Book review ‘His Dark Materials: Northern Lights’

  • Author: Philip Pullman
  • Publisher: Scholastic UK
  • Publishing year: 1995 (this edition: 2019)
  • Number of pages: 413
  • Cover illustration: Chris Wormell
  • Appendix illustrations: Ian Beck
  • ISBN: 978-1407186108
  • My rating: 5/5


The first volume in Philip Pullman’s groundbreaking HIS DARK MATERIALStrilogy, now a thrilling, critically acclaimed BBC/HBO television series.First published in 1995, and acclaimed as a modern masterpiece, this first book in the series won the UK’s top awards for children’s literature. “Without this child, we shall all die.” Lyra Belacqua and her animal daemon live half-wild and carefree among scholars of Jordan College, Oxford. The destiny that awaits her will take her to the frozen lands of the Arctic, where witch-clans reign and ice-bears fight. Her extraordinary journey will have immeasurable consequences far beyond her own world…


The world of Lyra Belacqua, an orphan girl living at Jordan’s College, Oxford… but not the Oxford we know. There are parallel universes and Lyra’s universe is one of those. Similar but very different! Everyone in Lyra’s world has a dæmon, an inseparable animal spirit (a soul, a conscience). We see a world of scholars, gyptians, witches, pantersbjorn (armoured polar bears) and many different organisations similar to our world, such as the Magisterium which is the highest religious power (to be compare with the Vatican)

In this world Lyra is being send off onto an adventure to find missing children, taken by the gobblers ànd her uncle Asriel, who is doing research on the North pole. Looking for DUST, an elementary particle that is all around the people and dæmons in this world. But there are those who are afraid of DUST and of Asriel’s findings, among them Mrs Coulter! We travel from Oxford to the North pole and meet all kinds of strange people, allies and enemies! On river boats, with the gyptians led by Farder Coram and John Faa, or with aëronaut Lee Scoresby in his balloon we travel over land and (frozen) sea…

Lyra’s very gifted and when she is given a sort of compass (US title of this book is The Golden Compass), better known as the alethiometer, she knows how to use it almost immediately and through that device she gets the answers she is looking for!

During the journey Lyra makes we get to know her and see her grow up, due to her experiences and her witnessing the good and bad things happening around her! And when she meets the bear Iorek Byrnison, she meets her mightiest ally of all. Thanks to his help she might even find and release the children that were taken.

The Alethiometer

This is a book with may layers: a coming-of age story of a girl and her friend, an adventure story, a fantasy tale and Pullman does not shy away from the hard stuff either… dead and mayhem, war with victims and ferocious killer bears are all part of this amazing story. This was only the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy, so a lot more adventures are on its way for Lyra and her dæmon Pantaleimon! This trilogy is followed up by another new trilogy, since 2017, namely The Book of Dust trilogy (La Belle Sauvage being the first book in that trilogy) Pullman also wrote and published a few short stories (Lyra’s Oxford, Once upon a time in the North, Serpentine) which expand the world of Lyra even more.

This book has been adapted into an ill-fated movie in 2007, The Golden Compass, starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig… it didn’t get many good reviews for it lacked the true spirit of the book, omitting a few important elements (especially the ending was changed!) Eventually in 2019 the first season of a new adaptation for the BBC was released and that was a true hit! Season 2 came out in 2020 (unfortunately impacted by the pandemic), which was based on the second book: The Subtle Knife. And Book 3: The amber Spyglass has been adapted as well in a third season that should come out in 2022-2023 🤞

BBC adaptation, Season 1
The ill-fated 2007 movie adaptation

Pullman got his inspiration for the dæmons when he first saw a painting by Leonardo Da Vinci, The Lady with the Ermine (see below)

The painting ‘Lady with an Ermine’ by Leonardo Da Vinci that sparked Pullman’s vision on Lyra’s world

I can’t wait to read more! This was an amazing book, I love the way Pullman created an entirely new yet still recognisable world, where things are different but at the same time the same! Influence by Church, jealousy and envy that rules, wars raging over land and man… Now, step into the Aurora with me… and on we go.. off to a new parallel world with Lyra… and let’s see who else we can meet on our travels!

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