A new 'His Dark Materials' adaptation dusts off Philip Pullman’s fantastical saga following the multiversal adventures of Lyra Belacqua, with fans fawning over this fresh reimagining of the series.
If you’re watching on HBO, BBC, have read Philip Pullman’s original trilogy, or even discovered his fantastical worlds with the new 'The Secret Commonwealth', here are the must-visit locations for fans new and old.
Although it’s not Lyra’s Oxford, pilgrims of Pullman and his silver-tongued heroine can visit this pivotal location in the series. Lyra is raised in her world’s Jordan College, said to be inspired by the author’s real-life alma mater Exeter College. The beautiful New College is also the primary backdrop for many of the show’s Oxford scenes — notable landmarks that make an appearance include the Bridge of Sighs and the Botanic Gardens. Perhaps you’ll dare to invoke scholastic sanctuary...
Read more: A book-lover's guide to literary Oxford
Lyra’s upbringing in ancient Jordan College defines her own roguishness; similarly, the cosmopolitan glamour of London best suits the mercurial Mrs. Coulter and her sinister golden monkey daemon. She lives in an opulent flat near a wide embankment along the River Thames. Her penthouse is the height of fashion, flaunting the woman’s status with lavish furnishings and glitzy cocktail parties.
Much of these scenes were filmed in Cardiff, but a diligent investigation by the Londonist blog exposes that the Shell Mex House, adjacent to the Waterloo Bridge, is the likely inspiration for Mrs. Coulter’s apartment with a similar art deco facade and location.
At the end of the show’s third episode 'The Spies', the Gyptians and Lyra pull into the gray, gritty harbor of Trollesund, one of the last outposts of civilization before the desolate expanse of the Arctic. It's in Trollesund that Lyra meets laconic aeronaut Lee Scoresby and fearsome armored bear Iorek Byrnison. This derelict town does not actually exist in our world but was built for the show at Llangynidr Quarry outside of Crickhowell, Wales.
Crickhowell is a postcard market town of ancient inns and independent shops, nestled along the edge of the Brecon Beacons mountain range. The pop-up Trollesund set designed by the BBC is no longer intact, but fans of the series will be drawn to the magical setting of Crickhowell and can curl up with a new copy of 'The Golden Compass' in Book-ish, a cozy local bookshop recently named the best bookstore in Wales.
Trollesund may be fictional, but Tromsø is about as close as you can get. Billed as Norway’s “gateway to the Arctic” for its legendary disposition as a starting point of northern expeditions, Tromsø is located 217 miles above the Arctic Circle between towering fjords, snow-capped peaks and the frigid sea. The Norwegian port city is a renowned vantage point of the Northern Lights because of its location in the “aurora oval,” and fans of 'His Dark Materials' should visit during the winter months for the most vivid appearances of the powerful phenomenon. It remains unclear if a witch consul resides among the cloud pines of Tromsø.
Halfway between Cardiff and Oxford is Sharpness Docks, a small port town on the River Severn that was the filming location of many Gyptian scenes. The Gloucestershire backwaters are transposed as the fens, full of nomadic riverfolk roam, a scene of serene canal-crossed wetlands and languid ramshackle vessels.
Although the Gyptians don’t domineer the canals of Sharpness as they do in Lyra’s East Anglia, landlopers can embark on a boat tour of these waterways to conjure up the same pastoral sentiment. You might not hear Ma Costa cooking below deck or see the mighty John Faa at the bow, but these tours will let you embrace your inner Gyptian as you sail through the bucolic rivers and marshes of southwest England.
In the world of Lyra and Pantalaimon, Svalbard is the kingdom of the panserbjørne; though no armored bears prowl here, you will find thousands of polar bears outnumbering the human residents of the islands. This Norweigan archipelago is located halfway between the mainland and the North Pole, and is home to fantastical and eerie landscapes, huddled mining towns and fields of glaciers.
In the winter, the aurora borealis’ iridescent banners dominate Svalbard's skies in the near-eternal night. Fans of Pullman’s series should come for the Northern Lights experience, but will also enjoy Arctic adventures like dog-sledding and observing the protected wildlife, à la the Gyptian campaign to Bolvangar.
Read more: Exploring the icescapes and fjords of of Svalbard
Cardiff (Plasturon Gardens)
One of the most divisive plot changes encountered in the story’s transformation from page to screen occurs in the second episode, when Lord Boreal discloses his duplicitous double lives between Lyra’s Oxford and our own. This reader does not make this discovery until the second book, 'The Subtle Knife', in which it is revealed that Boreal is the scheming Sir Charles Latrom. The scenes involving Boreal’s secret passage were filmed in Plasturton Gardens, a manicured tree-lined park flanked by stacked Victorian homes in the Pontcanna community of Cardiff. Visit the spot where the road forks and the park begins, and maybe you’ll be able to find his hidden portal.
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