Today’s video review is of the gorgeous illustrated anniversary edition of the first book of Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ series, which is published as Northern Lights in the UK and most other regions, but is called The Golden Compass in the United States.

★ Where to buy:

Northern Lights (UK edition, Scholastic): Book Depository | Amazon

The Golden Compass (US edition, Random House / Knopf): Book Depository | Amazon

Also coming soon:

The Subtle Knife (UK edition, Scholastic: Book Depository | Amazon UK


Video Review

25th Anniversary Gift Edition

This beautiful illustrated edition was brought out to celebrate the book’s 25th anniversary. I have the British edition published by Scholastic – as you can see in the video it’s a large, oversized volume, around 11 inches, or 30 cm tall, with a hidden alethiometer embossed in gold on blue boards under the dust jacket. It’s a hybrid binding, with the page sheaves fully stitched, but they are then glued to the backing along with the decorative braided headpiece.

The book is profusely illustrated throughout by Chris Wormell, and almost all of the images were originally created as wood engravings that he carved and chiselled by hand and later coloured digitally. As a master of this technique, he is able to use fine gradations of tone to create a beautiful sense of depth and dimension in his images.

wormell engravings
Chris Wormell's engravings for Northern Lights, via https://www.instagram.com/christopherwormell/

Each chapter has a bespoke heading illustration that usually takes an image from the first paragraphs, for example Chapter 1 features Pan making his first appearance in the book as a moth, and Chapter 2 has the Master’s daemon which manifests as a raven. The illustrations are plentiful and have been nicely integrated to match where they occur in the text – you can expect to see a half or full-page illustration almost every couple of pages. Many are quite dramatic and continue across double-page spreads and must have required really large original engravings.

pullman golden compass int 2 lyra london rooftops

Phillip Pullman has said he was inspired to write this story in response to John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, which tells the biblical story of Adam and Eve being tempted by Satan and banished from the Garden of Eden. Pullman’s take on the story deals with “the necessity of growing up and a refusal to lament the loss of innocence”, albeit one that features rather cooler daemons, armoured polar bears and Zeppelin airships than Milton’s original.

pullman golden compass int 8 bridge

The alternative American title ‘The Golden Compass’ is from a line from Milton’s poem that Pullman originally used as the overarching title for his whole series:

“The golden compasses, prepared / In God’s eternal store, to circumscribe / The universe, and all created things.”

The American publishers assumed the phrase ‘golden compasses’ referred to the alethiometer and kept it for the book even after Pullman advised them that the title of the book was supposed to be Northern Lights.

pullman golden compass illustrated edition coverSome people have also asked if there is a difference between the American and British editions of the book apart from the title and regional spelling differences. Well, there is not much of a difference in this first book, but there is a scene in the third book which was censored for American audiences, presumably because American publishers deemed it too sexual for a book they were marketing to children. As an adult reader you would be able to infer what was happening there anyway so it doesn’t change the story, but I’ll add the deleted text below for any American readers who are worried they might have missed out.

All in all, it’s a beautiful edition that I recommend for adults who love the series or as a special gift for a younger child who may not yet have read it. I’m very happy to say that the publishers have committed to producing the rest of the books in the series in a matching format. In fact the illustrator, Chris Wormell, has been documenting his illustration process for The Subtle Knife on his Instagram account, moving between sketch and engraving, and this is definitely worth checking out if you’re interested in the process.

US vs UK Changes in the text

Apart from the title change for the first volume, the main changes in the first two books of the series are simple spelling issues (colour vs color for example). However, as Lyra moves from ‘innocence’ to ‘experience’ throughout the books, there are more significant changes introduced by the time we get to the final volume, The Amber Spyglass.

There is fan site called bridgetothestars.net which has done a fairly detailed analysis of the differences, but the most significant ones are listed below:

The Amber Spyglass: Chapter 33 ‘Marzipan’

UK EDITION:

As Mary said that, Lyra felt something strange happen to her body. She felt a stirring at the roots of her hair: she found herself breathing faster. She had never been on a roller-coaster, or anything like one, but if she had, she would have recognised the sensations in her breast: they were exciting and frightening at the same time, and she had not the slightest idea why. The sensation continued, and deepened, and changed, as more parts of her body found themselves affected too. She felt as if she had been handed the key to a great house she hadn’t known was there, a house that was somehow inside her, and as she turned the key, deep in the darkness of the building she felt other doors opening too, and lights coming on. She sat trembling, hugging her knees, hardly daring to breathe…

US Edition

As Mary said that, Lyra felt something strange happen to her body. She felt as if she had been handed the key to a great house she hadn’t known was there. A house that was somehow inside her, and as she turned the key, she felt other doors opening deep in the darkness, and lights coming on. She sat trembling as Mary went on…

The Amber Spyglass: Chapter 35 ‘Over The Hills and Far Away’

UK Edition

…Father Gomez found himself praising God for his mission, because it was clearer than ever that the boy and the girl were walking into mortal sin.

And there it was: the dark-blonde movement that was the girl’s hair. He moved a little closer, and took out the rifle. There was a telescopic sight: low-powered, but beautifully made, so that looking through it was to feel your vision clarified as well as enlarged. Yes, there she was, and she paused and looked back so that he saw the expression on her face, and he could not understand how anyone so steeped in evil could look so radiant with hope and happiness.

His bewilderment at that made him hesitate, and then the moment was gone, and both children had walked in among the trees and out of sight. Well, they wouldn’t go far. He followed them down the stream, moving at a crouch, holding the rifle in one hand, balancing with the other.

He was so close to success…

US Edition

…Father Gomez found himself praising God for his mission, because it was clearer than ever that the boy and the girl were walking into mortal sin.

He watched them go in among the trees. They hadn’t looked back once since coming over the top of the ridge, but he still kept low, moving down the stream at a crouch, holding the rifle in one hand, balancing with the other.

He was so close to success…


Daisy

I'm the founder and operator of the Beautiful Books website ツ

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