Today’s post about SF and fantasy authors and worlds is about two classic worlds - the worlds of Northern Lights and Narnia.
Northern Lights is the first in the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, renamed The Golden Compass for the US market. The Chronicles Of Narnia are, of course, seven fantasy novels by C.S Lewis, a highly religious university academic and close friend of J.R.R Tolkien. Both have religion at their base, but the Lewis books are pro-religion, and have been filmed more than once, while the film The Golden Compass ended in a cliffhanger and the other books never made it to Hollywood, due to being a flop in the US, because the Bible Belt was not crazy about it.
I probably don’t need to tell you too much about the details of The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe and the other books in that series. If you read them as a child you probably didn’t notice the religion. I read them as an adult and felt that I was being hit on the head with it. Still, they were very readable and the original British TV series was beautiful - and featured Tom Baker as Puddleglum the Marsh Wiggle, a role he played delightfully, and a young Warwick Davis as Reepicheep, The Talking Mouse.
As a teacher librarian, I can tell you that the books were worn and falling apart from being borrowed, so I bought a new set.
Northern Lights was another book I discovered as an adult, and gave to some of the more thoughtful readers in my library.
The story? In an alternative universe, a young girl called Lyra lives in Oxford, at the University. In this universe, the Church dominates, and they are not the good guys.
In this world, everyone knows they have a soul, because the human soul is external, in the form of an animal you can talk to and hang out with, which has a name. While you are a child, it can change forms, till it settles on its final form when you grow up. These external souls are known as daemons. Lyra’s daemon is called Pantalaimon. They can’t go very far from you, or you from them. Well, your daemon is your soul, after all.
Lyra receives a mysterious object, an alethiometer, which only she can use, though everyone else wants it. She goes to the distant north, to find out some fishy things are going on, involving stolen children, their daemons and experiments with something called Dust.
I loved this book, and those which followed, not only for the adventure and the characters - Lyra, an American balloonist, a witch called Serafina Pekkala and the armoured bear Iorek Byrnisson, whose armour has been taken from him, leaving him vulnerable - but the sheer stunning beauty of the visuals. Imagine the icy nights of the far north, the witches flying around on branches of cloud-pine - not broomsticks! - the ice and snow, the armoured bears... in later books there is even more. I’m disappointed they weren’t filmed, but my imagination has filled it all in.
Oh, and those Bible Belters would have hated the final book, The Amber Spyglass, in which there is a rebellion against heaven and the angels are not the good guys! God is, in fact, only the oldest of the angels and he is getting dementia... C.S Lewis would have been horrified!
Look, just follow this link and hear me reading a bit from Northern Lights, which I did for Banned Books Week one year. It’s one of the more challenged and banned books in the ALA list.
Then we have the Narnia books. People in His Dark Materials die, sometimes people you care about. Hardly anyone you care about dies in the Narnia books - well, not really. Not permanently. Aslan is resurrected, because he is Jesus, right? Reepicheep paddles his little coracle into the East, but he wants to. I imagine Aslan’s Country is pretty much like Tolkien’s Undying Lands. King Caspian’s queen dies, yes, but offstage. Caspian at least lives to a ripe old age - and then is resurrected and restored to youth to help out Jill and Eustace against their school bullies.
And yes, everyone dies in The Last Battle, but it’s cheating - our heroes get to run around having adventures for a whole book before finding out that they’re dead! And then it’s a case of, “Good news,children, you don’t have to go back, you’re dead.”
Not that I’m a huge fan of killing off characters; it’s one of the things that made me lose interest in the Song Of Ice And Fire series, where not only do the good guys get killed off, but often pointlessly. But sometimes it needs to happen, and sad as it makes you, you accept it.
Although Lyra is a tween, Northern Lights is YA, while the Narnia books are aimed at younger readers, which may be one of the reasons for the differences, but also they were written a long time ago, with the attitudes of those times.
Both series are readily available at your local bookshop, or online.