I have always loved Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and have to admit that it shaped my childhood in many ways. From the initial awe that Northern Lights produced, to the final heartbreaking moments of The Amber Spyglass, Pullman has always had a firm grip on my imagination. In this, the first of three reviews, I will examine Northern Lights.
The original cover of Northern Lights immediately captures the reader’s attention, from the “alethiometer” on the front to the icy blue landscape behind it. The title and image draw the eye, with the author name sitting at the top, slightly out of the way so as not to detract from the overall cover. The back cover is a mid to light blue, with white text for the blurb and a lighter shade of blue for the reviews. The blurb itself is succinct and to the point without giving away any of the details, and the reviews are both varied and concise, as well as all being positive.
Lyra is a young girl, raised at Jordan College in Oxford. However, when she thwarts a plot to save her father’s life, she is flung into a world of intrigue, manipulation and war on a scale even she can’t imagine.
When her friend Roger is stolen away, Lyra decides to find him and bring him back to his rightful home. Her mother, however, is equally determined that Lyra will never achieve her goal. With the help of some unlikely allies, Lyra travels to Svalbard and to the world beyond the Northern Lights. It’s a journey made up of the Fens, sledges, a hot air balloon and more strength that Lyra ever thought she could possess, as well as one of the most heartbreaking moments of her life.
Lyra is the daughter every woman dreams of — feisty, resourceful, and intelligent — and the daughter every woman despairs of! She has a certain charm about her, which translates into strength in the face of danger, as well as exceptional skills in the way of flattering her opponents.
Lord Asriel, on the other hand, is everything she is not — arrogant, proud, blindly determined and almost uncaring of the danger he places his daughter in. If I had to choose a favourite character from this book, however, it would be Iorek Byrnison — the kind-hearted, just bear who saves lives and does his level best to create democracy from tyranny.
Writing Style and Overall Impressions
Pullman has an incredible way of writing that draws readers in time after time. It had been more than a decade since I read Northern Lights when I picked it up again, and I still felt the draw of his words pulling me into the magical world that is so much like my own.
Whilst it is based in an England that is vaguely familiar to us all, and indeed in Lapland and Svalbard, there is an otherworldly nature about it that makes it starkly different. I have to admit, Pullman still has me longing for my own daemon, but I’m sure I can cope without one! What I love about Pullman’s style is the ease with which he writes, the way he creates just enough drama to pull the reader in and then tempers this with periods of calm, before the storm rises again.
If I had to criticise one thing about Pullman’s writing, it would be how closely he bases his locations on reality. Children are quite easily led and may not quite see the connection between the country they know as their own and the country in Pullman’s novels, but adults are less susceptible and may realise this. However, it’s still amazing to think that there could quite possibly be a world where daemons exist, and where there is a way to go beyond the Northern Lights.
Publisher: Scholastic Point
Publication date: 23 Oct 1998
Page count: 399