HBO’s His Dark Materials faithfully adapts Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass (published first as Northern Lights in the UK). The first episode introduces us to plucky Lyra, played by Logan’s Dafne Keen, as she zooms around Jordan College with her daemon Pantomalion and her best friend Roger, sneaking into places where she probably shouldn’t go. She dreams, as fans of the book series know, of joining her uncle Lord Asriel on his expeditions up North.
The rest of the episode pans out in the same way as the first chapters of The Golden Compass, with a few scenes added, namely Asriel’s breakthrough in the lab and the ceremony the Gyptians have when Tony’s daemon settles. Neither of those scenes happen in the book, which is more-or-less rooted in Lyra’s point of view, but serve to color the world. But the HBO series’ very first scene, in which James McAvoy’s Lord Asriel wades through a flood to deliver baby Lyra, doesn’t come from the book or from its two sequels. Yet it’s still book canon. Those who never picked up La Belle Sauvage, Pullman’s prequel novel, will be slightly out of the loop.
[Ed. note: Minor spoilers below for La Belle Sauvage]
The opening scene comes from The Book of Dust, Philip Pullman’s companion trilogy, which takes place before, during, and after the events of His Dark Materials. The first book, La Belle Sauvage, takes place when Lyra is six months old, following two teenage protagonists who live in an inn near the covenant where baby Lyra is being hidden. The opening scene of HBO’s His Dark Materials is, in essence, the last scene of La Belle Sauvage.
There are a few differences. In the book, Lord Asriel comes to Jordan College by gyrocopter and walks inside without too much trouble from the flood. He’s accompanied by the two teenage protagonists of the book, Malcolm and Alice. Upon being questioned by the Master of the college, Asriel makes a very spoilery declaration about Lyra’s identity that we probably won’t know until later in the HBO show.
In the show, Asriel stumbles from a boat through the flood waters, no teenage accomplices in sight. When he drops baby Lyra off, he’s pretty cryptic, only claiming scholastic sanctuary for this infant. If Malcolm and Alice exist in the television world, then they’re off screen or Asriel ditched them beforehand.