Book Club – Northern Lights
With two weeks of the Book Club gone, it’s time for an update on our progress and thoughts so far.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!
Pete: This is a re-read for me, of one my treasured childhood books. As always, I approach such books with trepidation. The worry is always that nostalgia has clouded the quality of the book and so I’m setting myself up for disappointment. With Pullman’s recent announcement, it was clear that this was the time to revisit the trilogy and see how it stands up.
I have to say it’s stood up very well so far. At this point the story is just building up but I’m getting a very different sense of the tale that Pullman is telling. When I was younger, it was all about Lyra and her adventure. This time around my interest is on the wider political landscape that Lyra is just beginning to see the surface of. Much of the happenings are above the character’s head and that’s a really interesting way of telling the story. A few asides to the reader, such as a conversation the Master of Jordan has out of Lyra’s earshot hint at things to come and there are a few great examples of Chekhov’s gun (Armoured Bears anyone?) thrown in for those of us that know the overarching story.
Tripp: This is my first time reading through this fantastical book. As a child in the Southern USA (aka the “Bible Belt”) it was demonized and became quite controversial. However, I like to be objective in everything I do, looking at all things with fresh eyes and without bias. So far I have greatly enjoyed the book as a work of fiction/literature. It stands up as one of the best in science-fantasy in a vein similar to Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. In fact, having researched some into the story for spoilers it seems as though Lewis’s novel gave Pullman many great ideas such as a secret-ish organization based in a prestigious college with angst towards The Church/God. Pullman obviously takes the story in a much different direction than Lewis, however. As a fan of Lewis’s this connection thrilled me, as has the story itself. Taking it as a piece of fiction and nothing more, the story is very well written and enjoyable. However, if I analyze it, and consequently some of Pullman’s religious and political statements aimed at our world, I find myself slightly baffled. Although the book as of yet has not discussed theology deeply, it seems as though Pullman only knows what the word means and has researched nothing of the topic at all (or he at least misunderstands it). In Lyra’s character development so far, it seems at least to me that she is slightly sociopathic and borderline sadistic. Now, I’m not very far into the book and this may later be explained away as her just acting quite childish, but as someone who grew up in a household with such an individual I can spot the traits quite easily. If Lyra is that, I question the wisdom of praising and making a protagonist who has these issues (and makes these issues seem like great fun).
On the whole, however, this has been a very delightful read and I am eager to see where the story goes next!
Pete: You certainly raise some interesting points there. I definitely agree with the point of Lyra’s character, the author even describes her as “wild” and “vicious”. I think it’s worth mentioning at this point, when I first read the books I empathised and connected the most with Lyra. After all, she just wanted to have fun, right? This time around, at the grand old age of 28, I felt more connection with the Master of the College. Trying to do the right thing for the girl while stuck in a maelstrom of political forces.
On your point of Theology, I think that it’s interesting that Pullman almost makes “Theology” a parallel of science in his world. The Theology he describes is certainly nothing like we would imagine in our world, but does share similarities, the set up of the Church also seems more in keeping with a medieval feudalistic setting than the modern world. I don’t want to say too much on this at present as he delves into these themes more deeply later in the trilogy.
Tripp: I did have one more thing I forgot to add. I’m unaware as to whether or not Pullman did this on purpose but making John Calvin a pope was hilarious (in a good way). Historically, he was a ruthless religious overlord in Geneva and his critics called him “The Pope of Geneva”. As a history buff this amused me.
Readers! What are your thoughts on the story so far? Does it stand up to its reputation? Does it stand up to your memories?