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Is Phillip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' an 'attack on religion?' A producer on HBO's upcoming adaptation says no

Lin-Manuel Miranda ("Hamilton," "Mary Poppins Returns") stars in HBO and BBC's miniseries adaptation of "His Dark Materials."
Lin-Manuel Miranda ("Hamilton," "Mary Poppins Returns") stars in HBO and BBC's miniseries adaptation of "His Dark Materials."

SALT LAKE CITY — Phillip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” book series has faced criticism in the past for evidently attacking religious beliefs — but a producer on HBO and BBC’s upcoming adaptation disagrees.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, executive producer Jane Tranter defended Pullman’s story during a San Diego Comic-Con panel on July 18, saying that “assumptions” were made about the novel’s themes and concepts by critics who hadn’t read the fantasy trilogy.

"Phillip Pullman in these books is not attacking belief, is not attacking faith. He's not attacking religion or the church, per se," Tranter said. “He's attacking a particular form of control, where there is a very deliberate attempt to withhold information, keep people in the dark, and not allow ideas and thinking to be free."

“His Dark Materials” takes place in a fantasized version of Earth where science, religion and magic are all entwined. The story follows an orphan named Lyra as she uncovers a kidnapping plot funded by a powerful, all-controlling church called the Magisterium.

The term “magisterium” in particular refers to the teaching authority of the Catholic Church, according to Merriam-Webster. Catholic organizations bristled at Pullman’s depiction of his Magisterium, calling for boycotts.

According to the Catholic League’s website, the organization kicked off a protest campaign in 2007 against “The Golden Compass,” a film adapting Pullman’s novels starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig.

At the time, the organization claimed “His Dark Materials” was “written to promote atheism” and to devalue Roman Catholicism.

“It is our hope that the film fails to meet box office expectations and that his books attract few buyers. We are doing much more than hoping — we are conducting a nationwide two-month protest of Pullman’s work and the film,” the organization’s statement reads.

IGN reports that the controversy caused director Chris Wieitz to remove religious themes from “The Golden Compass.” Still, a resulting backlash contributed to the movie’s critical and commercial failure.

But Tranter said the new show will appeal to several audiences, including families.

"In my experience, children love dark, complicated themes and big questions about who we are and where we are," she told The Hollywood Reporter. "And I think that Pullman never underestimated children either. ... Pullman says what he wrote was adult books that children should read, and I hope that we ended up making an adult piece that children will watch and should watch. But essentially we just followed his lead."

HBO and BBC’s upcoming adaptation of “His Dark Materials” stars Dafne Keen, James McAvoy, Ruth Wilson and Lin Manuel-Miranda. The series is directed by Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech,” “Cats”) and will release later this year.