I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Series: His Dark Materials #1
Published by Random House/Yearling on 2007
Genres: Middle grade, Fantasy
Format: Finished paperback
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The nitty-gritty: Just as magical the second time around, this award-winning classic fantasy tale is a must read for ALL fans of the genre.
“The men of this town gave me spirits and let me drink till I was asleep, and then they took my armor away from me. If I knew where they keep it, I would tear down the town to get it back. If you want my service, the price is this: get me back my armor. Do that, and I shall serve you in your campaign, either until I am dead or until you have a victory. The price is my armor. I want it back, and then I shall never need spirits again.”
~ Iorek Byrnison
I’m trying to remember the year I first read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and I’m guessing it was around 2000. So it’s been a while. When I was asked to participate in a review blog tour for the first book in the series, The Golden Compass, I didn’t hesitate for a second. The tour’s purpose is to create excitement for Pullman’s upcoming prequel series, The Book of Dust (and I’m dying to get my hands on a copy of the first book, La Belle Sauvage!), and I’m sure the publisher is hoping to attract a new generation of readers. If you haven’t read this amazing series, then I highly recommend that you do. There are pages and pages of critical essays out there, breaking down the meanings of Pullman’s story, and I could write a review dealing with just that topic if I wanted to. (Anyone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about can start with the Wikipedia entry for a quick overview). Suffice it to say, Pullman isn’t very popular in conservative Christian circles, which I have to admit is one of the reasons I love this series so much.
But. That is a deeper level, and I can honestly say having now read this book twice, that you don’t need to delve so deeply to enjoy and appreciate what Pullman has created. At its most basic level, this is a rip-roaring adventure story that will fuel your imagination, full of finely crafted characters who will capture your heart. The overall tone of the book feels like a middle grade story, and Lyra’s age of eleven also made me think that Pullman was writing to a younger audience. But just like the Harry Potter books, the story has many adult themes which make this perfect for readers of all ages.
Lyra Belacqua is a precocious girl who lives within the halls of Jordan College at Oxford, where she spends her days studying with the Scholars and her nights running across the rooftops of the city with her friends. She is always accompanied by her dæmon Pantalaimon, her animal companion who can change from a mouse to a sparrow to a cat and back. But one evening, Lyra overhears her Uncle Asriel and the Scholars discussing something called Dust, unseen particles that surround adults, but don’t seem to be found around children. Lyra’s imagination is captured by this mystery and she longs to learn more about it. Her Uncle is determined to journey to the North to do more research, but when he suddenly disappears, Lyra vows to go North herself to find him. Even worse, some of Lyra’s friends have gone missing, and there are rumors that a shadow group nicknamed the Gobblers have something to do with it.
Armed with an odd and unreadable contraption called an alethiometer, Lyra sets out on a fantastic adventure, full of armored bears and witches, to the cold North, where danger lies just around every corner.
I seem to be reading quite a few stories these days that deal with growing up, and here’s one more for the pile. The core element of Pullman’s world is that everyone is born with a dæmon—an animal—attached to them by an invisible cord, sort of like wearing your soul on the outside. I love that a child’s dæmon can change into any form it wants until the child reaches puberty, after which time it chooses one form to settle into for good. Kind of like having a carefree childhood and then later having to take on the responsibilities of adulthood. The bond between a human and his dæmon is unbreakable. They can only go short distances away from each other without experiencing great pain, and when one dies, the other dies as well.
Pullman’s imagery is gorgeous: the freezing cold and snowy landscape, the beauty and magic of the Northern Lights, and the incredible descriptions of the balloon that Lyra and her friends fly in for part of their journey. I loved revisiting these images, which give this story a sense of wonder. On the flip side, however, are the horrible things that are happening to the kidnapped children, which I won’t go into here. Pullman isn’t afraid to put his characters in danger, particularly the children, and I admit to getting quite emotional during some of the scenes.
But by far my favorite things about this series are the characters. I loved Lyra from the very beginning, a smart and fierce girl who isn’t afraid to play with the boys, get in fights, disobey her elders and jump headlong into danger. My favorite character, though, has got to be Iorek Byrnison, the armored bear, who becomes a loyal friend to Lyra. Another favorite character of mine, the balloonist Lee Scoresby, makes a quick appearance in this book, but he has a much bigger part to play later in the series.
And as for my experience doing a reread, well, I have to say I loved it! I honestly had forgotten many of the details of the story, so it was almost like reading it for the first time. And because I know what happens in the next two books, I’m already plotting out some reading time to devote to The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, hopefully before The Book of Dust kicks off in the fall. Because Lyra’s story has just begun, and this is one of those series that gets better with each new installment.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.