THE GOLDEN COMPASS, by Philip Pullman, Yearling, Softcover, $8.99 (ages 10 and up)
In April 1996, Knopf published Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass in the United States. It became the first book in His Dark Materials series, which earned critical acclaim and awards around the world. Now, in anticipation of the release of Pullman’s latest novel, The Book of Dust (Oct. 19, 2017), His Dark Materials is being rereleased with updated covers.
It’s been a number of years since I first read The Golden Compass, but as I began to reread the tale, I realized it had lost none of its magic.
The Golden Compass takes place in a parallel universe where humans physically interact with their souls — or dæmons as their called. These souls live outside of humans’ bodies, in the form of animal spirits. Dæmons naturally change their shapes to match the moods of their children until they reach the age of puberty and take on a permanent form.
At the center of The Golden Compass is Lyra, a precocious girl who lives at Jordan College, Oxford. Lyra’s education is somewhat piecemeal, with the girl learning bits and pieces from scholars willing to take on such a difficult student. When Lyra’s mischievous ways find her witnessing a near-poisoning and a secretive meeting, her life changes forever.
Children have started to go missing, and it has something to do with the “dust” Lyra’s uncle Lord Asriel is researching. Lyra rushes to the North following the disappearance of her friend and a run-in with an unscrupulous benefactress. Once there, the true adventure begins. Lyra must enlist an armored bear and befriend witches if she’s going to save the children. But can one girl make a difference when up against such odds?
In 2007, The Golden Compass was made into a (not-very-good) movie. At the time, I remember there being some controversy as to the “atheistic undertones” in the tale. At the time, critics were comparing the Magisterium (the evil governing body) to the Catholic Church. When I picked up the book again this time, I made note to pay special attention. In the end, I didn’t really find anything wrong. The Golden Compass is a fantasy novel and should be treated as such. But I guess if you go looking for problems, you find them.
The Golden Compass is one of those novels that gets better the more you read it. Though it’s been years between readings, I remembered the story fairly well. What I noticed this time around, however, were the nuances. I’ve matured, and so my interpretation of Pullman’s prose and plot has, too. The Golden Compass is one of those books that deserves to be revisited, and with a new series on the horizon, now’s the time to do it.
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