A novel written by Philip Pullman. Ostensibly, a children's book as evidenced by the publisher's efforts to market it as one, Northern Lights improves with the age of the reader. Set in a fantasy world where each human has a personal daemon, the physical manifestation of the person's soul. Religion, Science, and Magic are all closely related in this world. The protagonist, Lyra Belacqua, is a precocious orphan in the hands of an esteemed college, though her journeys take her far from there. Throughout the novel, Lyra uncovers a plot to enter a world outside her own through the sacrifice of children to Religion and Science. Rather heavy themes for children, I would say. The first novel in a trilogy entitled "His Dark Materials".

This novel is, in my opinion, rather excellent, because it doesn't use the fantasy elements to its own advantage. The realism of characters is more important that the setting it occurs in. In the end, this is a very rare novel that doesn't act arrogant in its own worldview, which makes other similar stories, such as C.S. Lewis's fictional works fail in their efforts to grasp the mind.

The two sequels, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, continue the story of Lyra and her friends and enemies.

The first novel in the His Dark Materials trilogy, this novel was published in the US as The Golden Compass in 1995 and followed by The Subtle Knife in 1997 and The Amber Spyglass in 2000.

Although sold as children's books, these are certainly aimed at children old enough to resent being called 'child'. This is for the Harry Potter fan's older sibling. And the fantasy elements are so far removed from the genre favourites of cloaks, swords and dragons, that no adult would need blush at reading this in public.
Northern Lights is a terrific fantasy book written in 1995 by British novelist Philip Pullman aimed at children but can be enjoyed by all. It should be enjoyed by Harry Potter fans, but it is darker and has greater depth and charm. In America it was published as The Golden Compass (more and less by accident) but you can find more informative write-ups here.

Northern Lights is also a traditional song known to generations of Aberdonians. Generally sung either when approaching Aberdeen and the first lights of the city can be seen when returning from the south, or when two or more Aberdonians are out drinking anywhere else.

Here are the words...

When I was a lad, a tiny wee lad, my mother said to me,
"Come see the Northern Lights my boy, they're bright as they can be."
She called them the heavenly dancers, merry dancers in the sky,
I'll never forget that wonderful sight, they made the heavens bright.

The Northern Lights of Aberdeen are what I long to see
I've been a wand'rer all of my life and many a sight I've seen.
God speed the day when I'm on my way to my home in Aberdeen.

I've wandered in many far-off lands, and travelled many a mile,
I've missed the folk I've cherished most, the joy of a friendly smile.
It warms up the heart of the wand'rer the clasp of a welcoming hand.
To greet me when I return, home to my native land.

The Golden Compass (In the UK, published as Northern Lights)
by Philip Pullman
Book 1 of the His Dark Materials trilogy

Paperback: 399 pages
Publisher: Yearling; May 22, 2001
ISBN: 0440418321

Although Philip Pullman has primarily been an author of children's books, his Dark Materials trilogy is a work worthy of going toe-to-toe with adult literature heavyweights. Based on John Milton's Paradise Lost, it re-interprets the myth of Adam and Eve and their subsequent banishment from the Garden of Eden because of Original Sin. Casting two young children on the cusp of maturity in the primary roles, Pullman manages to weave a complex and compelling narrative dealing with such universal and adult themes as the nature of evil and what it means to grow up, forsaking childhood innocence for adulthood and all it brings, both the bitter and the sweet.

In this first book, readers are introduced to Lyra, a girl being raised by the scholars of Jordan College in Oxford. It quickly becomes apparent that this world, while very much like ours, is drastically different in many fundamental ways. Each person has a daemon, a companion familiar that appears at the instant of his or her birth and is a true and loyal friend until that person's death, at which time the daemon similarly expires. A child's daemon can shapechange into almost any animal, usually taking on a form that reflects the current mood of the child. When a child grows up, her daemon settles into a permanent shape and no longer changes. This form is usually indicative of the adult's basic nature. Most household servants have dog-shaped daemons for example.

Lyra is irrepressibly naughty and an accomplished liar but also fearless and loyal, qualities which are soon to be tested when her best friend Roger is abducted. He is not the only one. Children all over England are vanishing. The quest to save Roger will take Lyra and her daemon, Pantalaimon, across Europe, all the way to the far north where the adventurer, Lord Asriel, has gone to investigate what looks like a gash in the sky, revealing a gleaming city of shining towers and mysterious particles called "Dust" which seem to possess their own secret intelligence.

On the way, Lyra will learn of the terrible fate awaiting the missing children and their daemons as well as their connection to the enigmatic Dust. She will also fall afoul of the Church, which has grown into a mighty political institution, melding secular and spiritual into an authority that controls most of Europe. The Church has its own plans for the Dust.

