Northern Lights Cover

Northern Lights

Philip Pullman

A young girl and her metamorphosizing fauna-counterpart go on an expedition across the breadth of her world to save her guardian, with the help of an instrument infused with magic: a golden compass.

You cannot change what you are, only what you do.

The multi-award-winning novel is the first book in Pullman’s highly acclaimed His Dark Materials trilogy. Lyra is twelve years old and has spent her life as a resident of Jordan College, Oxford, under the tutelage of the professors and with her daemon: an animal embodiment and part of Lyra, Pantalimon. After foiling a failed assassination attempt on her cold and distant uncle, Lord Asriel, Lyra becomes enwrapped in the affairs of the world outside her college, a world in which children go mysteriously missing from the streets. She is gifted an alethiometer, a rare golden instrument which, when interpreted correctly, produces the answer to any question it is asked. This new tool proves valuable on her voyage to the north pole were Lord Asriel has been imprisoned. Along the way she faces new enemies, acquires companions, and starts to uncover the secrets of this form of matter known simply as dust.

Northern Lights is a novel that is sure to live up to its accolades. It has become a modern classic in children’s and YA fiction, and is beloved by all ages. Pullman crafts a diverse multitude of characters with varied talents and abilities and his ingenious concept of daemons is a delightful novelty that has spurned its own fan base. Lyra is an ideal central character as she is good-hearted, intuitive and cunning, her childlike naiveté is great as the audience learn about her world along with her. The writing is tailored to its intended young audience however it isn’t so simplistic as to dissuade older readers. Pullman provides additional snippets of detail to help the reader understand the world that he has constructed.

Why do you think the majority of daemons are a different gender to their human counterpart?

Do you think Pullman is playing on real life situations when he describes daemons as able to change form easily when young but in a fixed state when at adulthood? Is this perhaps a comment on the adaptability of children, the notion that they can be anything but when reaching adulthood there is less potential?

Despite the child protagonist, Northern Lights arguably deals with adult themes such as death, violence and crime. Do you think that Northern Lights is aimed at children or is it more fitting for a teen/adult audience?

Pullman chose to combine fantastical elements with a real-life setting. What effect does this have on the reader, and why do you think Pullman chose to do this rather than invent a whole new world from scratch?

The character of Lyra has a complex background. It is revealed that she comes from separated parents who hide their true relationship from her and also neglect and abuse her. What message do you think the novel sends out to those from broken homes?

How did you find end of the Northern Lights? Were Lord Asriel’s actions a complete surprise?

How does Pullman build a sinister nature in the character of Mrs Coulter?


Lyra is captured and taken to the experimental facility that is run by the Gobblers. Whilst there, she finds out that they are conducting experiments: separating children from their daemons. Having found her spying, they start to perform the procedure on her but Mrs Coulter arrives as it is being performed and manages to stop them in time. Lyra stages a mutiny, which results in a brief battle between the Gobblers and the Gyptians who are aided by witches. While the children manage to escape, Lyra flees in Lee Scoresby’s balloon with Iorek Byrnison. However, the balloon crashes in bear territory and Lyra is escorted by the panserbjørn to the palace of their usurper King, Iofur Raknison.

After being imprisoned, Lyra uses her cunning to gain an audience with Iofur Raknison. Knowing that he wants a daemon of his own, she suggests that she is the daemon of Iorek Brynison, leaving Iofur Brynison enraged. Lyra convinces Iofur Raknison that her allegiances could change provided that he is able to kill Iorek Brynison in single combat, then she would be free to become his daemon. Knowing that Iorek Brynison is on his way and seeing how strong Iofur Raknison appears, Lyra becomes worried that her lie may mean certain death for Iorek. Upon arrival with Roger, Iorek is grateful to Lyra when she informs him of her actions – he states that his one wish is to fight Iofur Raknison one on one and reclaim his throne and that Lyra has done him a great service. Combat ensues between both bears – it proves to be a bloody and difficult fight, however Iorek is ultimately the champion as the battle proves fatal for Iofur.

Now honoured as King, Iorek is in control of the panserbjørn and permits Lyra to see Lord Asriel who has been imprisoned by the panserbjørn in a secluded dwelling. Iorek, Roger and Lyra go to free Lord Asriel from his captivity but their visit proves to be unwelcomed. Lord Asriel was content being held captive as it allowed him to continue his research. Ungrateful for Lyra’s actions, he views her as a silly child.

After staying with Lord Asriel overnight, Lyra awakens to learn that he has taken Roger and intends to use him as a means to open a bridge to another world by separating Roger from his daemon which will release a huge amount of energy. Lyra chases after them but Lord Asriel is successful in his attempts and Roger dies as a result of being separated from his daemon. Lyra follows Lord Asriel into a new world.

Pullman’s concept of daemons was partly inspired by classic artworks which featured humans posing with animals, such as Da Vinci’s ‘Lady with an Ermine’.

The first volume of a prequel series to His Dark Materials was released in 2017.

Each of the drawings at the start of each chapter were illustrated by Pullman himself.

Northern Lights won the Carnegie medal in 1995 and was publicly voted the ‘Carnegie of Carnegies’ in 2007.

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'Northern Lights' by Philip Pullman. I am not quite sure why it has taken me so long to get around to reading this novel, given its popularity and recommendations from friends for whom this book was a childhood favourite. It was @_wildethoughts_ whose numerous mentions of this book encouraged me to finally pick this up (it was waiting in my book pile since last year collecting dust) and delve into Lyra's journey to the Arctic, in search of her missing friend. Undoubtedly, one of the most riveting aspects of this novel is the concept of the animal daemon, the manifestation of an individual's spirit that provides itself a companion to the human for the duration of their life. Wrestling between a lioness and a spider (very misunderstood creatures), I finally settled on the decision that my animal daemon would take on the form of the lioness – fiercely loyal and independent. I am so fortunate to feel like a child over and over again when I read, realising that magic is everywhere – if you know where to look 👀🔮💫 _ #theranihasspoken #northernlights #philippullman #bookstagram #books

A post shared by 🦉🔮📚☕️ (@ranibronte) on

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