Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Page Turners: Northern Lights

Although I intended not to slip into the habit of calling this interesting book by Phillip Pullman The Golden Compass, I'm afraid I have failed. Nevertheless, I am trying to backtrack and keep the name, Northern Lights, alive.

This post is almost a fortnight late, because we read (or listened to) and discussed this book two weeks ago. But it has been a very busy period, with lots going on, so I've saved it up until now.

I first read Northern Lights a few years ago, when a friend lent me the trilogy. I enjoyed them without being "blown away", and of the three, Northern Lights was the most memorable. They are a fantasy trilogy, supposedly for children, set in various different worlds that are similar yet different from our own. In Northern Lights, we follow the story of Lyra, who takes a journey from Oxford to Northern Europe, in pursuit of her friend Roger and a horde of gypsy children who have been mysteriously stolen away by a beautiful yet cruel woman, Mrs Coulter. Lyra also seeks her father, Lord Azriel, in order to give him a precious instrument known as an "alethiometer" or truth reader. Lord Azriel is conducting research into the substance referred to as "Dust" and has tantalised Lyra with a photo of a city located in the Northern Lights.

Lyra's world is a very well set up, non-technological version of our own, with just enough 'other' to place it firmly as fantasy. Central to the plot is the fact that all humans in this world have a daemon, an animal familiar or soul, that is ever present as a companion. Other differences include the church (or magesterium) as ruler, the presence of "armoured bears" (polar bears who wear plate armour and can talk -- where did that idea come from, I wonder?), the presence of witch clans riding on cloudpine branches, plus many strange words for recognisable objects (such as "ambaric" for "electric", "Muscovy" for Russia" etc).

This time round, I listened to the audio book, which was narrated by the author, with a whole cast of actors doing the dialogue. This was my first experience at such a reading, and it was excellent! Audio books are certainly a completely different experience to reading. I think I enjoyed the book better this time round, although not necessarily for that reason. Most others in our group also enjoyed it, although not everyone intended to read on.

I don't remember much of what we discussed, although I do recall horror at scenes at the end of the book. Also, not everyone liked the concept of having a daemon, which I think is a marvellous idea. Most of us seemed to think the book was pitched at older readers (older than 12, which is the age of the protagonist). The most interesting thing I recall was the fact that the trilogy is evidently an allegory/subversion of Milton's Paradise Lost (war between heaven and hell). I wasn't aware this was the subject of Paradise Lost, and I now have a desire to read it.

Anyway, I am now listening to the audio book of the sequel, The Subtle Knife. It's enjoyable, although it suffers from 'book 2' syndrome -- it sits sandwiched between the wonder of the opener, and the drama of the closer (in so far as I can recall). Nevertheless, I am enjoying the broadening of the scope (new worlds, new characters, new information) -- we find out, for example, more about the mysterious "Dust", which is considered by the magesterium as the source/symbol of original sin. We also travel through cuts in the fabric of the universe into other worlds . . .

1 comment:

  1. i am listening to The Northern Lights now, and I love it )

    i started with the movie, then read the trilogy and now i've been into audiobooks, what surprises me is that i don't get tired of the story)

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