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May 22, 2016 / ljbradburn-Smith

Northern Lights

northern lights

His Dark Materials, of which Northern Lights is the first, were childhood favourites of mine. So when Ben finally (after a tiny bit of nagging) embraced reading I decided to buy him the trilogy. I gave it to him slightly nervously as it is always feels like a bit of a risk giving someone something you read so long ago, and that is technically meant for young readers, in case they look at you as if to say ‘i’m not five!’. But of course Ben didn’t do that, he read and he loved. In fact he loved so much that it made me desperate to read them all over again despite the groaning bookshelf of unread books calling to me from our tiny spare room Library.

In the first of the three novels, Northern Lights, Philip Pullman introduces us to Lyra, a young girl who has been raised parentless in Oxford college. With busy scholars as her guardians and visits from the only relative in her life, her awe-inspiring uncle, few and far between, Lyra is, for the most part, allowed to run wild around the grounds and surrounding town, which she does with relish. Rivalries with visiting gyptian children and getting in to mischief with her friend Roger, the kitchen boy, are all that concern her.

All that changes with a series of events that begins with the latest visit from her uncle, Lord Asriel, in which she secretly witnesses a murder attempt and first learns about the mysterious and otherworldly particle called ‘Dust’, which Asriel has spent years searching for. Fascinated and horrified as she is by what she heard, whilst eavesdropping, Lyra fails, at first, to understand the true consequences of what she has witnessed. However, when children start to go missing, up and down the country, amongst whispers of ‘Gobblers’ taking them to perform unspeakable experiments on, and the arrival of the enchanting Mrs Coulter, who whisks Lyra away to be her ‘important assistant’, Lyra’s peaceful existence is quite abruptly shattered as she suddenly finds herself embroiled in the battle to harness the power of Dust.

Being the hippy and animal-lover that I am, I particularly love the idea of people’s ‘dæmon’, who take the form of animal companions, in Lyra’s world, as being an externalization of each person’s soul and vividly remember wishing, as a child, that I had a dæmon of my own. I’m pretty sure that my poor dog even had to endure my many attempts to telepathically connect our minds.

Not only did I fall in love with Lyra’s story all over again, the moment I started rereading Northern Lights, but I also remembered exactly why it is that Pullman has always played such an important part in my reading life. To me, his writing is perfect. He makes his writing accessible for younger readers without ever compromising on complexity of ideas and development of plot and character. His writing is fluid and his storytelling beyond immense. Pullman’s talent for the fantastical is something I can only ever dream of possessing.

If a story that features armoured bears, families at war, magical instruments, beautiful witches, angels and one of the most enticing and terrifying villains of all time isn’t exciting enough for you then I don’t know what is.

A story every child and adult should read. After all, in the book-world, you are never too old to have an epic adventure.



One Comment

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  1. J.R.Bee / May 23 2016 7:45 am

    I loved this book to, and also gave it to my other half to read, he got a little too invested in the characters though, when one of them snuffed it he was quite sulky with me 😀

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