Despite having come out of the other side of a pretty hefty reading slump, when I picked up Northern Lights I was still suffering with what I’m going to call a reading slump hangover – being inspired by reading again, but still left slightly dissatisfied with reading and not finding a book I love or have been bowled over by. I was thinking that perhaps I needed to recapture my love for reading by picking up something I would have read as a child. Plus, while suffering from a few health issues, I wanted something relatively easy to read that I could escape into for a while. I thought about rereading Harry Potter but then it occurred to me that I’d never read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. The first one in the series, Northern Lights, seemed perfect.
Northern Lights opens in Jordan College in Oxford, where Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon are sneaking into the Retiring Room – somewhere forbidden to everyone other than male scholars, their guests and the Master’s butler. Narrowly avoiding detection, Lyra hides in a wardrobe and, while there, a group of scholars and her uncle Lord Asriel meet to discuss strange phenomenon occurring in the North: there’s talk of mysterious Dust, bears, and a city in the sky. Elsewhere, children are starting to be kidnapped and Lyra’s determined to find out why and rescue her friend. Her new knowledge, a gift of a mysterious object belonging to her uncle, and a destiny that has awaited her since birth sends her on a dangerous journey to the North…
The world Pullman has weaved is wonderful. Northern Lights is set in a world like our own but there are differences: every human is accompanied by a daemon who takes the shape of an animal representing the person’s character and the pair are bonded for life. There’s Lyra’s alethiometer, a device that looks like a compass but, once you’ve learnt how to read it, can tell you any truth. There are talking bears in armour, and witches. I hesitate to say it’s magical, but the story does have that quality.
I love the character of Lyra. She’s a great role model, particularly for young girls reading the trilogy: she’s strong, brave, curious, feisty and adventurous. She stands up for herself and has a sure sense of right and wrong. She has a strong love for her friends, and wants to protect them. I warmed to her from the first pages as she snuck into the Retiring Room simply because she wants to know what goes on there, and it’s her curiosity that sets her on the journey for the rest of the book and, I imagine, the remainder of the series.
The story is intriguing and action-packed; it’s gripping and I felt absorbed in the world that Pullman has created. It’s a book I wish I had read as a child because I know I would have loved it and got completely swept away in Lyra’s adventures. But I did really enjoy reading it as a 23 year old – it reminded me of how I used to read as a child: greedily and unapologetically, desperate to find out what happens next and getting lost in another world for a while.
When reading Northern Lights I didn’t make any notes, I didn’t study the writing – I just got lost in the story, and that’s exactly what I needed.
Have you read Northern Lights? What did you think? Is the series a childhood favourite, or have you discovered it later, like me?