His Dark Materials is an interesting book trilogy from author Phillip Pullman consisting of the titles The Golden Compass (or outside of the U.S. Northern Lights) , The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. The first book in the series follows Lyra Belacqua, and her journey to the arctic north. Lyra lives in a parallel world to ours where the landscape is the same, but the rules, people, and governance is different. Here, humans have sentient animal like companions called dæmons, physical manifestations of their soul. Children’s dæmons shapeshift until the child hits puberty, when the animal settles on a final form. Lyra’s dæmon is named Pantalaimon, or Pan.
The first act of the book is slow and boring. This isn’t a negative strike against the book. Much of the beginning, as all good stories should be, is concerned with set up. It isn’t until act 2 when Lyra leaves London that the story really takes off. The story starts with Lyra, anticipating her Uncle Asriel’s arrival at Jordan College, hides in a wardrobe to spy on his lecture to several scholars. Here she learns about “Dust”, an particle that is attracted more to adults than children. He shows the scholars images of a cityscape visible through the Northern Lights above the Arctic, proving the existence of other worlds. Asriel is looking to secure funding for his research into this, which the governing body, the Magisterium, considers heresy.
Eventually Lyra leaves the college to live with a woman named Mrs Coulter. Before leaving she is gifted four-handed pocket watch device called an alethiometer, a truth teller, to give to her uncle. Rumors spread of a group called the Gobblers, kidnapping children throughout England. The rumors are given credibility when Lyra’s friend Roger goes missing. It’s eventually revealed the Mrs. Coulter is in command of the Gobblers. Lyra runs away, traveling to the Arctic to hopefully find Roger, and her uncle.
I think the story really picks up when she arrives in the Arctic. First she meets on of my favorite characters, Iorek Byrnison, an outcast prince of the panserbjørne, a race of armored bears. His armor, akin to his soul, was stolen from him by the villagers. Now he is a slave. Lyra finds and returns his armor, freeing him.
The second act also contains one of the most heart tugging plot twists I’ve ever read. I won’t spoil here not only because it’s something that should be experienced, but simply stating it would completely deaden the impact. There are many twists that could easily be transfered to real life; murder, theft, betrayal, etc. The other type of plot twist takes the established rules of the world and breaks them. I enjoy this much more as they completely pull you into the story. While they can be spoiled just like anything else, they couldn’t really be understood unless without context.
There was a theatrical release in 2007. Despite having Daniel Craig, it wasn’t very good. Read the book.
“I will serve you in your campaign until you have a victory.” – Iorek Byrnison