Published on September 3rd, 2014 | by Michaela Buckley0
Northern Lights – Philip Pullman
Before Harry Potter there was Northern Lights.
First released in 1995, Northern Lights is a fantasy novel that took on a darker tone than conventional children’s fantasy books, it is closest to a YA novel in its themes and has been steeped in controversy since its publication as religious groups condemn the anti-religion sentiment in the novel.
Northern Lights is the first of the trilogy, His Dark Materials, which I first read when the concluding novel, Amber Spyglass was released in the UK in 2000, having caught my attention with its comparisons to Harry Potter, I read the trilogy in a few weeks, which soon cemented Northern Lights as one of my favourite books of all time. I recently obtained a beautiful Folio Society edition of the trilogy for my birthday and so decided to revisit it and see how my adult perspective differs.
Lyra Belacqua is a 12 year old girl who lives at the University in an alternate Oxford, which features steam-punk technology and somewhat Victorian society, after hearing a conversation between her Uncle, Lord Asriel and some colleagues in a secret room within the University, it sets in motion an adventure which takes her to the Arctic in search of lost friends.
Thanks to a panned film release a few years ago, there has been little interest in the series as a book trilogy or as potential newer adaptations, although it wasn’t the first time that it had courted the press, the issue of its handling of religion may have had a part in it, particularly for its exposure in America.
Modelling the title of the trilogy, ‘His Dark Materials’ after a sentence in Paradise Lost by John Milton, it would be remiss not to mention all of the numerous religious references in this novel, drawing parallels to the Catholic Church and portraying it in negative light. As a youngster, I always felt that the series wasn’t derogative about religion, as it portrayed some of the ideas in a way that can be more easily understood, after all, what is a religion but its doctrines? Overall, I don’t believe merely showing rules and beliefs that are not the current church’s, to be offensive.
The nature of Northern Lights is inherently darker than other fantasy novels of its calibre, with child kidnappings and gory violence, it is instantly recognisable as a breed of its own. After reading the trilogy, Harry Potter’s Goblet of Fire was merely tame in comparison. The themes are much more mature, dealing with the hardships of adulthood and not just responsibility like most coming-of-age portrays.
The characters of Lyra & Pantalaimon are well-crafted, mischievous and wholly believable, the way they are handled means that children can almost look up to her, and adults can understand her, being that she is more mature than the average hero. Other characters include,
Due to its dark concepts and controversial undertones, this book isn’t for everyone, the sequels narratives venture vastly in comparison, which a lot of people didn’t appreciate, although if you are looking for a subversive and interesting fantasy novel, this one really is it.