Northern Lights by Philip Pullman – 5/5 Stars

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman - Front Cover

First impressions

I couldn’t remember the Golden Compass film well, but I did suspect I’d start with the impression I’d be reading a book only for children. I was wrong on this, finding Northern Lights to be intellectually satisfying for adults, with some of the most beautiful in depth descriptions I’ve ever read (see below). I did eventually get the impression I was reading a story authored by a teacher. There are scientific elements, inventions reminiscent of the steampunk genre, and religious influences in the form of institutions and verse. There were strong themes of the promise of mental discovery and the threatening yoke of conformity. Where beliefs are a good thing, it’s in the presence of magical fantasy and wonder.

Premise of the story

Lyra is a child living in the prestigious Jordan College, though many of her habits are less than prestigious. She’s adventurous, and naughty, with a keen sense of curiosity that can get her into trouble. When all the children are going missing, the Gobblers are blamed and Lyra is determined to go north. In fact, whatever the reason, Lyra seems determined to go north.


Some of the passages of Lyra interacting with the bears were the most fascinating and engaging in the story. I did wonder how she was able to trick some of them as easily as she did when they were known for not being tricked. Did I miss something?

Beautiful descriptions

‘Looking up at the stone pinnacles of the chapel, the pearl-green cupola of the Sheldon Building, the white painted Lantern of the Library.’

‘Men and women are moved by tides much fiercer than you can imagine, and they sweep us all into the current.’

‘The bleakest barest most inhospitable godforsaken dead-end of nowhere.’

‘Then, with a roar and a blur of snow both bears moved at the same moment. Like two great masses of rock balanced on adjoining peaks and shaken loose by an earthquake, that bound down the mountainsides gathering speed, leaping over crevasses and knocking trees into splinters, until they crash into each other so hard that both are smashed to powder and flying chips of stone: that was how the two bears came together.’

Concluding comments

It’s as wonderful as Harry Potter and as bewitching as Terry Pratchett, covering misfortune, tragedy, outrage, and heroism. I’d certainly feel enriched continuing with the series.

I was super impressed by the magical feeling of turning of every page, and my estimation of Philip Pullman’s writing is high. I’m confident his other books are also stellar reads!

Philip Pullman’s Website

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