A quest tale with a difference, Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights explores the essence of one’s personality and the inherent human yearning for companionship, whatever journey a person embarks upon in life. The quest is undertaken by Lyra Belacqua, a girl from Oxford who encounters giant bears, witches and the deceptively charming villainess, Mrs Coulter as she bids to rescue the masses of children who have been snatched from their homes by the aforementioned Coulter’s notorious gang of ‘gobblers’.
But the most intriguing aspect of the story lies not in Lyra’s journey itself, but rather in the presence of her animalised daemon Pantalaimon, who plays the role of metamorphosing mascot throughout Lyra’s journey. Like Lyra, most other human characters also possess a daemon, which are said to be representative of each person’s soul. With each daemon unique to its owner, each character’s relationship with their daemon serves to highlight not only the intricacy of every human life, but the fundamental human desire for companionship; as the loss of one’s daemon is viewed by Pullman’s characters as a fate bleaker than death.
The concept of needing if not someone, then something to reach a true state of self-expression, is explored further through giant bear Iorek Brynison’s relationship with his armour; with the bear describing himself as ‘nothing’ if devoid of his armour. This serves to underline the idea continually relayed throughout the book that however mighty a person may appear, if deprived of company and the possessions fundamental to their way of the life, their true power or potential may never be realised.
Away from the themes at the heart of the story, Pullman’s world, like all the greatest fantasy lands, is both enchanting and labyrinthian. Although in spite of the level of complexity of immanent in Pullman’s world it never eels intimidating, with the more elaborate details concerning lands such as Bolvangar and Svalbard being divulged in a paced manner that makes the ingestion of such information not only bearable but enthralling.
A truly unique fantasy story that is excellently paced and brought to life masterfully by Pullman, Northern Lights is thoroughly deserving of its status as a modern masterpiece.
Rating: 4.5/5 Pullman’s world is dazzling, unique and a pleasure to dive into.