By Philip Pullman
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Northern Lights, known as The Golden Compass in North America, is the first novel in English novelist Philip Pullman‘s His Dark Materials trilogy. Published in 1995, the fantasy novel The Golden Compass is set in a universe parallel to our own and tells of Lyra Belacqua’s journey north in search of her missing friend, Roger Parslow, and her imprisoned uncle, Lord Asriel, who has been conducting experiments with a mysterious substance known as Dust. Winner of the Carnegie Medal in 1996, the novel has been adapted into a Hollywood feature film, released in 2007 as The Golden Compass along with an accompanying video game. Both the trilogy and the film adaptation have faced controversy, as some critics assert that the story presents a negative portrayal of organized religion and religion in general.
The story The Golden Compass starts when Lyra Belacqua — a supposedly orphaned 11-year-old girl residing at Jordan College, Oxford — secretly enters and hides in the forbidden ‘Retiring Room’ in the college, despite resistance from her dæmon, Pantalaimon — an animal-formed, shape-shifting manifestation of her soul. Hidden behind an armchair, Lyra and Pan (her daemon) see the Master of the college putting poison into wine, intending to assassinate the visiting Lord Asriel, Lyra’s uncle. Lord Asriel later enters after the Master of the college has left and Lyra, having by now hidden in a wardrobe, bursts out and immediately throws the glass out of his hand. Rather than punishing her for being where she should not, he allows her to stay hidden if she will spy on the Master at his upcoming meeting. When the meeting commences, Lord Asriel shows the resident scholars and the Master pictures of the Aurora Borealis (the ‘Northern Lights’ of the title) and the mysterious elementary particles called Dust. Shortly after, Lord Asriel travels to the Arctic North, and Lyra continues her studies at the college.
After the meeting, the Master and the librarian discuss Lord Asriel’s journey to the north and allude to another invisible and untouchable world…
His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman: When the ‘Gobblers’, who have become a recent urban legend, kidnap her friend Roger, a kitchen boy from the college, Lyra vows to rescue him. But instead an important visitor, a woman named Mrs. Marisa Coulter, offers to take Lyra away from Jordan College to become her apprentice. Lyra assents, but before she leaves, the Master of the college entrusts to her (with the condition that she keep it absolutely secret) a priceless object previously given to the College by Lord Asriel: an alethiometer. Resembling a golden, many-handed pocket-watch, it can answer any question asked by a skilled user. Although presently unable to read or understand its complex symbols, Lyra takes it with her to Mrs. Coulter’s flat. Soon after, Lyra becomes suspicious of Mrs. Coulter’s motives when the woman’s dæmon searches Lyra’s room for the alethiometer.
At a cocktail party hosted by Mrs. Coulter, Lyra discovers by eavesdropping that Mrs. Coulter heads an organization known as the ‘General Oblation Board’ and that this board is in fact, the ‘Gobblers’ who have been kidnapping children. Horrified, Lyra flees Mrs. Coulter’s flat during the party.
While escaping from the ‘Gobblers’, Lyra is rescued by the Gyptians (nomadic, canal-boat-dwelling people) who afterwards reveal that Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter are Lyra’s father and mother. She also learns that many children like Roger have been disappearing from among the Gyptians, and that the Gyptians are planning an expedition to the north to rescue them. During her time with the Gyptians, Lyra intuitively begins to learn how to operate the alethiometer.
On a stop in Trollesund, Lyra meets a sapient armoured bear called Iorek Byrnison. Iorek is an exiled bear prince who is paid for his work in spirits, a considerably dishonorable job for a panserbjørn. However, the villagers had taken his armour, which is comparable to a dæmon for him, binding him to his work. Lyra uses her alethiometer to aid Iorek in reclaiming his armour, thereby enlisting his aid.
After departure from Trollesund, the Gyptians and Lyra continue north to the destination of Bolvangar, where they believe the Gobblers are keeping the children. On the way, Lyra stops at a village in response to her alethiometer readings, looking for a child. She finds a boy, Tony Makarios, who had been separated from his dæmon, Ratter. Lyra then realizes that “intercision” carried out by the Gobblers is actually a process that severs the tie that binds children to their dæmons, effectively removing their soul. Tony dies within the day, and the group continues on after burning the body… (Summary by Wikipedia)
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