Apr 30, 2008

Once Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman and Further Web Wanderings

Once Upon a Time in the North is a prequel to His Dark Materials: the story takes place some thirty years before the events of The Golden Compass, and it tells us how Lee Scoresby and Iorek Byrnison first met.

Novy Odense is a harbour town in the far north. Shortly after landing there, Lee Scoresby becomes unwillingly involved in a spiral of corruption, racial hatred, injustice and greed. This little story is complex and nuanced, and I found it much more satisfying than “Lyra and the Birds”, the story in Lyra’s Oxford. It was wonderful to get a glimpse of the origins of the unlikely friendship between a Texan balloonist and a polar bear.

What I liked the most, though, was to return, even if briefly, to what is simply my absolute favourite fantasy world. Like Tanabata, I now want to read His Dark Materials again. Reencountering there characters was like hearing from old friends. I missed Iorek, I missed Lee, I missed his daemon Hester more than I’d imagined. I had almost forgotten how much I love the concept of daemons, how much they add to the story, how much there is to the relationship between people and their daemons.

I have to add that the book is a thing of beauty in itself, and has some wonderful extras: a board game called Peril of the Pole (if only I could get someone to play with me), two letters written by Lyra, and the submission certificate of her dissertation (and how this made me smile. I miss Lyra). These little things were, again, like letters from old friends.

Would I recommend this novella to those who haven’t read His Dark Materials? Well, yes. You probably won’t find it quite as satisfying as those who are familiar with the characters will, but it’s a great introduction to the world and to Pullman’s excellent writing. And since it’s a prequel, there are no spoilers for the main story.

Other Opinions:

In Spring it is the Dawn

Rhinoa's Ramblings
Just Add Books

Words by Annie
where troubles melt like lemon drops

Two things: Serena at Savvy Verse & Wit is giving away a volume of Emily Dickinson’s poems to celebrate National Poetry Month. All you have to do to be entered is leave her a comment here with your favourite poem before the 3rd of May.

Secondly: I know I’ve said before that Tim Pratt is my favourite writer that I have barely read, but I’ll say it again. Why I have barely read him, considering that I’ve enjoyed every single one of his short stories that I’ve read immensely, is a mystery. Perhaps I should order one of his books right NOW. Perhaps I will. Anyway, today I came across this lovely essay by him about being the father of a 4-months-old baby and trying to find the time to write, and I thought I’d share it. I was very impressed to learn that he wrote the wonderful story “The River Boy” (I posted about it here) after not sleeping for 36 hours!

It’s a great little essay, and I’m sure that those of you who try to conciliate “me time” and time with your children will be able to relate. But even if, like me, you can’t relate at all, read it anyway. I loved it all the same.


  1. I love the cover of Once Upon a Time in the North! I'm so excited about getting the first book in the series...that is if the girl ever responds to my mooch request :/ I'm particularly excited since it's your favorite fantasy world! I think I'm going to save this one for after I read the three books. Like you said, I'd imagine it would be more fulfilling that way. I love all of the extras that you mentioned...sounds like a really cool little package of a book!

  2. Annie would like to give you the biggest hug in the world now! She was so upset with me for not buying her that book the very day it came out. Practical old mom told her it was just too much money for a book she'd read in such an incredibly short time. (Though I did get her Lyra's Oxford before.) Anyway, you just opened my eyes and made me realize how foolish that was...some books are worth any money. And I think she may love His Dark Materials almost as much as you do.

  3. I had hoped to get to the first in the Dark Materials trilogy before seeing the movie, but I decided to see the movie when it wasn't looking like I would get to the book anytime soon. I still want to read the books, of course. I am glad you and Tanabata enjoyed this one. I'll have to add it to my wish list.

  4. I encountered this book through Tanabata's post and commented there about longing to reread the series as well (although I've yet to read Lyra's Oxford). Gee, I don't remember if I ever mentioned that I also enjoyed reading His Dark Materials. Oh well.

    Yay, just another book to long for. Hahaha! The way I'm still longing for the first book in the Sally Lockhart trilogy because the bookstores here ran out of the first one while I already bought the last two. Hahaha!

  5. I really want to read this but am trying to find Alex's copy of Lyra's Oxford to read first. It's such a small book it could frankly be anywhere... I am looking forward to reading them both soon.

