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Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

Northern Lights (original 1995; edition 1995)

by Philip Pullman

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
23,08351949 (4.11)2 / 675
Title:Northern Lights
Authors:Philip Pullman
Info:Scholastic (1995), Hardcover, 399 pages
Collections:Your library, Favorites

Work details

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (1995)

1990s (6)
Unread books (1,044)
  1. 3413
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  2. 150
    Sabriel by Garth Nix (staram)
  3. 152
    A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (sturlington)
  4. 2211
    Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling (Patangel)
  5. 166
    The Neverending Story by Michael Ende (Leishai)
    Leishai: Also a story about fantasy with another world
  6. 114
    The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (ut.tecum.loquerer)
  7. 40
    The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander (StefanY)
  8. 40
    Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge (Kerian)
  9. 52
    A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L'Engle (Anonymous user)
  10. 41
    The House With a Clock In Its Walls by John Bellairs (timspalding)
  11. 52
    The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett (bibliovermis)
  12. 53
    Paradise Lost by John Milton (Jannes)
  13. 31
    The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman (Aleana)
  14. 20
    The Witches of Willowmere: Book 1 in the Chronicles of Fairie (Willowmere Chronicles) by Alison Baird (mene)
    mene: "The Willowmere Chronicles" series includes daemons, but focusing more on the Ancient Greek version. "His Dark Materials" series has a parallel world where everyone has a daemon, but in a different way than the daemons in the Willowmere Chronicles.
  15. 53
    The Darkangel Trilogy by Meredith Ann Pierce (VictoriaPL)
  16. 31
    Pavane by Keith Roberts (timspalding)
  17. 32
    Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve (Jannes)
    Jannes: Epic and awe-inspiring and steampunk-ish... also surprisingly complex characters and moral ambiguity for a YA novel - just like HDM
  18. 10
    Stravaganza: City of Masks by Mary Hoffman (Jannes)
    Jannes: Similar themes: parallel worlds, dimension-traveling youths, splendid cities... Pullman's work is, in my opinion, far superior, but both are worth checking out if you like this sort of thing.
  19. 10
    Cold Magic by Kate Elliot (Jen448)
  20. 21
    Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox (SunnySD)

(see all 27 recommendations)


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English (497)  Danish (6)  French (4)  German (3)  Spanish (2)  Swedish (1)  Italian (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Dutch (1)  Portuguese (1)  All languages (517)
Showing 1-5 of 497 (next | show all)
This book is engaging, exciting, and complex. The world Pullman created is so vivid and the characters are intriguing.

Read my full review here.

Pullman’s world is so unique. I love the idea of each person having a daemon, an animal who is a part of our soul. Right away, it’s easy to see that Lyra, the protagonist, and Pan, her daemon, are extremely complex characters. Pan is usually the more cautious one but, really, her and Pan are so much alike (obviously) that they share a lot of characteristics. The dynamic between her and Pan is beautiful to read. Also, right away I enjoyed Lyra’s rebellious nature; she loathes being told she needs to act more “feminine”. She’s also the type of character who is extremely intelligent and witty, and won’t hesitate to do what she thinks is right regardless what others say. Yes, she makes mistakes, but once she realizes she’s made a mistake - like trusting Asriel - she tries to fix it and/or learns from it.

I really enjoy Pullman’s descriptions. The descriptions were simple yet lovely. I also like that Pullman isn’t afraid to describe the brutality of the fight scenes.

I’m not quite sure if I believe that Asriel is against the Oblation board at times because he does exactly what they do to Roger. I would argue that he does it in an even more cruel way. So, this character’s hypocrisy didn’t sit well with me (maybe that was Pullman’s intention).

Overall, The Golden Compass is a really good novel. It drew me in right away. ( )
  CaitlinAC | Aug 10, 2014 |
I am planning not nice things to people who voted this book onto the worst books list. It pales in comparison to books 2 and 3, but is still a very good book. ( )
  drhapgood | Jul 27, 2014 |
Well written, yes. However, to like it, I can't get past the fact that it is a direct and overt attack on my faith (not a matter of interpretation - "the Church," "the Pope," "John Calvin," etc. are referenced EXPLICITLY by name). "The Church" is the nefarious ruling power that opposes truth and steals children's souls, and "God" is some kind of half-dead corrupted angel who somehow convinced everybody he was God. The author is an atheist, and this trilogy is a fantasy about destroying God. It's the most sinister thing I've ever read. ( )
  krista.rutherford | Jul 27, 2014 |
I must say I loved this book and can't wait to read the next in the series. Although I personally enjoyed the film adaptation I can now understand that the so many omissions and softening of the story could have irked many ardent fans. ( )
  pcollins | Jul 27, 2014 |
The Golden Compass will probably not make the reading list for most MFA students. Too bad for them, because it’s an excellent novel. It's not only great storytelling, it's great literature, deeply resonant for adults as much as for "young adults." There is plenty about this book that is worthy of comment, but let's start on the most basic, granular level: the sentence. Pullman is a bang up sentence-smith. The Golden Compass is full of luminous passages like this:

