I was only a few chapters into the first book of this young adult trilogy, His dark materials, when I realised I had the perfect reading situation. I had two and two thirds of a book to read, plus another thick, thick book for the prequel – a wonderfully written, carefully crafted fantasy world to live in for the next little while.
As C. S. Lewis says – You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.
The first book of the trilogy, Northern Lights, introduces us to Lyra, a young orphan girl who lives with the Scholars in an alternative Oxford. While there are similarities with the Oxford we know, we know it’s an alternative world because all humans have their own daemons. I found the daemons to be one of the most fascinating aspects of Pullman’s world. Daemons take the form of an animal, and once children have grown into teenagers, the daemons stay the same form. Until then, children’s daemons can change their form at will. Humans and their daemons can talk to each other, and can’t move too far away form each other.
Lyra is given a special instrument called an alethiometer which uses layers of symbols to tell the truth. Only a select few can read an alethiometer, and there are only six in existence. The Master of Oxford tells Lyra to learn how to read it for herself once she has been taken to live and work with Mrs Coulter, a fascinatingly beautiful woman with a golden monkey as her daemon.
But Mrs Coulter proves to be as confusing and sinister as she is beautiful, and Lyra escapes when she realises she might end up as one of the kidnapped children who have been taken from Oxford. Lyra’s quest to understand the alethiometer and to find her friends Roger and Billy who have been kidnapped by the Oblation Board brings her into contact with the gyptians, who support her.
The second book in the trilogy, The subtle knife, introduces Lyra to Will, who climbs through a window into Lyra’s world and becomes the important knife bearer. The third book, The amber spyglass, brings together all the characters, their desires and quests.
The prequel, The book of dust, tells the story of Lyra as a baby and the people who protected her from those who wanted to kill her, and is equally satisfying.
Miss 11 read the first book, started the second, then decided she wanted to read something lighter. More developed readers at 11 or 12 will thrive on this series, and younger teen readers will enjoy it. There is action, a quest theme, high stakes, the continual problem of who to trust and an amazing fantasy world with witches, talking bears, angels, humans and their daemons.
As a family, we are watching the Lord of the Rings movies over the school holidays. Even though the worlds are quite different, the quest to fight the darkness means high stakes in Tolkien’s world as well as in Phillip Pullman’s world.
I’d love to know your favourite fantasy series for children or adults – give me a recommendation, please!