Book Review: The Golden Compass

golden_compass

Review

Reading age: 11+

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman is the first book in the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy. It charts the adventures of a precocious young girl, Lyra, who is swept away from her idyllic and care-free existence in picturesque Oxford and plunged into the centre of international conspiracy and conflict.

In my opinion, the most impressive aspect of this superb novel is Mr. Pullman’s ability to create an utterly convincing, enticing and enchanting parallel world. We are still on Earth but an Earth where humans have daemons (animal avatars that can change form when one is young); real life phenomena (namely the Northern Lights) have mystical, undiscovered properties; animals rule certain parts of the world; and the conflict between science and religion rages on. His portrayal of this world is so utterly convincing that you can’t help but look and wish for the same sort of magic in the world we inhabit now.

Not only are Mr. Pullman’s characters and settings beautifully portrayed, but he also deals very frankly with the conflict between science and religion and this is an excellent story to introduce this real issue to young readers.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. Within the pages of The Golden Compass lies a world that one can truly get lost in with a plot that will have you fervently turning the pages and gasping in amazement at its twists and turns.

Discussion Questions (from Random House Books)

1. The world of The Golden Compass is ruled by the Church. However, the nature of its power is unclear. What power do you think the Church holds over its people?

2. Human knowledge and experience are made physical in Dust. What other psychological, intellectual, or spiritual activities does the author physicalize?

3. 1. Why do you think the author stresses that Lyra is not an imaginative child? Why would “imagination” be dangerous to her?

4. In what ways is gender a significant or stratifying element in the novel? Why do you think all witches are female? Why are dæmons usually the opposite gender of their human counterparts? Is the fact that Lyra is a girl-child relevant to the themes of the story?

5. Are Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter in collusion or are they fighting each other? How and in what way?

Activities

  • Create your own daemon. What aspects of your personality does it have? Would it be a real animal or something imaginary?
  • Lyra is adept at using the alethiometer, a device that offers often difficult answers to the user’s questions. If you could have any life-helping device, what would its function be? What would it look like? Would it be difficult to use? Would it also have its own language, like the alethiometer’s symbols?
  • The Golden Compass does not deal with morality in a straightforward, concrete way. Construct the “moral universe” of the book. First, list the major decisions that characters had to make. Then define how each main character would feel about each decision. Where do they overlap in their ideas about morality? Where do they disagree? Why do they disagree when they do?

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