The Golden Compass review

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Alfred A. Knopf, 1995. 978-0-679-87924-4

Reasons for challenge/ban: Religious viewpoint

Synopsis: Eleven year-old Lyra Belacqua has lived at Jordan College in Oxford since she can remember, having no family except for her formidable uncle, Lord Asriel. While eavesdropping during a closed meeting, she hears mention of a magical element called Dust and its proposed link to a lighted city in the Aurora Borealis. Soon after, children are kidnapped from all over England by Gobblers, who are said to eat them, including Lyra’s friend Roger. She moves to London with the mysterious and beautiful Mrs. Coulter, who promises to take Lyra to the North to find the lost children. At a cocktail party, Lyra hears more talk of Dust and Gobblers, leading her to set out on her own to rescue Roger with the help of an alethiometer, her daemon, gyptians, and an armored bear.

Why I picked it up: It was sitting in my ‘to be read’ pile and since it has a reputation as a challenged/banned book, I thought it was an appropriate choice for Banned Books Week.

Why I finished it: I was surprised that this was published as a children’s/young adult book when I started it, since the writing style is very precise and descriptive in a way that is normally reserved for adult books. Though the narrative is centered around a pre-adolescent girl, the reader instantly perceives a prim and proper tone, as though the story were being told by a group of adults sitting around drinking coffee and contemplating the meaning of life. Pullman has definitely captured the essence of his eleven-year-old narrator, it lacks the feel of having been written for an eleven-year-old, perhaps proving the point of many reviewers who believe that the story gets better with the age of the reader. The Golden Compass is thoroughly imaginative, thrilling, and thought-provoking in its dealings with worldly matters, politics, religion, and status. There were few moments where I was bored, but a great many left me confused: for instance, I did not feel the Pullman fully explained the essence and purpose of a daemon, other than to say it is a reflection of a person’s soul and sense of self. I don’t know what else he might have pulled into that, but I feel like there should be more there. I was also somewhat disappointed in the exhibitionist ending. I know it’s a series and that there are two more books, but rather than having the final scene be a cumulative explanation for character motives, I was still more or less confused as to what was going on with the Dust/child and daemon connection.

Other related materials: The Golden Compass (movie); The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials, Book 2) by Philip Pullman; The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials, Book 3) by Philip Pullman; Lyra’s Oxford by Philip Pullman; Once Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman; The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis; A Wind in the Door by Madeline L’Engle; Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie; The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. LeGuin; The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud; The Stoneheart Trilogy by Charlie Fletcher; The Tapestry series by Henry H. Neff; The Magic Thief series by Sarah Prineas

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1 Comment

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One response to “The Golden Compass review

  1. The Golden Compass was recommended to my by the librarian at the local library when I was maybe 10. It remains a favorite of mine to this day as there is always something different to gain from it in each read.

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