Northern Lights

As promised, I’ve finished reading Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman. Its the first book in a trilogy called His Dark Materials. In America this first book was titled ‘The Golden Compass’, and there is now a film of the same name. If you want to read some more about it, look here.

I haven’t read a huge amount of the hype which surrounds the new film, and I certainly haven’t read the contents of Mr Pullman’s website before writing this review because I wanted you to hear what I think about it off the cuff – with no biases as such. What I should mention is that I quite like fictional fantasies, and am a big fan of Terry Pratchett’s discworld series, for example. My mind is open to the possibilities of magic (at least, in its fictional sense) and science, and I consider myself to be agnostic, in the sense that I am non-religious but have an interest in hearing about other people’s views and beliefs. This will help you to place my review in context.  

I’m not certain whether the book was written for children or adults, but it doesn’t really matter. There are some difficult subjects to get to grips with in the book, the first of which is the idea that human beings have daemons – an entity that takes on an animal form but which is both part of the self and a seperate at the same time. The best way to describe it, I found, is to say that a daemon is the personification of a soul, though its a lot more complicated than that. You have to accept this concept if you’re going to get anywhere with the story. Anyway, on top of that you also need to accept that the world in which Lyra lives is similar, but not quite the same as our own. There are many similarities, but many differences. Science and religion appear to be intertwined, and the scentific aspects of the story need some thinking about – which I believe would probably be a challenge for a child-reader.

The story was interesting and different, and certainly had some exciting moments, where I felt compelled to keep reading – but there were many occasions where I thought that the text lacked descriptions and ‘padding’. In some places it was obvious we were just being told a series of facts to get us from one part of the story to another, without the descriptive niceties, and I got a bit annoyed by that because it affected my ability to imagine the scene. I wasn’t convinced I had identified wholly with the heroine, either – and that probably contributed to my feelings about whether I’ll bother to read the other two books. I probably won’t – which is telling in itself.

As for whether the story is anti-religious, I really couldn’t say. I didn’t notice whether it was or not. You could probably make it say anything you like.

Overall rating: 7/10

How would I introduce it to a friend?: ‘It was okay.’


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