Northern Lights
Northern Lights

Philip Pullman

Cover artist

David Scutt and Philip Pullman

Publication information
  • Scholastic UK
  • Alfred A. Knopf (US)
Release date

July 1995

Preceded by

Once Upon a Time in the North

Followed by

The Subtle Knife

"They will chase you beyond the ends of the earth..."
—Official tagline[src]

Northern Lights is the first novel in the His Dark Materials fantasy trilogy by the British writer Philip Pullman. First published in 1995, the novel won the Carnegie Medal, and other prizes and awards, for children's fiction in the UK in 1995.[1]

Lead quote

Into this wild abyss,
The womb of nature and perhaps her grave,
Of neither sea, nor shore, nor air, nor fire,
But all these in their pregnant causes mixed
Confusedly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless the almighty maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more worlds,
Into this wild abyss the wary fiend
Stood on the brink of Hell and looked a while,
Pondering his voyage...

John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book II

This quote precedes the table of contents and title page of the book. It provides the source of the series title His Dark Materials.


Nl 01

To begin with, the readers of Northern Lights meet an eleven year girl, Lyra Belacqua. She is an orphan and is growing up within Jordan College, Oxford. Very soon, the readers understand that Lyra's Oxford is not like our real world Oxford. It is a world in which science, theology and magic get intertwined to create a distinct environment unfamiliar to our world. The idea is that many different parallel universes, or worlds, exist. Moreover, in Lyra's World, every one has a personal dæmon which is an integral part of each individual, or to make it simple, their soul. It is a manifestation of it, like an incarnation of some sort.

Lyra spends her time happy and carefree with her friend, Roger, a kitchen boy — they roam around the streets of Oxford, wage "wars" with other children, including the Gyptians' children, and indulge in similar fun things. Soon, life takes a serious turn when she and her dæmon, Pantalaimon, prevent an assassination bid on Lord Asriel and also overhear a secret conversation about the power of Dust, a mysterious entity. Around this time, children start disappearing very mysteriously — they just vanish with the involvement of Gobblers. The disappearance of the children soon spreads far and wide beyond the confines of Oxford. Even Roger, Lyra's friend disappears. Before this, however, Lyra meets a beautiful woman named Mrs. Coulter who has a monkey dæmon. Lyra is awed by her and soon goes with her to become her assistant to go to the North. Before leaving, the Master of Jordan gives Lyra a golden compass called an alethiometer, or truth measure, and tells Lyra she needs to keep it private and needs to learn how to read it herself. When parting with Jordan College, she realizes that Roger is missing.

When with Mrs. Coulter, Lyra is pampered and learns about things like make-up, fashion, and manners. Pan warns Lyra that Mrs. Coulter is treating her just as a pet and will not take her North. Lyra ignores him. Together, Lyra and Mrs. Coulter plan a cocktail party. On the day of the party, Mrs. Coulter asks Lyra to take off her handbag in which she was keeping the golden compass safe. Lyra refuses and this leads to a confrontation in which Lyra finds out the true personality of Mrs. Coulter. When guests arrive, Lyra realizes Pan was right as she is shown around the room. She also finds out that Mrs. Coulter heads the General Oblation Board, or in other words, the Gobblers which are a part of the Magisterium, or Church. Lyra and Pan talk to plan an escape. While Lyra is throwing on a jacket and packing the alethiometer, Pan watches. When he says the coast is clear, Lyra runs. Not knowing the streets of London, she soon gets lost, and near a bridge she is captured by men with throwing nets. Lyra and Pan then are saved by the Gyptians, who hide her away from the forces of the Church.

At a Roping, or meeting of the Gyptians, Lyra and Pan learn that the Gyptians are taking a boat to rescue the children at Bolvanger. Lyra demands to go along, and in time, is taken.

When Lyra reaches Bolvanger, she discovers the mission that the General Oblation Board are on: to take away people's dæmons. A human being and their dæmon share an extremely powerful link, so powerful that humans and their dæmons can only move a few yards away from each other. Tampering with this link is considered taboo, so extreme that seeing a severed person (which, in Lyra's world is a person without their dæmon) is like murder in our world. A dæmon's purpose is to represent your mood. When the person is a child, their dæmon can settle in any form, depending on the person's mood. When the child reaches adolescence, the dæmon settles into one form, representing the person's true nature, and personality. For a rare attempt to remove a person from the dæmon, for many years, simply stretching the link so that the link broke (extremely painful for both the human and the dæmon) was the only option. Later, the General Oblation Board made a guillotine to separate the human from the dæmon.

Lyra eavesdrops on a conversation between Mrs. Coulter and several Bolvangar doctors, where she finds out about a new separation device. Mrs. Coulter expresses keeness to see the device in action before she retires to her quarters. Alone, the doctors discuss Mrs. Coulter, describing her as ghoulish and how she likes to see the children and daemon pulled apart. Lyra makes a noise of disgust from the air vent she is hiding in. Immediately, she is found and pulled down from her hiding place. In an attempt to subdue Lyra, the Bolvangar orderly insists she is taken to the device without Mrs. Coulter's knowledge. Lyra and Pan are faced with the true horror of nearly being separated forever, Lyra crying in agony at the silver guillotine. Mrs. Coulter enters the room on hearing the commotion and demands to know what is happening. She then recognises Lyra.

Mrs. Coulter's daemon tugs Pan out of the cage, as Lyra falls out herself. Pan runs to Lyra, just as Mrs. Coulter picks her up and carries her from the chamber, down a corridor. She closes the door to her quarters and after removing Lyra's coat and shoes, she tucks her into bed. She runs her hand through Lyra's hair, before asking her how she got to Bolvangar. Lyra falls straight to sleep.

Film adaptation

See also: The Golden Compass (film)

The book was adapted into a film under the US name The Golden Compass. The film was released on 5 December 2007 in UK and on 7 December in the US. Chris Weitz was the Director and Dakota Blue Richards, Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig starred in the film.

Notes and references

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