“That’s the duty of the old,’ said the Librarian, ‘to be anxious on the behalf of the young. And the duty of the young is to scorn the anxiety of the old.’ They sat for a while longer, and then parted, for it was late, and they were old and anxious.”
TITLE & AUTHOR: Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
SERIES: His Dark Materials, #1
PUBLISHED : October 23rd 1998, by Scholastic Point (first published 1995)
MY RATING: 5/5
His Dark Materials is one of the series many of you had read as kids, but I didn’t have access to thanks to my lovely country, same as Narnia, A Series of Unfortunate Events, etc. So I’m compensating now, as an adult, and I was wondering if I’d still like it. Turns out I love it! It’s just what I needed at that moment, and I can’t wait to continue with the series.
Now, I’ve made a rookie mistake and didn’t write a review as soon as I finished the book, so here we are, two months later, and I hope I remember enough for a decent review. The story is simple: Lyra, a young orphaned girl is raised at Jordan College at the university of Oxford by the attending scholars. She is a wild child, prone to lying, rule-breaking and inventing stories, hanging out mostly with boys. As she’s a street kid, a circling rumor of child-snatchers becomes one of her obsessions and even a game for her and her friends, where they pretend to be gobblers (Called that way because the child-snatchers “gobble you up”). Her uncle, and only living relative, is Lord Asriel, a very cold man who doesn’t give two cents about Lyra and her welfare, but she still has high respect for him.
Everything is going well for Lyra until a sequence of troubling events happen in just a couple of days: Lyra prevents Lord Asriel from being poisoned and during the event finds out more about his secret scientific research in the North and a curious thing called Dust; Her best friend Roger suddenly goes missing and no one seems to care; An intriguing lady named Mrs. Coulter comes to Oxford and offers to take Lyra to London as her charge, for proper schooling; On the evening of her departure, Lyra is given a device which looks like a compass but is called an alethiometer, and she must keep it a secret. This is where the story becomes anything but simple.
Through her numerous adventures, Lyra will encounter various interesting people, talking polar bear warriors, centuries-old witches, hot-air balloons, some very evil people, and she’ll uncover a great conspiracy. But from start to end, her main goal will be only to rescue her best friend and to uncover the meaning and origin of Dust.
What I most liked about this novel, except the endless adventures, is Lyra herself. She is cocky, mischievous, and a great liar; she is a true kid. What I never fail to notice in this type of children’s books is that all kids act very adult. It’s hinted throughout the Northern Lights that Lyra is a chosen one, but at no point does she start to act serious or regal or above her age, from start to end she is that same lying brat, which will serve her well when she finds herself alone and cornered. Lyra has definitely made it on the list of my favorite characters, and I can’t wait to see what’s coming for her.
The other thing I really loved (Let’s not pretend, I loved it ALL) are the daemons. This story is set in a parallel universe where each person is born connected to a daemon – a shape-shifting animal which shares its human’s thoughts, emotions and even physical pain. You cannot live without your daemon, and it can’t live without you; You cannot be physically apart, because there is a strong connection between you which starts to break and hurt more and more the further you’re separated; Your daemon can shift into any sort of animal until you come of age, then it settles into a single form for the rest of its life. Lyra’s daemon is called Pantalaimon, or Pan, and he mostly prefers the shapes of a moth, a snow-white ermine, a wildcat or a mouse. He is her closest companion, not a friend but a part of her, and he often plays the role of her conscience.
Another thing I loved, but the last I’ll mention, is the reason some dim-witted people are trying their best to ban these books in schools even today. The “anti-Christian” matter, as they call it, or “atheism for kids”, “the stuff of nightmares”, and “worthy of the bonfire”, among others, and Pullman’s perfect response to this made me suspect he based at least a part of Lyra’s cocky personality on himself: “Oh, it causes me to shake my head with sorrow that such nitwits could be loose in the world.” and his answer to nightmares and bonfire taglines: “My response to that was to ask the publishers to print it in the next book, which they did! I think it’s comical, it’s just laughable.” The whole deal is that this is a book which heavily uses science as answer for certain religious questions, and that the church has been represented as “manipulative and controlling, led by men capable of doing anything to keep the truth hidden and their power intact.”
The point, which some boxed brains seemed to miss, is that evil lurks everywhere, nothing and no organization is purely good or purely evil. This is a fantasy and an adventure, and every good story needs a great villain, be it a chocolate factory owner, a wicked queen, or the church, which, I might add, is not the case in this story, as the true villain is someone else. The same thing happened to Harry Potter, but in this particular case the idiots seem particularly keen to deter young readers from His Dark Materials. What I have to say is this: I know some of you are religious, and that you hold your religion close to your heart, but that shouldn’t stop you from reading this fantastic book, as it’s in no way offensive or demeaning, you just need an open mind, and a grain or two of common sense. This is fantasy, after all.