Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Book 52 of 2013: Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

This was one of two books which were covered during the first couple of weeks of my course, and then came up again more recently. With these things where they give you an option I don't like to choose one over the other until I've considered both options, so for that reason I set about reading (and doing the coursework for) both Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling, as well as Philip Pullman's Northern Lights.

Ultimately, for my most recent assignment, I used Harry Potter because I felt like I had more to say about it, but it still seemed like a good idea to revisit Northern Lights as it's been some time since I last read it and I wanted it fresh in my mind for my studies.

This book follows Lyra, a little girl who lives on an alternate version of earth where everyone has a daemon which is basically part of their soul in animal form. At first blush the world is fairly similar to our own, however there is an element of magic with witches and large talking bears. Lyra has spent her whole life living in a university, occasionally being visited by her Uncle. One day a beautiful but dangerous woman, Mrs Coulter, comes to take her away to begin a new life.

Before she leaves the university, Lyra is given an aleithiometer, a device which allows the user to find out the truth. Meanwhile children all over the country have been going missing, taking by 'Gobblers' and Lyra soon discovers that Mrs Coulter is involved. And so begins Lyra's journey to learn about Dust, where the children have been going and her parents' involvement in the whole mystery.

I've read this book several times now; once way back when I was sixteen and I borrowed the whole series from the school library when I went to England for a week. As much as I like this book, and I know it's popular, I always find myself struggling to get into it.

I think part of the problem is that the world the story is set in is very well developed. It feels like a real place and there's a great deal of depth to it. Which shouldn't be a problem really, except that this book only seems to scratch the surface. I always want more. I want to know more about the history of Lyra's earth, about daemons, about the politic and religious background to the story. But it doesn't quite go deep enough for me.

My favourite part of this story is always the beginning. I love the bits at the college and the bits with Lyra and the Gyptians. As the story goes on I find myself enjoying it less though, which I suppose it because the story gets darker and more bleak. The bits which take place in the Arctic always make me feel sort of uncomfortable.

I suppose that's because it's basically a story about people doing bad things to children, no matter how well-intentioned. Something about the description of the hospital-place they are all sent to reminds me of a film I saw when I was very small about the Dionne Quintuplets and I guess all that comes in to play when I'm picturing it in my mind.

I always imagined my old dog, Patch, to be like my daemon, (who wouldn't want a permanent part of yourself that you could talk to and that could reassure you when you were scared or worried). So the thought of the children being separated from their daemons always makes me feel anxious and I can really relate to that, having been separated from my pooch.

I really must go back and read the other two books in the trilogy; I keep saying I will but never get around to it. Maybe some day.

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