amber Spyglass and follows Lyra as a 20-year-old undergraduate who travels to the Far East. Prior to that, Pullman published the first in that trilogy La Belle Sauvage, a prequel set 11 years before the His Dark Materials trilogy starts and which tells the story of how Lyra was put in the care of Jordan College as an infant. A third book in the trilogy is currently being written.
Promisingly for fans, His Dark Materials production company Bad Wolf has repeatedly indicated that they would love to adapt The Book of Dust trilogy. Speaking to radiotimes.com at the Season 2 launch, Executive Producer Jane Tranter said this:
“We’d be very excited! Very excited. What could be better? La Belle Sauvage has got Lyra as a baby, and gives some of Asriel and Coulter’s backstory, and some of Lyra’s origin story. And The Secret Commonwealth is one of the best books I’ve ever read. I just don’t think there is a better study of depression, in some ways, in a fantasy landscape. It’s the most exciting story but, like everything Philip does, it has many levels to it,” she added. “And it’s an extraordinary piece… so huge and ambitious. But if anyone ever gave us the opportunity to do it, we’d be there.”
And for fans, there’s the rub. While HBO was the co-production partner with the BBC for the making of His Dark Materials, recent cancellations of Westworld and The Nevers, and their removal from US streaming service HBO Max, puts serious doubt on whether the American broadcaster is in the market to invest in a new effects-heavy genre trilogy at the present time. That said, a willing creative team including producer extraordinaire Jane Tranter and head writer Jack Thorne, plus new, recently forged business connections between production company Bad Wolf, Sony and Disney+ for the next series of Doctor Who, fans can but hope.
His Dark Materials seasons one to three are available to stream on BBC iPlayer in the UK.