Before ‘The Book of Dust’ came out I had said to myself that I wanted to re-read ‘His Dark Materials’. The plan was to read them then buy ‘The Book of Dust’…but I sort of failed. ‘The Book of Dust’ came out and I hadn’t even started ‘The Northern Lights’ (Or the Golden Compass if you’re an American person). I tried not the buy ‘The Book of Dust’ but I didn’t manage that either! So since ‘The Book of Dust’ came out I have been, with the occasional break, making my way through ‘His Dark Materials’. I wanted to not write a review as such, because of it being a re-read, but to sort of get some thoughts down.
I discovered ‘The Northern Lights’ around about the same time as I was discovering Harry Potter, I want to say 1998- I had got ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ the Christmas before. I guess 1998 was a good bookish year for me! Because these were two amazing books, and two fantasy books, that I discovered around about the same time I always compared them in my head and they became sort of linked to one another.
‘His Dark Materials’ could have easily done what Harry Potter did. At the time I prefered ‘Northern Lights’ to ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ and I think the series as a whole are certainly at least comparable in the sense of enjoyment. Harry Potter became more important because it was more than a book after a while, it was a part of my life, but even now I would say as a series in itself ‘His Dark Materials’ is better.
The Northern Lights
This one has always been my favourite, which makes it quite unique as a start of a series, because the first book is often about establishing background and story foundations. In fact one thing I would say about the series as a whole is that each book could be read independently, even though they do link together.
I really love Lyra in this book. She’s just a normal kid, pretty much. She’s not some angel, or a nightmare, and her motivations are somehow realistic. It’s not about saving the world or some sense of bigger purpose, she just cares about her friend, and she wants to visit the north. For a kid yes she ends up doing some amazing things, but actually she’s still very much a child. I suppose you can say she’s an unlikely heroine because she was never trying to be one. And she’s relatable because she’s so ‘normal’.
Despite this being the book of the series that I’ve read the most I was surprised of how much I’d forgotten. At times I thought I was being smart when reading- but was maybe actually just remembering at the back of my mind somewhere. It doesn’t help that the other half kept telling me thing that were going to happen because his own memories of the book were different!
One of these things which has been said about ‘His Dark Materials’ is that it’s anti-Christian. When I was younger I would have defended this as being wrong because Lyra’s world is a different world. Now I read ‘The Northern Lights’ and see the parallels. Lyra’s church does have a certain Catholic like element, the beauty and extravagance, the idea of a powerful church leader. From within that’s not my experience of Catholicism, but it does have those elements. Does that make the books anti-christian? I’m not so sure. I think, at least in this book, it’s more against the misuse of religion. The idea that by doing bad things you are somehow doing something for God. Now the crusades would be criticised, but in their time people saw it as helping spread the ‘true’ religion. Or if you want a more modern version, ISIS is apparently muslim- but most muslims don’t support ISIS. In later books I might change my view of how ‘His Dark Materials’ might be anti-christian, but we will get to that later