The Northern Lights

Cover NL

Book: The Northern Lights

Author: Philip Pullman

Publisher: Scholastic

Pages: 399

Format Read: Paperback

A long time ago, when I was in school, I came across a note in the school supplement of a national newspaper. It spoke of a book called “The Northern Lights,” the first book in the “His Dark Materials” trilogy. Since then, I’ve read the trilogy in its entirety, but I want to focus on “The Northern Lights” (or “The Golden Compass” as its American edition is called).

It’s about a girl called Lyra, and when the book opens, she’s up to some spying along with her companion, the daemon Pantalaimon. Lyra hides in a room where she is not supposed to be, ignoring her daemon’s grumbles, and stumbles upon magic and worlds she never knew existed. And that interest, for her, begins with a magical particle of creation called ‘Dust’ – with a capital D. And that Dust, it seems, is tied in with the aurora borealis.

Then, her close friend Roger disappears, and for some reason, she knows his disappearance has something to do with Dust.

The world of “The Northern Lights” is intricately crafted. It is set in London, and Oxford, but not the London of this world. Lyra’s Oxford is like our world in many ways, and very different in others. Here, everybody has a daemon, a sort of spirit companion that takes the form of animals, right from birth. To not have a daemon is unnatural, freakish.

The book is a little slow moving in the beginning as the world is built up, but that does not make it any less interesting. Lyra’s exploits are exciting, and there is a sense of wonder when the mysteries of Dust get more and more complex. Children vanish and a strange and exquisitely beautiful woman has been linked to their disappearance.

And through it all, Lyra begins to discover her true parentage.

Lyra Belacqua is an extremely precocious, often difficult and wild child, and she is very likeable, as is her daemon Pantalaimon or Pan. There are mysteries she must solve on her own, the truth of Dust she must uncover – and the plot is complex. Very complex. The sheer brazenness of her nature is mixed with empathy for those around her, a formidable combination considering the dangers lurking in her world. She must also deal with the mesmerizing Mrs. Coulter, and the harsh, sharp tongued Lord Asriel – both of whom have secrets of their own.

“The Northern Lights” is an immensely readable and captivating fantasy on an ambitious scale.

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