"It was dark now, and Lyra watched through the window as the lights of Colby came closer. The heavy air was thickening into mist, and by the time they tied up at the wharves alongside the Smokemarket everything in sight was softened and blurred. The darkness shaded into pearly silver-gray veils laid over the warehouses and the cranes, the wooden market stalls and granite many-chimneyed building the market was named after, where day and night fish hung kippering in the fragrant oakwood smoke. The chimneys were contributing their thickness to the clammy air, and the pleasant reek of smoked herring and mackerel and haddock seemed to breathe out of the very cobbles."

Breaking it down, the reasons for the paragraph’s lyrical effectiveness become obvious. The description increases in intensity—in specificity and exactitude—as it goes on, mimicking the perception of Lyra as she approaches the city of Colby in a boat.

The first sentence is straightforward. It has only one adjective and lays out the picture’s background: city lights through a ship’s window in the dark. The description in the second sentence is ratcheted up, but the images are still vague: air thickening into mist, everything softened and blurred. The ship has docked but the city is still partially hidden, viewed through the mist in the darkness.

The third sentence is where the scene really clicks into place. There are no fewer than nine adjectives in this sentence, several of them strung together (“granite many-chimneyed building”; “fish hung kippering in the fragrant oakwood smoke”). The visual images are suddenly clear and colorful, and another sense (smell) is introduced. The sprung meter (níght físh húng kíppering) and assonance (pearly silver-gray veils), help to convey a sense of heightened emotional response in the presence of unfolding beauty. In the fourth sentence yet another sense is introduced (“clammy”), while the smells become more specific and intense. All this makes sense as a facsimile of evolving human perception. After taking in the initial visual panorama, Lyra's mind is freed up to experience other sensory inputs, and we as readers experience the scene in an instinctively parallel way.

Continuing in a similar fishy-smelling vein, here’s another bit I found compelling:

"The smell was of fish, but mixed with it came land smells too: pine resin and earth and something animal and musky, and something else that was cold and blank and wild: it might have been snow. It was the smell of the North."

Once again, the sequencing of this descriptive passage mimics the evolving perception of the protagonist. At first she only smells the fish, but as she focuses in on the odor she perceives greater complexities—pine resin, earth, something musky. These additional odors are intriguing, and lead her to focus further until she perceives underlying them all a new and enchanting smell: snow. The repeated colons communicate a sense of expectation, creating the effect of tripping mental pauses, as if there is a deeper perception knocking on the door of the surface perception, threatening to interrupt. And finally the deeper perception—one that plays a major role in the novel’s metaphysics and plot—comes bursting through the door: “It was the smell of the North.”

More examples:

"The sun was shining brightly, and the green waves were dashing against the bows, bearing white streams of foam as they curved away."

"Cold hands and stiff limbs moved to obey as yet more arrows flew down like rain, straight rods of rain tipped with death."

Pullman has a magnificent sense of the proper ordering of images. In the first sentence the initial clause sets the background; the next clause introduces a clear and active image; and the third clause enacts the boat’s wake subsiding behind it: “curved away” is a flourish ending both the sentence and the image.

The second sentence is part of an action sequence, with the double-paired sprung rhythm of “Cóld hánds and stíff límbs” getting things off to an appropriately slow start and “death” acting both as a tip to the grim arrows and a terribly fitting end-point to the thought of the sentence itself.

And a final example, a beautiful description of the Aurora Borealis:

"Great swathes of incandescence trembled and parted like angels’ wings beating; cascades of luminescent glory tumbled down invisible crags to lie in swirling pools or hang like cast waterfalls."

