Why does HBO & the BBC's His Dark Materials adaptation have so few dæmons compared to the original book series by Philip Pullman? Beginning in 1995 with Northern Lights (also known as The Golden Compass), Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy gained immense popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s, leading to a mostly forgotten Hollywood movie in 2007. A second attempt at translating His Dark Materials into live-action was announced in 2015 and, after a series of delays, has finally debuted to an enthusiastic response.
One of the key hallmarks of Pullman's fictional world, separating the story's alternate England setting from reality, is the existence of dæmons. These creatures are a manifestation of a person's soul, and can appear as virtually any creature imaginable. During childhood, a person's daemon is not fixed on a single animal, shifting form incessantly, and the moment a daemon settles on its permanent appearance comes when their corresponding human transitions to adulthood. Although human and daemon are intrinsically linked, the creatures bear distinct personalities and opinions, as seen when Pan expresses his displeasure at Lyra's snooping.
Why It's Weird That There Are So Few Dæmons
In the original His Dark Materials novels, every human is shadowed by a daemon and this appears to be the case in the new series, which is intended as a relatively faithful retelling of the source material. However, only a select few creatures are highlighted in the premiere episode, namely Lyra's Pan, Asriel's Stelmaria and Mrs. Coulter's golden monkey, with a handful of other dæmons appearing sporadically. In many scenes, characters appear without a daemon anywhere in sight and the lack of animals is particularly noticeable during crowd shots which, by rights, should be as packed with critters as they are people.
This is not the case, and serves to differentiate the television world of His Dark Materials from its literary origins. Those who come to the new series completely unfamiliar with Pullman's novels may even watch the first episode and infer that only a special few characters are bestowed with the gift of a daemon. In truth, dæmons and humans are virtually inseparable in the books, rarely separated by more than a few feet, and the further the pair are apart from each other, the more pain they are both subjected to.
Furthermore, not having a daemon in the world of His Dark Materials is considered so very unusual that The Subtle Knife sees a daemon-less Will trying to fake having one because he'll be considered an oddity if people knew the truth. This demonstrates the importance of the symbiotic relationship between human and daemon, and highlights how there should perhaps be more visible creatures in the TV adaptation.
Why His Dark Materials Has So Few Dæmons On Screen
Predictably, the lack of on-screen dæmons in His Dark Materials comes mostly down to budget. Believable CGI animals don't come cheap, and if every acting talent in the series had a corresponding animal visible at all times, there wouldn't be any cash left for James McAvoy's salary. As demonstrated by the sparse use of direwolves in Game of Thrones, even productions with the highest budgets can't afford such heavy use of effects. Hiring real animals might've been an alternative but could've caused chaos on set, and likely wouldn't have been much cheaper than CGI if the animals were trained for screen.
Even if His Dark Materials did have the money available to create hundreds of animated dæmons, the logistics and visual composition of including them would be a director's nightmare. Scenes with more than 5 actors would suddenly become immensely crowded and virtually impossible to shoot. while also potentially distracting viewers from vital interactions and dialogue between characters.
Clearly, the BBC and HBO series is taking a few more liberties with its dæmons than the books, as demonstrated by the gecko in the library, and the audience is left to assume that the missing animals are lurking somewhere nearby, either in pockets, bags or dark corners.
His Dark Materials continues with "The Idea Of North" November 10th on BBC and HBO.