Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Golden Compass

by Philip Pullman

399 pages

I can't believe that I hadn't read this book until now. Growing up, I LOVED The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and I feel like this could be put into that genre of literature. Maybe it was just printed too late in my childhood...Regardless, I'm glad that I've read it now! I really enjoyed this book.

The story is about Lyra, an eleven year old girl who lives in a world where people's souls are in the form of daemons, or animals, that walk along side them. In childhood, your daemon can change shape at will but once you reach adulthood, your daemon settles into one particular animal form (which usually tells something about your own character, for instance servants tend to have dog daemons). Lyra is orphaned as a baby and her uncle takes her to live at Jordan College in Oxford, England. It is here where she learns about the Gobblers who are stealing children who are never seen again, and about Dust, which settles on adults whose daemons have settled into one form. One night, a woman named Mrs. Coulter comes to dinner and is given permission by the Master of Jordan College to take Lyra on as an assistant. Before Lyra leaves the Master gives her an Alethiometer, a device that when read properly tells the truth, and she is not to let Mrs. Coulter know that she has it. The alethiometer looks like a golden compass, with symbols all around the face instead of directions, hence the name of the book.

While living with Mrs. Coulter and waiting to be taken to the North, as promised, Lyra discovered that Mrs. Coulter is the head of the General Oblation Board (Gobblers) and is responsible for all the children that have been taken. She flees and is rescued by the gyptians who take her on their boat, to the North, to save the stolen children. Along the way, Lyra learns to read the alethiometer, decides to save her uncle, Lord Asriel, since he has been taken prisoner, and discovers what is happening to the stolen children. Also, she learns why the church and GOB are so afraid of Dust. Dust is the elementary particle that is Original Sin. It allows for the connection between humans and their daemon, and allows for free thought, intelligence, and wisdom. The ending of the book was particularly chilling and thought-provoking as you realized that the things that seems to be good throughout the book, very well may not be. So, in the end, Lyra must go on on her own.

Now, I had to watch the movie version in order to count 25 points towards the WBC! I was pretty excited to see this movie since I heard about all the controversy surrounding it when it first came out and, now having read it, I wanted to see how the book was going to transfer into cinema.

I thought that the first 2/3 of the movie was great. It was pretty much the same story line and time period as the book and flowed really nicely. However, as soon as Lyra set out for the North, it started to deviate a lot from the book. The whole escape plan for the children was rushed, the scene with the King of the armored bears was much shorter than it should have been, AND (most importantly!!!) they left off the ending!!!!! Yes, the end is sad and controversial, but it's KEY to the story! you can't have another movie without that part! And, you can't grasp the underlying idea of the fine line between good and evil that the author is trying to portray. This was just so dissappointing. The only redeeming qualities of the movie were that Nicole Kidman was fantastic as Mrs. Coulter, Daniel Craig always looks good (even though he should have been at the end!!), and the CGI bears were really well done.

Overall, for the book, I'll most likely read the next two in the His Dark Materials series and for the movie, I'm glad I saw it and would see the sequel (if they make it but I don't think that they are) but only to see the part left out of the end of the first movie!

book: 8 out of 10 stars
movie: 6 out of 10 stars.


  1. I loved this book. I read the series for the first time in 2006 (I think) and remember getting so sucked in. I wont spoil the second two for you, so I'll keep my mouth (fingers) shut until you read them!

    I liked the movie, but agree about how they cut off the ending. Super lame. Also, Daniel Craig is yummy.

    Oh, and, sadly, they're not making the sequel. :o(

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