Northern Lights (His Dark Materials, #1)

by Philip Pullman

3.92 of 5 stars 66 ratings • 8 reviews • 89 shelved
Book cover for Northern Lights

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Northern Lights (His Dark Materials, #1)

by Philip Pullman

3.92 of 5 stars 66 ratings • 8 reviews • 89 shelved
This is the first in a trilogy in which a new universe has been created. A world where daemons swoop and scuttle along the streets of Oxford and London, where the mysterious Dust swirls invisibly through the air, and where one child knows secrets the adults would kill for.
  • ISBN10 0590541781
  • ISBN13 9780590541787
  • Publish Date 21 July 1995
  • Publish Status Out of Print
  • Out of Print 26 February 2010
  • Publish Country GB
  • Publisher Scholastic
  • Imprint Scholastic Press
  • Format Hardcover
  • Pages 416
  • Language English


Avatar for pinkadot89

Angie 2 of 5 stars
The Golden Compass was definitely not for me. At all. It was too young for me. Or I was too old for it. Either way, I just did not get it. Apparently something known as Gobblers are kidnapping children and doing terrible things to them, because it's a children's book and that seems to be a popular plot. Lyra's uncle is also being held prisoner for some such reason, and she wants to rescue him and the children and find out what they're doing to them. There's also some mysterious thing known as Dust. And talking bears, and whatever. I didn't care.

I really just did not like The Golden Compass at all. I definitely think it comes down to me not being the right audience, but I tried to think if my younger self would have liked it, and I decided on no. Mainly for one reason. What is the point of daemons? I think they're a great idea. Apparently everyone has a daemon, which is a shapeshifting, talking, animal companion. I want one, but I don't get them. This is set in an alternate history version of our world, but there is no explanation to the existence of these creatures. They're a super important part of the plot, too, but I needed to know what they are, how they work, why they're there, and so on. It was just kind of like they exist because they do, and that's all you need to know. At least until there was some info dump about Adam and Eve, and I was like oh gosh. No way.

I also really did not like Lyra. She's a masterful liar, which just bothered me. Not so much that she lies a lot (although for the greater good) but because everyone believes her without question. Adults (and talking bears) are stupid and have no reason to doubt anything coming out of the mouth of such a precious, innocent child. Right. I got really annoyed whenever she started making stuff up and whoever she was leading on just ate it all up.

The Golden Compass didn't work for me at all. I do think it has some great ideas, but the lack of explanations for anything made me not enjoy it. Maybe kids don't need those details, just tell them something is because it is and they accept that. I can't. This made it hard for me to care about the characters or their journey, and I most definitely will not be continuing the series.

Read more of my reviews at Pinkindle Reads & Reviews.

Avatar for amber

Amber 3 of 5 stars
I first read this about seven years ago, when I was a young teenager and just picking up whatever I could find in my library. I remember adoring this book back then. I absolutely devoured it. I think this time around I was expecting too much from this book, and I ended up being a little disappointed that I wasn't sucked in like I was before.

Full review on Books of Amber

Avatar for clementine

clementine 5 of 5 stars
I don't think there's any series from my childhood that has managed to keep my imagination captured for so many years. (Even Harry Potter!) I can't have been more than nine when my mom originally read this series to me, and there are so many images I have held onto vividly. (I will never forget the description of Iofur Raknison's "lolling" tongue.) I can't discount the power of nostalgia, but there is something so forceful in the emotions Pullman conjures. He writes children so well: their righteousness, their stubbornness, their ultimate innocence even in the face of atrocity. Lyra is brave and brash and clever and this feels right and correct; she is a remarkable child, but believably so.

I'm not really sure how this series came to be marketed towards kids and middle grade readers. It's not that younger readers can't enjoy it (it's a great adventure story, and I loved it when I was little), but the allegorical elements and critiques of organized religion will go completely over kids' heads. The story is vibrant and evocative and enduring, but there is so much more depth that reveals itself to older readers. The General Oblation Board's experiments on children echoes the Holocaust, residential schools, and many other atrocities sanctioned by and committed in the name of the Church.

