Monday, January 28, 2013

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

So, this is so not my first reading of this book. I think I first read it for the first time when I was 14, in a school book club. And now, tomorrow, I’m lucky enough to have students who trust my judgment enough to want to discuss it in their book club! I’ve read this one several times before, but it was so nice coming back to it today! It was like meeting up with an old friend for coffee.
It’s about Lyra, one extremely brave main character who has no problem with lying (or at least coming up with outstanding stories). She grows up in a world that is similar to this one, but definitely not the same. For starters, there are witches, armored and talking polar bears, and daemons. Daemons, not to be confused with demons, are actually souls. People walk around with animals always at their sides. These animals are not pets, but actual representations of their souls. The animals feel what their people feel. And until Lyra, along with the rest of the children of her world, hit puberty, their daemons are constantly changing forms. They can go from a bird one moment to a mouse the next. But, adult daemons remain in the same form.

Lyra grows up in Oxford, amongst a community of scholars who all want to teach her what they are studying. Lyra, however is more interested in playing with the neighborhood children. And by playing, I mean warfare. The Jordan college kids are at war with the servants’ kids from all of the other colleges in Oxford, and they are all at war with the townies. And war seems to be all about throwing mud or plums at each other and once stealing a boat. When Lyra isn’t avoiding lessons about things like particles or strategizing warfare with her friends, she is exploring all Oxford has to offer with her best friend, Roger. They jump from rooftop to rooftop, enter forbidden passages, and explore the underground catacombs together.
The kids begin playing a game called Gobblers where some kids pretend to be Gobblers and the rest run for their lives. But it soon becomes clear Gobblers are real, and the kids in Oxford begin disappearing.
Everything really changes for Lyra one day when her uncle comes to Jordan College with a slide show to present to the scholars. Hidden in a wardrobe with Pantalaimon, her daemon, Lyra watches and listens to a remarkable scientific discovery. Her uncle has been to the north (near the armored bears) to study something called “dust,” something that baffles all the scholars. And in the process of his scientific investigations, her uncle learns about another world that only presents itself in the Northern Lights.
After this discovery, Lyra and Pan embark on an adventure of a lifetime. She saves her uncle’s life, gets taken in by a lady scholar, and plans her own journey northward, hoping to learn more about dust. Also, before she leaves, the headmaster of her school gives her a device called an aleithometer, one of only six ever made. And when a person knows how to use the device, they can find out the answer to any question; they can find truth. She’s told to keep the device hidden from the woman she is staying with.
Soon she discovers that the woman teaching her everything about going north is actually involved with the Gobblers and the woman’s evil monkey daemon discovers the hidden aleithometer. Lyra decides its time to run away.
From there, Lyra goes on a journey with Gyptians, characters that seem like a mixture of gypsies and pirates), witches, and armored bears. She wants to rescue all of the kids who have been taken (including Roger). There’s flying air balloon rides, fires, kids being experimented on and tortured, boats, real war, ghosts, and a lot of foreshadowing prophecies for the books to come. And to top it all off, there are some of my all-time favorite characters! Lee Scoresby, the one flying the balloon is so fascinating! There’s an armored bear that will just melt your heart! And then of course, there are the bad characters too (like Lyra’s discovered parents, who are both above and smart and evil).
This is one amazing story, filled with action, science, adventure, magic, and unbelievable characters. Lyra is still probably my favorite YA character of all time. She is just so creative, strong, intelligent, and good! She goes over backwards to save her best friend. She learns bear politics, talks herself out of a frozen prison, and tells story upon story to save another friend and find her father. She travels the world and risks her life to do what she thinks is right.
And then of course there’s all of the inner layers of politics and religion. So much is going on in this novel in regards to religion and science. And it’s not just about something as simple as creation versus evolution; it’s about power. It’s about other worlds existing and how certain people refuse to let the people know. It’s about discoveries being more important than the lives of children. And frankly, neither side looks very appealing. Both the scholars/scientists, and the Magisterium (parallel to Catholic church) come off looking pretty evil.
This is no simple children’s or YA book. It is loaded with layers of different themes and ideas. It’s the kind of book that both makes you bite your nails in anticipation for things to happen, and makes you ask serious questions. The ending is a cliffhanger to top all cliffhangers, and you finish this book immediately ready to start book 2 (and thankfully, all of the books are out already so you can!). I don’t really have anything negative to say here. I am a little biased. I have read this book several times. I was even dressed up as The Amber Spyglass (book 3) one year for Halloween. Yes, I am that cool. It definitely gets a 10/10 from me. And I cannot wait to discuss this tomorrow! I just wish I had time to re-read all of them right now.


  1. OMG, that was a fun Halloween! haha. I need to read this book again, too :)

  2. Yay this series! I totally need to reread it at some point. Also, I still want a daemon. It would probably look a lot like my cat. Ha!

  3. Oh nice, I bet this was so nostalgic for you! It's one of my favourites from growing up, as well. I also adore Lyra and the many layers this book has. I really hope your students enjoy it, too! And that's an awesome Hallowe'en costume!!