Can Philip Pullman's 'The Book of Dust' trilogy save YA fantasy from itself?


If you thought Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin procrastinates too much, clearly you haven't been following the work of Philip Pullman. The author of the His Dark Materials trilogy — which includes Northern Lights (or in North America, The Golden Compass), The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass — has had a companion novel in the works since 2003. 

Now, almost 22 years after publishing Northern Lights, Pullman announced that this companion novel will actually be the beginning a new trilogy called The Book of Dust, with the first novel — name TBD — arriving in October. It'll focus on the eponymous "dust" that surrounds the series, a mysterious particle that is potentially responsible for human consciousness, and to its detractors at the Magisterium, the source of original sin (the books are filled with religious undertones). 

"Dust is something which terrifies the religious authorities in His Dark Materials," Pullman said in an interview with NPR. "It seems to have something to do with human consciousness, it seems to have something to do with experience, or as they call it, 'sin.' But they don't know what it is, or why it's important, and they're terrified of it. Now, in the course of the story, Lyra and her companions discover something about Dust, something important: that it's not a bad thing, it's a good thing." 

Fans of His Dark Materials — myself included — are ecstatic about the news, especially considering just how long it took for the new trilogy to arrive. But the new companion piece will arrive at a time after the popularity of young adult fantasy has considerably dropped

Take Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a theater production (with a script in book form to boot) and canonical companion to J.K. Rowling's original seven books. While reviews of the West End production have been glowing, Harry Potter fans are less enthused with the story itself. Put simply, it feels like emboldened fan fiction — and to that end, Rowling didn't even create it on her own. To be clear: Harry Potter is a justifiable comparison point for His Dark Materials, which the New Yorker once described as a series whose "ideal reader is a precocious 15-year-old who long ago came to find the Harry Potter books intellectually thin." 

Things aren't going well for young adult fantasy onscreen, either. The Divergent franchise, originally made when Hollywood hit peak YA fiction with the likes of TwilightThe Hunger Games, Percy Jackson and The Maze Runner, has had a stunning fall from grace that's seen the final film in the series adapted into a TV movie that lead actress Shailene Woodley won't be apart of. 

In fact, Pullman's first book was one of the first financial failures of the YA fantasy subgenre. 2007's The Golden Compass was a bomb, and a major factor in the New Line Cinema's folding as a separately operated studio to Warner Bros. It wasn't a critical darling either; the only saving grace of the film was the perfect casting of Nicole Kidman as the alluring but terrifying Mrs. Coulter, someone Pullman always envisioned for the role. 

Now, however, Pullman has given the genre new life. The Book of Dust trilogy could very well be a success, and at the very least, it should generate considerable hype. Plus, BBC One has an eight-part TV series based on the original books in the works. 

So if you've never read His Dark Materials — a world where parallel universes exist, people's souls take the form of animals called daemons and armored polar bears can talk — now's a great time to start. 

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