Lyra will find not only enemies but friends as well. Among them, Mrs Coulter, a woman planning her own arctic expedition and with her own reasons for seeking out Lord Asriel. Lyra will have the help of Iorek Byrnison, a polar bear from the northern kingdom of bears, Svalbard, who becomes invincible once he dons the armour of his own crafting. The cast of wonderfully imaginative and lively characters also includes an American balloonist, a race of nomadic river people named gyptians and clans of northen witches who fly through the skies on branches of cloud pine. To help her find her way, Lyra has the alethiometer, the titular golden compass. This enigmatic instrument, somehow also dependent on the Dust, has the power to answer any question but there are only a few people in the world, of which Lyra is one, who can interpret its answers.

When at last, Lyra comes face-to-face with Lord Asriel, she learns that her journey is only just beginning. A great war is about to begin and though Lyra is unaware of the pivotal role she is to play in the future of mankind, there are other forces at work who have no qualms about bending her to their own ends, to reshape human destiny in their desired image.

Why You Should Read It
Pullman writes in a very clean, easy-to-understand style, which helps communicate his very grown-up ideas to a young readership. While you will find this book and the rest of His Dark Materials in the children's section of major bookstores, it is a pretty adult tale. Characters die and there is even a vague reference to genital mutilation in the trilogy's third book, The Amber Spyglass. Pullman also discusses religion and presents a very negative view of Christianity in this trilogy, warning of the dangers of blind faith and obeying authority without question. It is certainly not for the very young. At the same time, it is refreshing to see a writer who treats children as rational, thinking beings capable of dealing with serious concepts.

This is also a gripping story. Lyra is a vibrant, interesting heroine. At heart, she's a coarse street urchin trying to figure out her place in the world. She realises that at times, adults really do not know best and may in fact be the enemy. She has to rely on her own wits and occasionally, her knack for lying if she wants to survive. She will always have Pantalaimon though, to act has her conscience, to advise her and keep her out of trouble. Pullman manages to create a world that is so close to our mundane one yet so fantastical that I never for a moment doubted the existence of a land peopled with intelligent armour-wearing bears. I'm more than sick and tired of people who rave about Harry Potter, about how it can be appreciated on so many levels by old and young alike and how it is the be-all and end-all of young people's fiction. Many of them have not even bothered to investigate the aisles of the children's section for themselves. If they had, they would certainly have discovered a wealth of well-written books for young folk and old folk alike, this one among them.

Little Jeanette sat on the lawn, staring upwards, mesmerized. The millions of magenta-coloured points of light exploded into a new image, this time of a flower, high in the Sunday night sky; slowly, like fireworks, they dissolved and reformed into a new image; Jeanette called to her father.

"Daddy, why does this man have four legs and arms?"

"Uh, I don't know honey." He yelled from the couch. Toronto was down a goal with a minute left, and just pulled their goalie. "It's, uh, uh,"

"Never mind!" called Jeanette, as a blue circle formed around the figure in the sky. She'd seen that picture before in her science textbook, and remembered the naughty bits were pixeled out. Da Vinci, that name appeared in her mind. But here he stood, in all his magenta glory, showing his manhood to all who could see.

Jeanette's father walked out onto the porch, grumpy; Toronto allowed not one but two empty net goals; typical. He released a beer belch, and looked up at the sky; a big magenta frank & beans greeted his curious eyes. So, he thought, it's still going on. He looked at Jeanette.

"OK little lady, I think it's bedtime for you!"

She looked up at him with pleading eyes; Universal Man had started to break up, and a new image was reforming in the night sky. "Please, daddy. Just a few more minutes?"

He looked back at the fridge. His wife had already gone to bed, and was probably asleep; he figured he could fit in one more beer without her noticing. "Alright, but ten more minutes! Then it's straight to bed with Jeanny!"

Jeanette looked up at him with a smile. "Thank you daddy!" And she looked back up at the sky, chin propped up on her hands. The image had morphed now, and changed colour to yellow. The tiny points of light lined up neatly and formed III.I.IIII.I.IIIII in the sky. Jeannie thought it looked like a bar code, and wished she had a laser scanner. Jerry, watching from behind the screen door, swore with derision under his breath.

Fucking idiots, don't they realize kids have school tomorrow!

He shuffled back to the couch and changed the channel to CNN, only to find their "guest experts" still didn't know fuck all, and rehashed the same information everybody had known for the last two days; no one knew where the lights had come from; no one knew how they were made. The only new bit of info, from NASA atronomer Neil Patrick, was that diffusion patterns suggested that the lights were in the upper stratosphere. At least. Astrologer Sylvia Browne weighed in with her typical gravitas that we were on the brink of a new interstellar intelligence which would move us all towards enlightenment. Which was all well and good, thought Jerry. But he had bills to pay, and creditors on his ass, so if interstellar intelligence included twenty six grand for debt clearance, he was all for it.