This series as a whole and this book in particular have such incredible emotional depth: there is endless fun to be had in the adventure, but the despair and sorrow Pullman takes the story to is almost unparalleled. I can't imagine how literature could be more desperately emotionally affecting than the discovery of the dæmon-less Tony, or Roger's death, or so many other moments in the other two books.

Seriously a remarkable novel in a remarkable series. Complex and affecting beyond words.


Original review, July 18/13:

The last time I read this book I must have been no more than eleven or twelve, which means that I certainly didn't have a terribly firm grasp of its complexity. It was more of an adventure story to me than anything else. This time around, I can really appreciate the nuances and less evident messages.

I've been meaning to reread this series for years. I finally forced myself to do it by bringing it home with me for the summer, along with only two other books. I blasted through the first in the series, which is a solid 400 pages, in two days - extremely fast when you consider that I've been averaging about 7-10 days for the ASoIaF books. It's just compulsively readable without sacrificing any quality. It's emotionally impactful, exciting, complex, interesting, and insightful. The characters are vivid, the premise unique, and the plot completely compelling. It's even better knowing what the latter two books have in store, because while the first book stands on its own as a remarkable piece of literature, it is really building up to something more.

I'm not exactly sure when I'll tackle The Subtle Knife; my top priority is ASoIaF, and I don't know if I'll finish that series by the time summer is over what with my job starting on Monday. However, I do intend to read The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass as soon as possible, and I look forward to it immensely.

Avatar for cfiel25

KitsuneBae 4 of 5 stars
For the full review, please visit: Thoughts and Pens

I was so thankful that I have endured reading the Golden Compass because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have known that this was such a superb piece of creation. Surprise, surprise. For the first pages, things are a bit confusing with all the talk of daemons, Dust, Aurora and other weird words that if you’re not patient enough, you’ll just lose it. But Philip’s done a good job in narrating the story that along the way, everything just fell into pieces wonderfully. By the middle part, I felt that I’m already one of the gyptians going with Lyra to the North.
There are a lot of things that I love about the book. I love the idea of the steampunk and how it basically controls the whole plot of The Golden Compass. I love the characters especially Lyra, Farder Coram, Lord Faa, Lee Scoresby, Serafina and most of all, Iorek Byrnison. Lyra’s tough, wild and an occasional liar yet loyal, compassionate and brave… a heroine through and through. While Lord Faa and Farder Coram gave me impressions of security and leadership. And then, there’s Iorek Byrnison…OMG, he is the Zeus of all bears (as in literally) with his dangerous aura, muscle prowess and rogue ways. Who would have ever thought that a gigantic of a bear is something to admire? But yes, he is. Take my word for it. Philip Pullman’s characters are so well developed that they’re mirrors of parts of our personalities.
The Golden Compass also creates a very vivid setting for the story, not too farfetched (though I thought of the contrary a year ago) but totally different. The plot was even more riveting: it talks about death, the good and evil, the beginning of sin, the abuse of children which actually disturbed me and most of all, its daredevil move to drag show the Church in another light was simply fascinating. There were heart-wrenching scenes that I found my inner self shouting for the villain’s condemnation in hell. There were also parts of the book that would make your adrenaline pump with suspense as the heroine tries to outlast the villains.
However, I have a few regrets with this book. One is that Lyra doesn’t seem to suffer from being abandoned by her parents. I didn’t feel that she grieved for the years being parentless. I mean it’s kind of weird since Lyra was able to display deep emotional attachment for people she cared about. I was just hoping that there should have been a bit of drama about it. And the second thing is that at the end of the book, the important characters were suddenly left out without giving the readers an inkling of what happened to them. Lyra did not even think about them that much.
On an overall note, this book is a delightful portal for those who wanted to explore different worlds in one package. Read it now!