  6. I haven't read his books yet, but I've heard so many great things about his books! I still have not watched The Golden Compass, although it's always good to read the book first before watching the movie. ;P

  7. *sigh* I am going to stop reading your reviews!

    I have put off sending for this book and Lyra's Oxford because, I really can't afford books that i can read in one sitting.. *sigh* but I sent for it. *groan* I know I won't be sorry once it's here, but I may stop reading your reviews!! lol .. just kidding. I think. heh.

  8. I wasn't aware of this book at all - I can't wait to find out about the origin of Lee and Iorek's friendship. I've always wanted to know more about Lee (he's a fellow Texan, after all)- Thanks for adding yet another book to the pile!
    I love the essay by Mr. Pratt - it's funny how things seem to always work themselves out(if you stay flexible enough!)
    ...regrettably, Kozelek fans are kinda scarce (and I don't understand WHY), so it was fun to be able to share the SKM show - I'm glad you're enjoying it!

  9. Chris: I hope the girl does respond...I'm excited about you reading it!

    Debi: I do understand your reasoning...for example, even though I LOVE comics I always hesitate a bit before getting them because I know I'm paying a lot of money for just an hour or two of reading. That's part of the reason why I'm always behind on my comic book series. This book is worth having, though...there's also the board game which provides extra hours of fun :P Annie will love it, I'm sure.

    Literary Feline: I hope you do pick up the books soon...I have a feeling you'll enjoy them a lot.

    Lightheaded: I don't think you'd mentioned it before, no, but I can't say I'm surprised to hear you're also a fan :P I got the first Sally Lockhart book from BookMooch a while ago and I'm hoping to read it this month.

    Rhinoa: I hope you manage to find Lyra'x Oxford. It's a great little book, and this one's even better.

    Melody: I tend to read the books first too, but most of the time the result is that I end up finding the movie disappointing because I compare the two too much.

    Deslily: Nooo, don't stop reading :P These two books are small but worth it. Plus they're just so beautiful, it's a joy just to hold them in your hands.

    Ken: You're welcome :P I can't wait to see what you think of it. And I'm glad you enjoyed the essay. Kozelek fans are indeed hard to find, and I don't understand why either. He's one of the best.

  10. Oooh-I really need to reread the second one already. :) And then get my hands on this! And no, the Gaiman has not shown up yet. I'll let you know when it does! (My post office here is very sketchy anyway)

  11. You know, I haven't even read Lyra's Oxdord yet! let alone this new one. I think deep in my heart I want to keep these unread so at least I know that I still have some of "His Dark Materials" waiting for me. Or maybe I just have too many books and those are not on the pile. yet.
    I know I should read them like now, but there you go:P

  12. I so want to read this book - Lee Scoresby and Hester are great characters! Recently reread Northern Lights (The Golden Compass everywhere else but here in England) before seeing the movie.. but I definately want to read the others as well!

  13. I'm definitely going to put this on my TBR list. I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I've only read The Golden Compass and not the rest of the trilogy. I read it and liked it when it first came out years ago...but somehow I didn't follow through and read the others as they came out. I'm going to take care of that very soon by reading them all in one fell swoop! And I'll add this one to the mix, too. I know I'll love them!

  14. Would you recommend reading this one before His Dark Materials? I haven't read anything by Pullman, but I've been curious about his works--especially after the movie The Golden Compass was released last year (which I didn't see).

    Spoil yourself and order more of Tim Pratt's work! You deserve to treat yourself now and again.

  15. Hey Nymeth! Just to let you know you've won the book! Congrats! :D

  16. I'm glad your copy finally showed up. Maybe we could figure out a way to play Peril of the Pole via webcam or something! :P

  17. Eva: You need to indeed! And yes, so let me know. I hope it arrives soon!

    Valentina: I know exactly how you feel. It's the reason why it's taken me years to pick up Endless Nights, the most recent Sandman book. I finally decided I'll read it this year, but I know that once I'm done I'll be sad that there are no more stories set in that universe for me to read.

    Michelle: They really are. I was going to re-read it in time for the movie as well, but I ended up not finding the time...now I want to re-read the whole series!

    Robin: You will!

    Trish: Not necessarily recommend - it will be more enjoyable for those who've read the series - but if you want a quick way to find out if the series is for you or not, then this would be perfect.

    Melody: yay :D

    Tanabata: If I had a webcam I'd be seriously tempted :P


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.