He heard Jeanette coo in delight from the porch; intrigued, he stepped back outside and saw, high in the sky, a blue circle with a yellow triangle inside; in bright green, the symbols III III sat inside the triangle. Thirty-three? What the hell is that supposed to mean?

"Jeanette, let's go, it's time for bed. You've had your ten minutes." Sternly, and with authority; the way he'd been raised.

"Awww, but"

"No buts. Get in here, now."

The tone in Jerry's voice suggested any appeals process was unlikely, and Jeanette reluctantly stood up and walked back into the house. She looked back at him with a serious look as she entered the bathroom to brush her teeth.

"Daddy, this is important."

"So is bedtime. Get to it!"

She closed the bathroom door, and heard the tap running. Good girl, he thought. Do as you're told.

The lights were off, and the rest of the house was either asleep or pretending to be; and with three-quarters of a beer left in his bottle, and a warm evening beckoning, Jerry went out to see for himself what all the fuss was about. He walked out onto the front porch and looked up; his neighbours were on their lawns, doing the same. Flickers of light from the high school yard gave away the students gathering there, setting a bonfire now for the second night in a row, smoking pot and fucking with wild abandon; for them apocalypse was upon them, at their tender young ages, with many earthly pleasures yet to explore, and no time like the present.

The points of light separated in the sky, and formed a rectangle; oohs and aaahs cooed from the rest of the street as the rectangle filled to form the back of an American dollar bill, green and white except for the eye in the pyramid, crimson red. His neighbours, both college professors, seemed particularly enthralled.

"Look at the eye! They're denouncing money! Great! Down with monetarism and capitalism, finally someone to show us the right way!" Yelled Marty Sorley, his wife cooing with approval. The image started changing, and he took off his thick, black-rimmed glasses to wipe the lenses.

"Easy for them to say", grumbled Jerry. A crumpled, dirty hundred sitting in his pocket constituted the family's food budget for the next week. He decided he'd had enough of this light show, went back inside, and closed and locked the front door. No telling who'd be up at all hours tonight. It was probably just some clever hoaxer, anyway. He recalled seeing on the news five years ago, some idiot who turned the water in theTrevi fountain blood red, and was hailed as a groundbreaking artist. Probably same idea here, some geek with too much time and too few girls on his hands programming some wild scheme to get famous.

Jerry wondered why they couldn't just get an honest job like regular people as he climbed into bed; his wife stirred from her sleep.

"mmm, Jerry, is that you?" Sleep choked her throat and her words only croaked through.

"Yes, honey, it's me."

"what were you doing?"

Jerry thought about it. "Leafs lost in overtime."

Pause. "Those dumb lights aren't still on, are they?"

"Yeah, Jeannie was out watching them tonight."

Grumbles. "I wish whoever was causing all this trouble would stop. Kids have school and we have work. Mmmm. I'm tired, I'm going back to sleep."

Jerry laid on his back. "Goodnight, Laura".


The next morning, both woke up with a start, unaccustomed to not rising with the alarm. The sun was streaming through their bedroom window, bathing the beige room in a warm glow. Panic quickly set in as neither of them had seen this on a weekday for some years now.

They both instinctively turned their heads towards their digital clock, and were both greeted with a blank burgundy display. Jerry turned towards Laura.

"The power must be out."

"I wonder what's going on? Could you go out and talk to the Sorleys, see if they have power?"

Jerry nodded, got up, and donned his navy terrycloth robe.

"Daddy, daddy!" Yelled Jeanette in the living room. "There's no school today! There's no power!"

"How do you know?" asked Jerry. He looked at the blank 52" flatscreen sitting like a paperweight in the living room.

"I don't know", replied Jeanette. "I just do."

"Well", said Jerry tersely, "better get ready just in case. I'm going to the Sorleys, and after that I'm driving you to school."

Jeanette looked at him with a determination he had not seen for some time. "There is NO school today. Not tomorrow, not ever."

"I don't care if you think school isn't coming back for a thousand years. Now get ready." He strode out onto the porch, and walked across his front lawn towards the Sorleys. Marty was sitting on the front porch, wearing a Burger King crown, a wide grin on his face.

"Hey Jerry! How's it going! Beautiful day out, eh?"

Jerry felt sour. "Do you know what's going on? We have no power, how about you?"

Marty looked at Jerry and broke out laughing. "Nope! The revolution will not be televised!"


"It's ok, man! You don't get it, but that's fine! OK!" He pulled out a fat joint from his pocket and lit it up. "Want some?"

"No, that's ok." This had not been informative. Jerry turned back towards his house. "Well, I guess I'll see you later, Marty."

Marty waved. "Bye Jerry!"

Laura met him in the kitchen. "Christ, I can't even make any coffee. So what did Marty say?"

"He, uh, didn't know what was going on."

"Well does he have power?"

"I don't think so."

