Review: Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

Northern Lights  - Philip Pullman

This book is called Northern Lights .... I really don't understand why it was changed to The Golden Compass for the American release. There's no golden compass in the story unless they are referring to the alethiometer, in which case calling it a golden compass is an horrendous comparison. I don't know, it just bothers me, what was wrong with just calling it it's proper title .....


Anyway ...... I completely love this book. In fact I completely love the entire series. Phillip Pullman in truly a master story teller. Taken at face value Northern Lights is a fantastic adventure through another world in the company of Lyra, one of the most kick-ass female heroines ever. The daemons, the armoured bears, the stuffy scholars, the witches and the wonderfully old fashioned feel (they fly in blimps!) that Lyra's world has about it .... I just can't get enough of it!

But to read between the lines as an adult gives the book a whole other dimension. There are so many themes being dealt with in this book, all on the backdrop of a suspense filled, fast paced, beautifully written story ... It's easy to see why the His Dark Materials series is so loved.


The theme which interests me most is the question of the necessity of sin. Many of the characters in the book hold the view that sin (I'm using that word as a broad description for something must more complex) brought to life as a tangible thing called Dust, is wicked, bad, evil and must be eradicated. Lord Asriel's purpose in creating a bridge to another world is to search for the source of Dust and destroy it. Lyra however, right at the end of this first instalment of the series comes to the conclusion that maybe the grown-ups are wrong, maybe Dust is good. The ability to sin, the ability to make mistakes and learn from them, to gain knowledge, experience and wisdom allows us to be free thinking beings with a will of our own. Phillip Pullman paints a world where the church essentially wants to destroy free will, remove our right to make choices and remove our curiosity. In my opinion Mr Pullman is sending the message that religion stifles creative thought and individuality. A very brave and powerful message beautifully wrapped in this fantastic story, easily appreciated by adults as well as children.


I know some people will hate it for this anti-Christian theme. But maybe we shouldn't view it so much as anti-Christian but as anti-conformist. It's okay to make mistakes, it's okay to have thoughts and opinions that are all our own and knowledge and curiosity are powerful things. These are some of the things that make us human and add variety and life to the world.


Anyone, no matter what their religious views and no matter what preconceived opinions they have on this story should enjoy reading this book as it offers some very interesting and thought provoking ideas, and at the end of the day is just a bloody good adventure! It's so easy to get sucked right into Lyra's world so full of detail and with a brilliant cast of very believable characters, good and evil. It's never a bad thing to listen to someone else's take on the world, there are no right or wrong ways to interpret something. This is the essence of Northern Lights: be brave enough to ask questions, of yourself and of the world, and to walk your own path in life; stay curious and open minded as knowledge is powerful.