So April was all about the His Dark Materials trilogy.
I’ve had Northern Lights for a long time; in fact, it’s probably been sitting unread on my bookshelf for the best part of 20 years. I finally decided to read it and I’m glad I did, it’s such a good book!
For those who also haven’t read Philip Pullman’s famous trilogy, which inspired the film adaptation The Golden Compass, the books follow the adventures of a young girl called Lyra and her daemon, Pantalaimon.
The first novel, Northern Lights, is set in a world not unlike ours, but with one crucial difference: the people have a daemon, a creature that is the manifestation of their soul, which they can never be parted from. Orphan Lyra is drawn into a great adventure when children begin to go missing around the country and she is taken from her home at Oxford University to live with the glamorous Mrs Coulter, who is not all she seems.
If you’ve seen The Golden Compass, the story will be familiar. The book is a beautifully written but intelligent adventure that takes in warrior bears and flying witches, mysterious Arctic facilities and hot air balloons.
By the time I’d finished the first book I was in love with the world Pullman had created and immediately downloaded book two, The Subtle Knife. This novel is a little different, as it begins in our own world, with a young boy called Will who is forced to abandon his disturbed mother and flee from the men who have been pursuing them. He finds a strange doorway that transports him into an even stranger world, where he meets Lyra. The two children begin a quest that has consequences beyond those that they can imagine, which will bring them into contact with dark forces in several worlds.
Of the three books, I read The Subtle Knife the quickest, although it wasn’t quite as good as Northern Lights. With the introduction of so many new characters and new worlds there’s a lot to take in and absorb.
The third book, The Amber Spyglass, was my least favourite of the three novels. Despite the adventure continuing and the stakes being raised, the story never felt quite as breathless as it did in the earlier instalments. In book three, there are also a lot of characters to follow, some of whom just aren’t as interesting or compelling.
But the ending ties the story up nicely. There’s romance and tragedy and triumph, just as you would expect in what is a series of books for children.
The most interesting part of the trilogy is actually the parallels it draws with Milton’s Paradise Lost and the idea of original sin and Christianity’s teachings on the subject.
This would be a magical series of books for children of the right age, but there is also a lot here for adults. If you’ve never read His Dark Materials, they’re worth spending some time with.
- Northern Lights: His Dark Materials 1, by Philip Pullman
- The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials), by Philip Pullman
- The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials), by Philip Pullman
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