Should parents be concerned about their children watching His Dark Materials? Based on Philip Pullman’s trilogy of fantasy-themed novels, a series adaptation will premiere on both BBC One and HBO in November 2019. The show is rated TV-14 in the United States due to its content and themes, and while the books have been widely read by all ages, some aspects of His Dark Materials may be upsetting for younger children.
His Dark Materials (mainly) takes place in a parallel universe. In this world, people have animals companions - a concept that doesn’t appear too scary with no additional context. But these companions, or “daemons,” lay the groundwork for larger ideas about religion and human existence, as the characters embody the soul itself. The original novel series includes a subplot involving cryptic “dust,” which connects to the religious concept of original sin. A feature film adaptation, The Golden Compass, was previously released in 2007.
The original His Dark Materials novel series follows young protagonists Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry, along with their daemons, Pantalaimon and Kirjava, respectively. For the first season of the TV adaption, the storyline mostly focuses on Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen) - most notably her experiences with Lord Asriel Belacqua (James McAvoy) and Marisa Coulter (Ruth Wilson). Amir Wilson is set to join the cast in the second season as Will.
While His Dark Materials may seem like it’s geared towards younger viewers, the franchise wasn’t conceptualized with a target demographic in mind. According to His Dark Materials producer Jane Tranter, the series is “for adults which children can watch.” There's no sexual content in the books (though there is an implied sexual encounter in the third book, The Amber Spyglass). There's also little in the way of bad language, so the TV-14 rating is likely due to intense scenes of peril and moderate violence. With regards to the latter, the books feature scenes of characters being stabbed and shot, as well as a gruesome fight between two bears (which may ultimately be toned down for the TV show).
The themes of His Dark Materials are also worthy of consideration for parents. Children are kidnapped and used for experiments involving the aforementioned "dust," and there are scenes where children and animals are injured, tormented, or killed. There’s also heavy content associated with religion, and in fact His Dark Materials has come under fire for its portrayal of the Magisterium - a thinly-veiled analog for the Catholic church.
These concepts could be intellectually stimulating, or even inspiring, for some viewers, so parents may want to pick and choose what they elaborate on during a first watch. But for children watching without supervision, some of His Dark Materials' themes could be frightening or upsetting, and its scenes of peril and violence will probably not be suitable for young children.