Christmas Reads: ‘The Northern Lights’ by Philip Pullman

By Shauna Lewis

Despite not being set at Christmas, The Northern Lights evokes the element of mystery and epic adventure which everyone can become enamoured with, at any time of the year. From transgressing universes in a Victorian setting to travelling to the Arctic and uncovering conspiracy, Philip Pullman’s critically acclaimed first novel in the His Dark Materials series makes the ideal Christmas read.

The tale follows Lyra and her daemon Pan, after overhearing a private discussion, she sets out to find out everything about “Dust”, of which she knows nothing. Children are disappearing, and when Mrs Coulter arrives, Lyra is given the opportunity to find out everything she wanted and experience the life for which she has always yearned. As she discovers witchcraft and redeems an armoured bear, she wanders through worlds and discovers a government plot which has deeper implications than anyone could ever realize.

The trilogy gives way to an interpretation of Paradise Lost and atheistic critique, despite being marketed towards children and young adults, it never talks down to its audience but allows them to take what they want from the work. Once Pullman’s underlying anti-religion motives are revealed, it makes for more nuanced reading but is still fascinating in all respects. Part of its appeal though is the mystery of Pullman’s intentions, even if certain parts are elusive, you can still become invested in the characters and question his authorial purpose. Banned widely across American schools because of its theological standpoint, it is perhaps not suitable for the extremely devout.

The Northern Lights acts in a similar fashion to Christmas, thoroughly distracting and all-encompassing, whilst everything else seems a little bit indistinct. Around the festive period and amongst religious celebrations, this could be a good time to question who and what we’re actually celebrating, and Pullman’s masterpiece will help you do just that.

Photograph (edited to add text): Giuseppe Milo via Flickr

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