Avatar for briana

The Golden Compass is undoubtedly an exciting, complex, and subtle work of literature. Its strengths lie in Pullman’s incredible imagination and his obvious love of science. Alternate universes are cool on their own, but they became even more fascinating once one learns more about the scientific theories that inspired Pullman’s world-building. And he was genius enough to make a book that is in many ways strong science fiction read like almost pure fantasy.

The plot is another huge draw. Pullman knows how to bring readers on a wild ride, convincing them they have a good idea of what is happening, and then pulling everything out from under them. He hints just enough that readers can see some of the clues in retrospect, but even then one cannot claim it was “obvious” the entire time. These are true mind-blowing twists.

Unfortunately, as one of my English professors likes to say, “No one rereads for plot.” Though I have reread this book, once before I saw the movie and once again for the read-along, it simply is not the same. I know what is coming. The surprise is gone. And in a way that leaves the plot a little bare. Of course there are schemes and fights and all the great things that should keep a reader enthralled, but something is missing. I personally think that it is heart.

Bottom line: These books are anti-Christian and anti organized religion. That is fine. Yet Pullman needs to find something to stand for in his writing, not just to stand against. There is no true sense of right and wrong here, or of anything worth fighting for beyond friendship and at times what might qualify as common decency. There may be something said for the pursuit of knowledge and for the pursuit of one’s personal pleasure. Yet personally I cannot connect very strongly with a book which presents mainly two values: loyalty and honor. These are good, of course, but they are not enough.

The Golden Compass ranks strongly in terms of plot and construction. It is well-written, carefully planned, and brilliantly woven together. But I will never be able to call it a favorite book if it fails to do more than bring me on a fun ride.

This review is also posted at Pages Unbound Book Reviews.

Avatar for zarahoffman

zarahoffman 5 of 5 stars
Lyra Belaqua is curious, and brave, and defiant. Bored with her classes at Jordan College, Lyra sneaks into the Board Room and hides in the closet to watch her uncle, Lord Asriel's, presentation where she learns about a strange substance named Dust.

Lyra's World
Lyra doesn't live in our world. She lives in a parallel universe. According to Lord Asriel, all parallel universes coexist and are connected by the Dust in the Northern Lights (The Golden Compass's original title).
And in Lyra's world the totalitarian organization called the Magisterium rules with an iron fist, eradicating any "traitorous" thoughts.
In Lyra's world, people have daemons: animals who represent human souls in an exterior form. Holding a person's daemon affects the human and vice versa. A child's daemon can shapeshift, but starting in puberty, it begins to "settle" into it's adult form, from which it cannot change.
There are also panserbjørn or "armored bears" who wear their souls in the armor they make from Sky Iron. On her adventure, Lyra meets one named Iorek Byrnison under strange circumstances.
Lyra also encounters the witches of the North on her adventure, including the leader, Serafina Pekkala. Witches, like normal humans have daemons, but they can be separated by large distances unlike humans who can't stray more than a few feet from their daemons.
The Alethiometer (Golden Compass)
The Alethiometer is a "truth measure" and operates on the mystical Dust. By asking a question in your mind and moving the three red needles to three corresponding images on the rim, the reader will receive an answer when the blue needle points to three other symbols. Very few people can read the se Golden Compasses.
Many of the Alethiometers have been destroyed by the Magisterium because they interfered with their rule. Lyra, however, is one of the remaining few who can read one.
Philip Pullman creates an amazingly rich world populated with majestic creatures and minute details that bring Lyra's world to life. The first few chapters are a little slow and read almost like a textbook that you would find at Lyra's Jordan College, but the action begins very quickly–and once it does, you can't put the book down.
The 2007 movie directed by Chris Weitz starring Dakota Blue Richards (Lyra), Daniel Craig, Nicole Kidman, and other does not deserve the bad reputation it's been given. Illustrated and acted very faithfully to the books (in my opinion), I would definitely watch the movie after you've read the book. In the movie, Serafina Pekkala (played by Eva Green) serves as a sort of omniscient narrator.