To begin with, “parted like angel’s wings” is a decent image for the northern lights. But notice that the lights didn’t just part like angels wings: they “trembled and parted like angel’s wings beating.” The words don’t just describe the image: they mimic or enact the image’s movement. And to cap it off, because you expect a waterfall to lead down to something, the sentence literally leaves you hanging, the same way the lights are shown to hang in the sky.

Not bad, for children's literature. ( )
1 vote weedlit | Jul 16, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 497 (next | show all)
As always, Pullman is a master at combining impeccable characterizations and seamless plotting, maintaining a crackling pace to create scene upon scene of almost unbearable tension. This glittering gem will leave readers of all ages eagerly awaiting the next installment of Lyra's adventures.
added by Shortride | editPublishers Weekly

» Add other authors (27 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Philip Pullmanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Astrologo, MarinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bützow, HeleneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Beck, IanIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brooks, TerryIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nielsen, CliffCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rohmann, EricCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Torrescasana, AlbertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tutino, AlfredoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Into this wild abyss,
The womb of nature and perhaps her grave,
Of neither sea, not shore, nor air, nor fire,
But all these in their pregnant causes mixed
Confusedly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless the almighty maker them ordain,
His dark materials to create more worlds,
Into this wild abyss the wary fiend
Stood on the brink of hell and looked a while,
Pondering his voyage...
-- John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book II
First words
Lyra and her dæmon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.
We are all subject to the fates. But we must all act as if we are not...or die of despair.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
'The Golden Compass' was originally published in Britain, Australia and elsewhere as 'Northern Lights'
Publisher's editors
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Original language
Book description
In a universe somewhat like our own, children are beginning to disappear from cities around England. For Lyra Belacqua, a half-wild orphan girl living at Jordan College, Oxford, the kidnappings are just another excuse for games, battles and tall stories - until her best friend Roger is reported missing. Vowing to rescue him, Lyra embarks upon a journey to the savage North, where physicists and theologians alike are conducting controversial research into the nature of something known only as 'Dust'. Apart from her friends the gyptians, her only guide is a curious golden instrument called an alethiometer. If she is to survive her ordeal, she will have to learn to interpret its cryptic and peculiar messages.

AR 7.1, Pts 19.0
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0440418321, Paperback)

Some books improve with age--the age of the reader, that is. Such is certainly the case with Philip Pullman's heroic, at times heart-wrenching novel, The Golden Compass, a story ostensibly for children but one perhaps even better appreciated by adults. The protagonist of this complex fantasy is young Lyra Belacqua, a precocious orphan growing up within the precincts of Oxford University. But it quickly becomes clear that Lyra's Oxford is not precisely like our own--nor is her world. For one thing, people there each have a personal daemon, the manifestation of their soul in animal form. For another, hers is a universe in which science, theology, and magic are closely allied:
As for what experimental theology was, Lyra had no more idea than the urchins. She had formed the notion that it was concerned with magic, with the movements of the stars and planets, with tiny particles of matter, but that was guesswork, really. Probably the stars had daemons just as humans did, and experimental theology involved talking to them.
Not that Lyra spends much time worrying about it; what she likes best is "clambering over the College roofs with Roger the kitchen boy who was her particular friend, to spit plum stones on the heads of passing Scholars or to hoot like owls outside a window where a tutorial was going on, or racing through the narrow streets, or stealing apples from the market, or waging war." But Lyra's carefree existence changes forever when she and her daemon, Pantalaimon, first prevent an assassination attempt against her uncle, the powerful Lord Asriel, and then overhear a secret discussion about a mysterious entity known as Dust. Soon she and Pan are swept up in a dangerous game involving disappearing children, a beautiful woman with a golden monkey daemon, a trip to the far north, and a set of allies ranging from "gyptians" to witches to an armor-clad polar bear.

In The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman has written a masterpiece that transcends genre. It is a children's book that will appeal to adults, a fantasy novel that will charm even the most hardened realist. Best of all, the author doesn't speak down to his audience, nor does he pull his punches; there is genuine terror in this book, and heartbreak, betrayal, and loss. There is also love, loyalty, and an abiding morality that infuses the story but never overwhelms it. This is one of those rare novels that one wishes would never end. Fortunately, its sequel, The Subtle Knife, will help put off that inevitability for a while longer. --Alix Wilber

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:03:41 -0400)

(see all 10 descriptions)

Accompanied by her daemon, Lyra Belacqua sets out to prevent her best friend and other kidnapped children from becoming the subject of gruesome experiments in the Far North.

(summary from another edition)

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