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Friday, January 03, 2014

cover of 'The Golden Compass' by Philip Pullman

Pullmann throws you into a fascinating new world and just lets you learn the details as the story goes along-- like the animal daemons that accompany each human, as life-long companions. Or the panserbjorne, the intelligent, armored polar bears who are mentioned a few times before we learn who and what they are. The story is a great adventure ride, and there are many fascinating characters - although the main character, Lyra, is pretty selfish and doesn't have qualms about lying. Lyra's uncle comes to visit the Oxford College where she has grown up (half-educated and mostly wild) and she gets to overhear (because she snuck in where she shouldn't be) about some of his research from the Arctic, involving "Dust." Soon, some of the children from the town go missing, and eventually Lyra decides she wants to help track them down, and go find her Uncle. Before she leaves Oxford, the Dean of the college gives her an "alethiometer" - a strange device with numerous symbols, which he says will tell the truth if she can learn to read it, and which is clearly the "golden compass" of the title (at least in the American version).

l had heard mixed things about this series a while back - about the great world-building and also the strongly anti-Christian worldview. That latter aspect wasn't obvious until very near the end. There are some bad undercurrents of the church throughout - in particular, their support (however vague or partial) of the "Oblation Board" which is kidnapping children for research on "intercision" - cutting apart the child from the daemon; at some point an adult makes an analogy to another cutting, that of castrating boys in the service of the church. Near the very end, we learn that the adults all think Dust is somehow connected to Original Sin. The adults want to stop it, get rid of it at the source; Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon decide that if these people (who have done horrible things over the course of the story) think it is bad, then maybe it is actually a good thing. In their story of Adam and Eve, the daemons were fixed in a single animal shape at the fall, and now children's daemons can take any form but become fixed at puberty. Therefore, they think that fixing the daemons in a single form is a bad thing (in contrast to the gypsy sailor who tells Lyra that when your daemon settles, then you know something about yourself). Obviously, for a Christian, both of these approaches are wrong, because the problem of original sin is not something that we solve on our own.

I think I watched the movie version of this book a while back - but I feel like I must not have been paying attention, because I did not remember this story at all, and only remember vague aspects of it. And it's strange to think they would attempt to adapt something with such strong ideas about religion. I enjoyed dipping into this world well enough, but I don't feel any great compulsion to read the rest of the series.

Title:The Golden Compass
Author:Philip Pullman
Date published:1995
Series:His Dark Materials
Number of pages:432
Notes:library ebook


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