Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Golden Compass - Part 2, a review

Whenever I get a warning on my computer from (well-meaning) Christians, I am naturally (rebelliously?) skeptical. If I have time or resources, I try to do some research. This time, when The Golden Compass warning came across my desk (see the preceding post), time and passion combined, and within four hours I had gotten the book from the library and had begun to read it. (I thought I would be able to finish the book in 24 hours, but it took me 3 1/2 days to finish it. Oh well.) So here is my review of The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman. (Fair warning, this may contain some spoilers.)

The main character in the book is Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon. The story starts in Oxford, and moves more and more North toward the Aurora Borealis. Gobblers have begun to steal children and send them North. Nobody knows who the Gobblers are, and what they are doing with the children. Lyra becomes involved with a rescue effort by the 'gyptians' who have most suffered the stealing of children.

The journey north includes the meeting of other characters, notably Serafina Pekkala a queen of witches, Iorek Byrnison a king of bears, and Lee Scoresby a Texan. Lord Asriel is being held captive by armored bears, by order of Mrs. Coulter, head of the General Oblation Board (gobblers).

There are battles, journeys, and a quest for understanding Dust.

I began to have difficulty with the book on the first page. As Lyra is introduced, her 'daemon' is right by her side. After a few pages of reading about Lyra and Pantalaimon's interactions, I finally went to the dictionary to get some understanding.

1.Classical Mythology.
a.a god.
b.a subordinate deity, as the genius of a place or a person's attendant spirit

It can also be translated as 'demon', as in evil supernatural being, but I took the mythical definition. As the book progressed, the interplay between humans and their daemons became more and more important and I became more and more appreciative of the role that they played. I kept telling Marc what a 'genius literary tool' it was, because it told the story perfectly.

The other difficulty that I had with the book was Pullman's language. My daily reading level hovers somewhere around 'hop on pop', and Pullman is very intelligent in his writing. There were a combination of words and places that I did not know and that he has made up. Science and myth meet in this story.

I love this story. It is good guys against bad guys. It becomes an encounter of greed and fear against the innocence of children. It is about an attempt understand 'human nature' and our place in a 'war that we are born into'.

Lyra and Pantalaimon (her daemon) are an amazing team. Pantalaimon pushes Lyra when she needs to be pushed, comforts her when she needs comfort, counsels her when she needs counsel.

Serafina Pekkala and Lee Scoresby have a great conversation about being born into a war.

Lyra and Iorek Byrnison talk about what the armor means to the bear in comparison to what a daemon means to a human.

The quest that overtly brings the gyptians and Lyra north is to save the children that have been stolen. I found this particularly interesting in light of child traffiking, child soldiers, and child sex slaves.

Many times over, Lyra found herself at the end of herself, and had to go on anyway. Her courage and strength, and her alliance with interesting and wonderful friends were a beautiful mix. Throughout the book, there is talk and understanding that Lyra has a particular destiny, but Lyra isn't a destiny character. She is a hero only in her love and work with those around her, not as a stand-alone by any means.

I am so thankful that I was provoked to reading this book. I am looking forward to the movie, though I know it won't be as good as the book. And I plan to be at the library at opening time tomorrow to pick up the next book.

I would not consider comparing this with Narnia or Lord of the Rings or even Harry Potter. I might compare some of L'Engle's writing with Pullman. I would not yet have Caleb read this book (he has read much of Potter and Narnia) for the same reason I wouldn't hand him Lord of the Rings... it is just a little above his level of reading comprehension. But I look forward to reading it with him in a few years. It is incredibly refreshing and exciting to find a new author, and I will continue to post reviews as I finish his trilogy.

For more information about Pullman's Dark Materials, check out the fascinating wiki site at ''

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I adored "The Golden Compass." I was assigned it in my YA Literature class in grad school. I looked forward to the second two in the trilogy, but, alas, I was disappointed. From a librarian's pov, stick with the first for literary merit and storyline.
(I read it first over ten years ago, and at that time, the only peeps about the book were from the Catholic Church, and they were VERY minor. It's funny how loud people get when movies get made.)