Monday 24 March 2014

Lyra’s Oxford / Once Upon a Time in the North

Philip Pullman, 2003/2008
(March 2014)

I read His Dark Materials about 13 years ago now, and I absolutely adored them, and I will never read them again.

This will be spoilery, because I finished reading The Amber Spyglass maybe three weeks before I set off for Japan (the first time). I was getting set to leave my then girlfriend and treck to the other side of the world, and, in those circumstances, the culmination of Lyra and Will’s story line resonated quite powerfully. It remains the last time a book made me cry. A huge amount of water has passed under the bridge in the meantime and experience and the passage of time have brought age, wisdom, and a certain inevitable jaded cynicism.

Now that every cultural artifact that was ever made in the history of ever is now a mere Google search away, the temptation is to revisit favourties of your youth. I looked up an old episode of The A-Team on youtube a while back.

Guess what? It was shit.

I have no concerns that Pullman’s trilogy will age as badly, but the fact remains that there I read it during a very specifc confluence of circumstance that are highly unlikely ever to repeat; there’s no way a rereading will ever have the same resonance as the first time and I don’t want to lose that, even if by this point it’s more of a memory of a memory than the sensation itself.

However, I recently found out that one of the better students at my school had read the trilogy in Japanese. I gave her the English version of Northern Lights to try, and while she managed the English well enough it’s a pretty thick book to wade through, especially if you already know the ending. These two little addenda to the series haven’t been translated though (I’m told), and they’re far more manageable lengths so I figured I may as well see what they’re like. Not for my sake, of course, but hers. Honestly. Lyra’s Oxford is a sequel of sorts, and Once Upon a Time in The North is a prequel, and being back in that world was a perfectly proportioned nostalgia hit. Just enough to get the old emotions kicking in, but not so much that you start to regret it. All that and fold out maps and board games. JJ Abrams eat your heart out.

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