Details: Northern Lights
by Philip Pullman,
Scholastic Children's books, 1995
Northern Lights is the first book in Pullman's trilogy forming His Dark Materials. In the US, it was published as "The Golden Compass". The film titled "The Golden Compass" staring Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, and Dakota Blue Richards will be out soon. Let's hope it's good.
Lyra is a little girl who lives among the scholars of an alternative Oxford, in a world where each person is accompanied by a daemon from which they cannot be parted. Neither the Human nor the daemon can live without each other. Lyra finds herself pondering such mysteries as why someone would try to murder her uncle, why the same person might try to help her uncle, what a 'severed child' might be, and why children, even children she knows, are disappearing.
In her quest to rescue her friends, Lyra is lead into the Arctic Circle, to new friends, battles, rescues – sometimes she is rescued, sometimes she rescues others.
Pullman creates a new world with its own textures, and gets us to care about the things the people of this world care about, while bringing Lyra, literally, to the brink of another world.
This is one of those books that is aimed at young teenagers, but which anyone can read, in fact adults might enjoy it even more than children would just because of its charm. No wonder it's an award winning book.
Wikipedia indicates that there has been a lot of fuss concerning Christianity and His Dark Materials, the complaint being that Pullman's trilogy is, if anything, anti-Christian. Similar complaints have been made about Harry Potter, because of the use of magic. Strangely enough, such complaints are not laid against the Narnia series, which uses magic - what else can a whole world inside a wardrobe be? And let's not forget the talking animals. However, Narnia was written by a Christian apologist, C S Lewis. Sometimes Lewis was a brilliant thinker, and sometimes he wasn't. Sometimes he failed to bring to his treatises on Christianity the same rigour he demanded in other areas.
However, a look at Pullman's trilogy soon reveals a reverence for life, every individual life. Efforts are made to help people no matter how difficult or inconvenient it may be. There is a particular moment where Lyra grows up, having to think deeply and empathetically about someone else. Northern Lights doesn't give you goodies and baddies, it doesn't tell you that baddies deserve to die. True Christians, the ones who remember the words about helping the sick and visiting the prisoners, will have no problem with this book.
The next two books in the trilogy are The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.
From MORVA SHEPLEY