Book Review: Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
16th December, 2015
Also known as The Golden Compass in the States, this is one amazing book of a world where the human soul resides outside the body as a ‘daemon’ (in the shape of an animal). It is the story of a young girl named, Lyra Belacqua, who journeys to the Northern Lights to fulfill a prophesy made ages ago. Northern Lights is the first in the trilogy His Dark Materials.
Northern Lights tells the story of Lyra Belacqua who lives in Jordan college, Oxford in a world very much like our own. The difference being that every person’s soul is a living animal companion or ‘daemon’ who accompanies him/her everywhere. How wonderful is that? You have a friend for life who knows all your thoughts and with whom you can talk about anything in the world. The daemon can take any form until its human counterpart attains puberty, after which it becomes the animal it chooses to be. What more is needed to pique your interest in this one?
“We are all subject to the fates. But we must act as if we are not, or die of despair.”
Lyra is an orphan and leads a carefree life until she overhears a conversation about ‘Dust’. Intrigued by ‘Dust’ she wishes to know more about it. Her wish is about to come true when children (including Lyra’s playmate Roger) start disappearing and the exotic Mrs. Coulter arrives at Oxford to take Lyra away and to prune her into a fine lady. Together with her own daemon Pantalaimon, Lyra begins her journey to the Arctic, armed with an ‘alethiometer’ or a ‘truth-teller’ to find her friend Roger, kidnapped by the ‘Gobblers’ and to free Lord Asriel who has been imprisoned for conducting experiments on Dust who he believes holds the key to travel to parallel universes. On the way she meets the Gyptians, witches of the clan of Serafina Pekkala and an armoured polar bear, Iorek, who unite to help her towards the destiny she was prophesied to fulfill.
There are a few instances where the book takes subtle pricks at the idea of God and theology and cloaks itself in an anti-church theme. A Magisterium controls the lives of people thus giving the Church’s rulers ultimate power. It decides truth and heresy by commanding the various sub agencies under it. This is a book that would appeal to both children and adults though I feel some ideas in it are better suited for adults. But the imaginative world that Pullman creates is spectacular without doubt.
“That’s the duty of the old,’ said the Librarian, ‘to be anxious on the behalf of the young. And the duty of the young is to scorn the anxiety of the old.’
They sat for a while longer, and then parted, for it was late, and they were old and anxious.”
Dive into the pages and out spills memorable characters, elegant settings and periodical twists all wound in a dreamy style of writing. I loved this book. I saw the movie first, but the book is even more engaging and amazing. I read this last year and had to re-read it for the Christmas season. I couldn’t put it down until I devoured the whole of it, so I would definitely recommend this to anyone who loves fantasy, or even to those who don’t.
This book is followed by The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass which chronicle the rest of Lyra’s journey.
Title : Northern Lights
Author : Philip Pullman
Published : 2011 (First in 2005)
Pages : 397
Rating : 5/5
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About the Author
Philip Pullman is a British writer named by The Times as one of the “50 greatest British writers since 1945”. His most well-known work is the trilogy His Dark Materials. Northern Lights won the 1995 Carnegie Medal from the Library Association and was also named the all-time “Carnegie of Carnegies” in 2007. It has been adapted as a film under its U.S. title, The Golden Compass and also as a radio play, a stage play, an audiobook and a graphic novel. A BBC adaptation of the trilogy is soon to be aired.