44 of 49 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Northern Lights (His Dark Materials) (Paperback)
As a massive Harry Potter fan and a student of theology and religious studies I have put off reading Philip Pullman for years. Firstly, on the grounds that surely nothing can compete with Harry potter and secondly because I didn't want to read some quasi-theological, anti-establishment piece of heresy, which is what several reviewers have portrayed 'Northern Lights' as being. Having just finished reading it however, my only regret is that I didn't do it years ago.
It's hard to escape the Harry Potter analogies as it is the seires of the moment, so let me do a quick comparison for you. Harry Potter is well written, with good dialogue, a realistic fantasy world and solid archetypes. It's of a good level for its target audience (lets say 8-12 year old kids) and offers enough escapism and wry humour to entertain adults as well. Compared to 'Northern Lights' however it is very lightweight.
Without giving away too much about either plot 'Northern Lights' is far tighter, its universe is much more plausible than Harry Potter's and there is a far greater sense of unity in Pullman's world and Lyra's purpose in it. J. K. Rowling's philosophy is by her own admission patchy and pilfered, Pullman presents an intelligent extrapolation of our history and theology and shows it working in the world, something on which Rowling has always been rather weak.
As for the theology, which one reviewer on this page has suggested is rather fantastical, I've read a lot of theologians and they frequently come up with suggestions about the world based on scripture that seem so bizzare that you would laugh at them if they came out of anyone else's mouth. That's the nature of the beast and Pullman portrays well the fact that religious doctrine and the church is not about fixed universal truths at all but political machinations and human interpretation. Pullman's world is in this respect, as in many others, profoundly realistic. He sees the way things are and isn't afraid to say so. That's not heresy, that's fact.
The atmosphere of 'Northern Lights' is all together more sinister than Potter at it's darkest. The characters are enhanced by a level of moral ambiguity that Rowling's lack and although the dialogue isn't as smooth as that in the Potter books it's all the more realistic for it. The plotting is very tight and the writing pared down whereas increasingly in the Potter franchise the books are growing and the content isn't kepping up. There isn't a single page of 'Northern Lights' that isn't relevant to the plot or establishing the setting an characters. Not only does it make for a better read but also keeps the pace cranked up.
This is a brilliant, fast paced and intelligent novel. I did find myself wondering when reading it exactly how much of it a twelve year old child would understand, but I think that the straightforward parts of the narrative are so compelling that they'd be prompted to work out ar research the rest, and anything that gets youngsters to think and read is a good thing! My grandfather loves the books, as does my mother and my twelve eyar old cousin. They'll appeal with anyone with an eye for adventure and a curious mind.