thoughts on the audiobook version of The Secret Commonwealth
in the news his dark materials the book of dust review
☆: Sunday, November 3, 2019. ∆: Sunday, November 3, 2019. Belief: very likely.

I’m late coming to (but a huge fan of) His Dark Materials, the book series by the excellent Sir Philip Pullman. I believe that HDM is a captivating series, and the adventures of Lyra have been some of my favorite to follow, if not the single best series I’ve ever read.

I didn’t read the books though – I listened to the equally magnificent audiobooks instead. Unlike many other book series, His Dark Materials is read in full by Phillip Pullman himself, along with a full cast.

The full cast thing is really important: it means that every character has their own voice actress or actor. This is atypical. Most books are read by a narrator, thus reading every character themselves. In HDM, though, Pullman is the narrator, and Jo Wyatt is the voice of Lyra. Everyone else has their own assorted actors and actresses too, but Lyra is the star, and thus the most important. This pattern even holds through to Lyra’s Oxford, a book that isn’t in the main series.

The problem is with The Book of Dust, the sequel series to His Dark Materials. The audiobooks are read by the excellent Michael Sheen. The first book – La Belle Sauvage – sounds great. However, there’s an important caveat: it’s technically a prequel, and Lyra is a baby. Most other characters in this book weren’t in the first book except in very minor roles, which means that there haven’t yet been voice actors assigned to them. All good so far.

In the second book, though, Lyra is older than she was in HDM, and the old cast of characters has returned. Lyra isn’t voiced by Jo Wyatt as she was previously. She’s voiced by Michael Sheen.

That, quite frankly, sucks.

Don’t get me wrong. The book is still great. The audiobook version isn’t bad, but I really think this is a terrible shame. I can understand why Pullman wouldn’t want to record the audio versions of The Book of Dust, but it would have been easy to get a full cast for the rest of the roles, especially in the second book.

Lyra needs to be voiced by a girl1. Lyra is an exemplary female protagonist, and having her voiced by a male just isn’t right. It doesn’t sound right, and it feels contrary to the idea of her in general. Jo Wyatt sounded beautiful as Lyra, and worked well to make Lyra’s voice change with age. In Lyra’s Oxford she sounded absolutely stunning. In contrast, Sheen’s gritty English accent just doesn’t work when speaking for Lyra. He tries very admirably, but he just doesn’t do it for me.

Ultimately, I’m lukewarm on the audiobook version of The Book of Dust. While the first book, La Belle Sauvage works with Sheen as the only narrator, Sheen simply cannot fill Jo Wyatt’s shoes in The Secret Commonwealth.

It’s a damn shame, but I don’t recommend listening to the audiobook version of The Secret Commonwealth at all. Lyra is the main character. She’s the single most important person in the story. For her to not be voiced by a girl is to be in direct contention with her importance in the narrative. It’s a deal breaker.

Sheen does an excellent job, but it’s impossible for a him to fill Lyra’s shoes.

  1. There’s an unfortunate pronoun problem I have. I genuinely prefer the term girl to woman when referring to females, and I genuinely don’t find boy or man tolerable for males. [return]