Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy started with the publication of The Northern Lights in 1995. The extraordinary fantasy world captured children’s and adult’s imaginations everywhere, with the books selling millions of copies and winning awards, including the Carnegie Medal in 1995 for The Northern Lights and the 2001 Whitbread Book of the Year for The Amber Spyglass.
The Northern Lights books have been brought to life on stage and screen several times, most recently for the BBC in 2019. The Dark Materials cast included Dafne Keen as Lyra, Ruth Wilson as Mrs Coulter and James McAvoy as Lord Asriel. There has also been a His Dark Materials play in the West End and a Hollywood film starring Nicole Kidman.
The story follows the coming of age of two children, Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry, born into different, parallel worlds but with the ability to travel between them.
The first book in the trilogy opens in Jordan College, Oxford. Lyra Belacqua, an orphan who lives with the scholars, runs wild through college, getting into scrapes with her daemon Pantalaimon and her best friend Roger. But before too long, Lyra’s Uncle, Lord Asriel, returns and she becomes embroiled in a world of magic, mystery and peril. When her friend Billy Costa becomes the latest in a string of Gyptian children to go missing, Lyra is compelled to investigate, putting herself and Roger into grave danger.
Lyra’s adventures throughout the trilogy are as exciting as they are fantastic – travelling to the icy North and crossing into unknown worlds, Lyra and Pan make friends with the most unlikely companions, from Lee Scoresby the Texan balloonist to the fearsome queen of the witches, Serafina Pekkala and the disgraced armoured bear Iorek Byrnison.
Lyra is one of the bravest heroines in literature – prepared to take on the Gobblers (General Oblation Board) who are stealing children, the terrifying Mrs Coulter and ultimately the Magisterium who rule Lyra’s universe. Her journey will have immense consequences, even beyond her own world.
We recommend the series for young adult readers, from age 10. You need to read Philip Pullman’s books in order, starting with book 1 The Northern Lights. We also highly recommend the His Dark Materials audiobooks.
For fans of His Dark Materials, Pullman’s second series The Book of Dust, tells more of Lyra’s story at different points in her life, as well as some other His Dark Materials characters, although this series is recommended for adults.
All the His Dark Materials books in order:
Book 1: The Northern Lights (1995)
Book 2: The Subtle Knife (1997)
Book 3: The Amber Spyglass (known as The Golden Compass in the USA) (2000)
Novella: Lyra’s Oxford (2003)
Novella: Once Upon a Time in the North (2008)