Once Upon a Time in the North is Worth the Trip

Alison Morris - January 27, 2008

For the past few weeks I’ve been listening, again, to the audio recordings of all three books in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Though this is probably my second or third time experiencing these books on audio I’ve been wanting to revisit them this way ever since I saw the movie version of The Golden Compass, as I wanted to hear the books "performed" for me in full — the way I’d have liked to have seen them on the big screen.

It was wonderful timing, then, to have all these character’s voices in my head again when I received a coveted envelope from Random House, bearing the page proofs of Once Upon a Time in the North, the His Dark Materials companion "episode" being published this April. Like Lyra’s Oxford, which was published in 2003, this short (approx. 100 pages) book gives us a glimpse of something that happened outside the timeline of His Dark Materials but features characters who appear in Pullman’s beloved (except where it’s hated) trilogy.

Once Upon a Time in the North is the story of one of Lee Scoresby’s early aeronautical adventures, the adventure that brings him face-to-furry-face with Iorek Byrnison for the first time. It’s a rollicking little ride of a book — a cold-climate Western, if you will, complete with gunslingers and wanton women (at least Lee wishes they were wanton) and Hester. Sweet, wonderful Hester. Best dang daemon any gunslinger could hope for.

Having found Lyra’s Oxford a bit disappointing, I didn’t expect much from this slim volume, but I was truly, VERY pleasantly surprised. It was a real treat to have a glimpse into the past of two of my favorite of Philip Pullman’s characters, AND to find a glimpse of one character’s future, too. The last couple of pages of this book reveal a bit of what’s happened to Lyra, in the days since, well… you know — the stuff that happened at the end of The Amber Spyglass. It gave me a little thrill to find some evidence of her more recent whereabouts. And it made me hunger for more of her story too!

The wait may not be too much longer: In recent interviews Pullman has said that The Book of Dust could possibly be published as soon as 2009. Did you miss his interview with Charlie Rose a couple weeks ago? Well, then you’re missing out. Fortunately you can watch the ENTIRE INTERVIEW online.

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