I have finally got round to reading Northern Lights! I am a massive fan of YA so I’m not sure why His Dark Materials wasn’t on my radar to read when I was younger. I did watch the really awful 2007 film adaptation called The Golden Compass but this definitely did not inspire me to read the series. Thankfully, however, the promise of Ruth Wilson and James McAvoy in the latest BBC series did make me reconsider. Like many others, I have been drawn in by the new series for His Dark Materials and thought it only right that I should read at least one of the books before watching it.
While for my university course I do read some exciting stuff, a lot of the time I’m reading hefty canonical literature or extensive academic sources, so it is nice to take a break and indulge in some easy-read, immersive fiction every now and then. While I’m sure you are probably at least vaguely aware of what it’s about, I’ll summarise for those who aren’t. Northern Lights is the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy and is essentially an exploration of original sin and the ills of mankind. We follow a young orphan girl named Lyra Belacqua and her demon as they set out to find out why the children in her area are going missing. Lyra’s quest for answers turns into a mission to understand a phenomenon called Dust, all the death, sin and misery in the world, and some of the most top kept secrets of the universe.
As with all good YA fiction, there is much more to Lyra’s world than talking animals and magic dust. The book is unduly a comment on organised religion, specifically Christianity, and the dangers of power being placed into the wrong hands. When I was younger I did read the Narnia Chronicles and this book in many ways reminded me of it, probably because of the use of magical elements, dystopian worlds and its allusions to Christianity. I do not personally think religion was used in a distasteful way but it has caused some controversy amongst critics. While some have argued that it portrays religion in a negative light, the archbishop of Canterbury at the time of the book’s publication was a massive advocate for the series. Pullman himself was surprised at how comparably little backlash he received with regards to the novel’s religious themes when J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter books were widely criticised for their use of witchcraft.
Unlike the critics, my biggest qualm with this book sits with its lack of a proper ending. Having really enjoyed the rest of the book I was disappointed by how rushed the ending felt and really wished Pullman had rounded the story up so I felt like I had a more complete reading experience. Of course, I understand that this book is only the first in the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy, however I personally believe a book should be a stand alone entity and Northern Lights clearly wasn’t. Luckily for me I am reading this book years after its publication so I can go ahead and read the rest of them without delay, but I know that if I was reading Northern Lights when it was first published, I would have struggled to wait two years to find out Lyra’s fate in the second book.
It probably comes as no surprise, therefore, that I have plans to read the next two books of this series, and then potentially the series’ prequel trilogy, The Book of Dust. Be warned, if you do wish to start reading His Dark Materials there is a certain level of commitment involved, since you are essentially committing yourself to reading six volumes of what are fairly sizeable books. That being said, if you are a fan of this book like I am I don’t think that’ll come as bad news. The storyline is original and the book’s protagonist, Lyra, is wonderfully adventurous and relatable. If there was a YA canon (which I think there should be) this book would definitely be in it. 9/10.