And Then I Read: ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE NORTH by Philip Pullman

© Philip Pullman & John Lawrence.

I loved Pullman’s “The Golden Compass,” the first of his epic fantasy trilogy titled “His Dark Materials.” The second and third books were also quite good, but I felt gradually became overwhelmed by religious allegory. It’s the same way I felt about C.S. Lewis’s “Space” trilogy. The world of Lyra Silvertongue as described in the first book, with every person having a spirit-like animal familiar, and magic playing a large part in a steampunkish England and beyond, was so appealing I found it hard to move on to the other, grimmer worlds of the rest of the series. Perhaps Pullman felt the same way, as this is the second of two short books taking place in Lyra’s world. The first, “Lyra’s Oxford,” had her as the main character, while this one focuses on balloonist Lee Scoresby and intelligent, talking polar bear Iorek Byrnisson in their first meeting and adventure in a small arctic mining town.

Adventure is the key word, and despite the setting, it has more of a Western (as in American gunslingers) feel than anything, as Scoresby gets drawn into local politics and encounters an old enemy. Pullman shows all the skill with action, plotting and character that he showcased not only in “The Golden Compass” but in some of his other fine books, and this one is a delightful, if all too short read.

In the back of the book is an envelope containing a folded paper game board and pieces for “Peril at the Pole,” in which you and your friends can play against each other, trying to survive in your hot air balloon longer than anyone else. It follows what must be a traditional English board game pattern with a spiral path of numbers from 1 to 100, with various diversions and hazards along the way. It’s not unlike the board game devised by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill for their “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” though not as funny, and probably a lot easier to win. I decided to keep it intact and not try playing it, but I’m sure it’d be fun. At the back of the book, and throughout, are interesting documents put together by the author and his illustrator here, John Lawrence, who also drew some appealing woodcut-style spot illustrations. Two of the documents are in the handwriting of Lyra Silvertongue, getting her involved at least tangentially.

If you enjoyed “The Golden Compass,” or other Pullman books, this is highly recommended, and worth getting for the price, even if the story is short.

Once Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman

One thought on “And Then I Read: ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE NORTH by Philip Pullman

  1. Jedidiah

    I liked it too, but I felt like it, and Lyra’s Oxford, were kind of blatant cash grabs–I paid more for both of those books combined than I paid for my His Dark Materials set. I felt a much better idea would have been to combine both of the stories, and maybe add another one or two, to create a short story collection or something. But hey, I ended up buying both books anyway, so that shows what I know about the publishing business.

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