Warning; This article contains serious spoilers for His Dark Materials.
Here’s everything you need to know about the world of His Dark Materials in one sentence: Generally speaking, adults are terrible until proven otherwise. Lyra Belaqua (Dafne Keen), the 12-year-old heroine of Philip Pullman’s book trilogy, must navigate a world of callous professors, hypocritical guardians, and — most recently — child snatchers.
Children are vanishing throughout the world of His Dark Materials. So far, 16 of them have disappeared from the nomadic Gyptian community. By the end of the HBO/BBC series’ first episode, Lyra’s best friend, Roger (Ben Walker), is counted among the missing. Who’s to blame for the kidnappings?
Who are the Gobblers?
“Gobblers” is actually a nickname for a more official (but just as scary) organization. The group’s real name is the General Oblation Board. Part of the Magisterium, aka the Holy Church of His Dark Materials, the General Oblation Board gathers children for scientific experimentation.
The Gobblers bring kids like Roger and Billy Costa, the Gyptian boy captured after wandering away from a party, to their laboratory in the far North.
Then, they separate children from their daemons — a painful, often fatal process called intercision. Since daemons are an extension of a person’s soul, intercision is akin to a lobotomy. Even if a person survives the process, he’s stripped of vitality.
What is the purpose of intercision?
Brace yourselves, because we’re about to dive deep into His Dark Materials lore. When a child enters adolescence in the world of His Dark Materials, a massive change happens: Her daemon settles into one animal form instead of switching around constantly. At the same time, Dust — a mysterious particle that gathers around conscious beings — begins to settle around her.
To the Church, Dust is a very, very bad thing. It’s physical evidence of Original Sin. Dust first landed on humans after Adam and Eve made the conscious decision to eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. After that act, the Church believes humankind was irrevocably fallen. Dust is a reminder.
Intercisions are the Holy Church’s attempt to Dust-less people who are free from the effects of Original Sin and create completely innocent beings. Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) explains the Gobblers’ reasoning in The Golden Compass: “The two things that happen at adolescence might be connected: the change in one’s daemon and the fact that Dust began to settle. Perhaps if the daemon were separated from the body, we might never be subject to Dust.”
After the intercision process, Dust no longer settles on a person. That’s because her mind is completely closed to thoughts, choice, and vitality; she shuffles along purposelessly.
The Gobblers aren’t saving kids. What the Gobblers are really doing is killing their spirits, and often their bodies.
Who runs the Gobblers?
Ah, now here’s the twist. Lyra should be careful, because her new guardian, Marisa Coulter (Ruth Wilson), is in charge of the Gobblers. To Lyra, Marisa seems glamorous, intelligent, and bold. But we know better. As we said earlier, adults in His Dark Materials are to be feared.