Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
Update to the below post: It's Friday morning and I have woken to Narnia. Big snowfall overnight. Cake is in the oven, coffee is perking. Heaven!
At the time of writing (Thursday morning), we have been promised a lot of snow to fall in our lovely part of the UK.....since Tuesday. Because this is the UK, the promise of snow promises biblical apocalypses as we all grind to a halt, schools close, roads become blocked and the supermarkets sell out of core essentials. meanwhile our friends in the really snowy parts of the world, giggle as the snow arrives here and we have a centimetre.....not an inch, a centimetre.
The snow has been promised for Scotland, the North East and North Yorkshire where I live, and has instead decided to do a swerve and coat every other part of the UK apart from us. Weather forecasters amended their predictions quickly and this morning I was looking forward to waking up to Narnia......We have had nothing! Other parts of the county have been affected, namely higher ground....where sheep and the eagles live. I appreciate I am typifying every British person everywhere talking about the weather. I love the snow and in places where it has fallen, there are some truly beautiful images. So if the snow will not come here, we will go to the snow with my review about a book which at times does feature a lot of snow. It has become a children's classic, has been made into a wonderful Sunday night BBC drama series and features on the BBC Big Read list at #3.
Lyra Belacqua and her animal daemon live half wild and carefree among the scholars of Jordan College, Oxford. Her destiny will take her to the frozen lands of the Arctic, where witch-clans reign and ice-bears fight. And the extradordinary journey that awaits her will have immeasurable consequences for beyond her own world.
Northern Lights is the first volume of the critically acclaimed His Dark Materials series first published in 1995. It's astonishing to me that this was published some 28 years ago, it feels still as fresh and powerful now as it did then.
I remember reading this for the first time as a children's bookseller, and feeling that tingle, it even felt slightly Christmassy with an ending set in the far North, snowy and cold.
The world Lyra inhabits is like ours, but also not like ours. We recognise aspects of our own world, parts of the UK and the lands beyond. Instead of our Fens, we have Fens adopted by the Gyptians, boat-travellers with their own codes. It is an incredibly immersive novel.
The biggest part of the novel concerns daemons. Every person in Lyra's world has a daemon. As a child, a daemon is a shape-shifting animal of the opposite gender, who is best described as a physical manifestation of a person's consciousness. Lyra's own daemon, Pantalaimon, provides a voice to Lyra's thoughts, concerns, emotion and yet also challenges Lyra if she has not behaved with integrity. A daemon provides comfort, can act as a look out and must never be far from their person. We come to realise the importance of a person's daemon at the end of the book, and the consequences should a daemon ever be separated.
Pullman explores deeper layers in the novel concerning the influence and power of the Church and belief systems. It forms an underlying narrative for the succeeding novels. There are a number of ways to approach this novel and all are valid. Is it an adventure set in a world of snow, fighting berars and aeronauts? Yes. Is it a theological comment? Absolutely. You can choose how you wish to read this book.
A stunning first novel in an excellent series.
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