Rereading His Dark Materials: Northern Lights

In the run up to the release of La Belle Sauvage, Philip Pullman’s first book in The Book of Dust series, I am rereading His Dark Materials with the local Waterstones book group.

Check out what we talked about and thought about the books.

Obviously the first question was who had read this before? Our group had a mix of first-timers, rereaders and those who had dipped in or entirely forgotten the story (yes, that was me).

So is rereading valuable? Other than refreshing my memory we all agreed that it brought something new to the book to read it again at a different point in your life – your understanding and interpretations change.

The things we loved about the book were no surprise at all; Lyra as a heroine, the fantasy world, the daemons. We loved how Lyra is strong and capable but a well-rounded character – she is still a child, and makes mistakes and often doesn’t understand what is going on around her. However, even over the course of the first book she develops so much moving from innocence to experience – clearly Pullman is inspired by Romantic poet William Blake, and this is seen again in his depiction of the church as an all controlling, totalitarian entity that allows children to be stolen for experimentation. We realised that since the release of this book real world events have made the story very relevant and contentious.

The concept of the daemon – this time drawing on biblical and religious connotations – as a physical manifestation for sin is incredibly interesting as before Lyra learns this we see it as natural and witness her close bond to Pantalaimon. In her comparisons of Pan to Iorek’s armour we begin to see Pan as her soul and soon learn that children can’t survive without their daemons.

I particularly love that the book is not black and white in terms of good and evil, or right and wrong. Lyra learns her mother is committing these horrendous experiments under the guise of religion and spends much of the book pursuing her father to rescue him and take him the alethiometer in the belief he will help her fight against this. On the contrary, he is so obsessed with his pursuit of scientific discovery that he commits similar atrocities. Lyra is left confused about the politics and ambitions of her parents and other adults around her, not to mention the fantastical clans of witches and armoured bears.

This world-building is so subtle – mentioned incidentally, as Lyra herself moves around the world and discovers things, rather than pages of dense narrative. this makes it easier to read and all the more realistic and enjoyable as we discover things through Lyra’s eyes. It also has the effect of normalising some aspects such as the daemons which would otherwise seem incredible.

I loved rereading this book and we could have talked about it for hours. I can’t wait to revisit the rest of the series before the release of the new book!

Are you rereading His Dark Materials? Let me know what you think!

You can also check to see if there’s a Pullman book group near you on the Waterstones website.

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