Once Upon A Time in the North is a prequel of sorts to His Dark Materials, another companion piece that provides more information about certain characters who appear in the trilogy and their lives before the events in Northern Lights. Despite being set before the series, Pullman references a few things that happen in the future, clues and great titbits if you understand the references, but nothing too substantial if you haven’t read the series.
Published in 2008 the narrative focuses on a young Lee Scoresby, specifically an adventure where he lands on a small island and gets involved with a few local dramas and mishaps. It also provides an insight into his aeronautical beginnings, plus the origin of friendship with the armoured bear, Iorek Byrnison. At 104 pages it is short but long enough and offers wonderful insight into the lives of two beloved characters.
This book is wonderful because it satisfies anyone who read His Dark Materials longing to know more about Lee Scoresby, Hester, and his past with Iorek Byrnison; Pullman having tempted numerous times with references to past events and the long and solid friendship. Before this book existed I would read the trilogy wanting to know more about Lee, wanting another book dedicated just to Lee’s adventures and his friendship with Iorek. With Once Upon A Time in the North these needs have been satisfied.
An exclusive extract was printed by The Guardian under the heading Winds of Chance in March 2008 before publication with the official launch taking place on 31 March 2008 at the Oxford Literary Festival where over 700 fans gathered to hear Pullman speak about his new novella.
Like Lyra’s Oxford, there are a few bits and pieces included with the book. Some of the things included are letters from Lyra, newspaper articles, plus a playable board game that is the same as the one mentioned in the story.
While it has yet to receive any awards, reception of the book was positive with the first reviews appearing less than two weeks before publication. It was described as “a joy” by The Times, while Ian Giles from BridgetotheStars.net dubbed it “an absolute triumph”. An audiobook has also been produced which was released the same day as the novella. Once again Philip Pullman and a full cast perform, with Garrick Hagan as producer.