Jeanette piped in. "He doesn't"

Laura looked at her tersely. "You need to get ready for school. Now go, get changed."

She walked back to her room, head hung in resignation. Truth never trumps power, she thought.

Twelve minutes later, Jeanette and Jerry were sitting in the cab of his truck, ready to back out of the driveway. Jerry was wearing his blue work shirt, with Jerry written in cursive in a white oval over his left breast. He remembered the pride he felt when he got his very own embroidered work shirt, twenty years ago. Those were heady times for a sheetmetal worker, when public works were still building new things, and when three generations of a family were still working in the same shop. But times changed, fast, and now this shit was happening. Christ, thought Jerry, looking into his rear view mirror. Is three squares and a roof too much to ask for without trouble?

"It is, daddy. Things are different now."

Jerry looked at Jeanette with equal parts comprehension and fear.

"Did you just read my mind?"

Jeanette paused for a second, collecting her thoughts. "Well, I guess. Not really. Not in words or anything. I just got a...feeling from you, is all. It's mostly yellow, with bits of red."

That was damn strange, for a Monday morning. Jerry thought it best to let it slide. "Ok, well, let's go, I'll drop you off at school on my way to work."

"You know, there-"

"Is no school. I get it. Well, we're going to swing by and make sure."

He pulled off of Meadowvale lane, wide as a country highway, onto the main arterial street, Brookdale Ave. The street was mainly empty, except for three military troop carriers careening down the wrong lane well in excess of posted speed limits. They swung past Jerry's truck, slowed down, then backed up, blocking him from the ave. The passenger door of one of them swung open, and a soldier yelled at them.

"What is your business here?"

"I'm just going to work, and my daughter here is going to school."

The soldier glanced at his buddy next to him, and then back at Jerry. "Sorry sir, all civilian traffic is closed today. Best go back home, take a day off." The driver was receiving a frantic message over the walkie talkie, and nodding with comprehension. The faint popping sound of automatic rifles echoed in the distance. A well-dressed man, sitting behind the driver, looked at Jeanette intently, then whispered something in the driver's ear; he had a large black dot on the side of his wrist.

"What's going on?" Asked Jerry, alarmed.

"Nothing, sir." Responded the 21-year old with authority. "Return to your home, immediately."

The truck accelerated down the avenue, wheels screeching.

"I told you so" said Jeanette as Jerry turned back home.

The rest of the day was spent in a state of semi-panic mixed with pervasive boredom. The three of them, the Mr. Jerry Martin family, sat around the table, suggesting entertainment options.

"Maybe we could watch-" started Laura

"No electricity."

"We could bake cookies then-"

"No electricity" repeated Jerry.

He looked at Jeanette, who sat at the table looking glum.

"Any suggestions from the peanut gallery?"

Nope. Suddenly, her eyes opened wide. "Mom! Duck!"

Laura looked at her, annoyed. "Duck? What do you mean, duck? I'm trying to think of some constructive suggestions here and you're just-"

A splash of broken glass from the living room window; simultaneously, Laura flew backwards from her chair, at the head of the table, and landed on her back on the floor. Jerry and Jeannie both stared at the nickel-sized hole in her forehead, in shock; neither could fully believe how fast the pool of crimson blood spread from the back of her head across the off-white linoleum. Jeanette looked seriously at Jerry;

“Daddy, he missed.”

The front door flew open; Marty Sorley was standing there, still wearing a forgotten crown; but said nothing. He looked in Jeanette's eyes for a moment, she looked back, and she got up from the table, shuffled past her father, still frozen in shock, and walked towards Marty.

"I'm sorry daddy, but...Mr. Sorley understands." She gave Jerry a hug. "We have to go, they're looking for people like us."

Jerry nodded, blankly. He calmly got up, walked toward Mr. Sorley who was looking at him with sympathy, and decked him in the face as hard as he could. He felt the delicate nasal bones giving way under his fist, and damn it felt good. He kicked Marty in the belly, who stumbled backwards onto the porch, and slammed the door in his face. Jeanette asked him why he did that.

“Look I don’t know what the fuck you’ve got or why you’re acting so weird, but you’re mine. Mine."

"Daddy, you used the f-word!"

"Fuck it. I’m in charge here, and so help me God I will be master of my domain! Now we’re going to get in the truck and-“ The door flew open again. Jerry spun around.

"Marty, I-" And he was staring right into the barrel of a military-issue rifle. The figure clad in black holding it ordered Jeanette to go with him; two more black-clad commandoes rushed in, grabbed her and threw her into the back of a windowless, black Ford Econoline; Marty was already sitting in the back, blood rushing down his nose, handcuffed to the bench. The third commando backed out of the house, rifle still pointed at Jerry, then closed the van door and drove off.

Jerry slumped down the wall and sat on the floor, master of no domain at all.

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