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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman 
31st-Jul-2007 01:11 am
Pullman, Philip. The Golden Compass. 1996. New York: Knopf, 2002.
          Summary: His Dark Materials Book I. (Originally titled Northern Lights.) Lyra's best friend Roger has been kidnapped by the Gobblers, an arm of the Church otherwise known as the General Oblation Board. Armed with an alethiometer, a device which can be used to divine the truth, and accompanied by a host of companions, she sets out North to rescue Roger. Though she succeeds in rescuing Roger, she unwittingly hands him over to her father Lord Asriel, who sacrifices the boy in order to open up a gateway between worlds.
          Comments: Though written in straightforward, merely serviceable prose, The Golden Compass proved to be an enjoyable fantasy adventure boasting a female protagonist and a horde of intelligent animals. Granted, most of the animals were "daemons" and not true animals per se and did not behave in a convincing animal-like fashion. (There is no love lost for dogs, in particular.) Still the armored bears were a delightful bit of storytelling; what child would not love a romp through the snow on the back of a polar bear?
          The novel assumes the classic hero's journey narrative. As such, I was quite amused by the fact that it started in Oxford; the security of home for Pullman is a place of hallowed learning and scholarship. Though it doesn't seem to be the most obvious point of origin, it suggests that the ultimate goal will be for Lyra to become a scholar and teacher herself. Because this is a trilogy, the narrative ends abruptly with the death of Roger at the hands of Lyra's father Lord Asriel. Lyra's nadir is a rather emotionally scary place to end a book for young children, and it signals darker things yet to come. And once you get to this point, it's awfully hard to stop reading, provided that you already have the rest of the books (as I did, having bought a boxset).
          Might I say that I'm now officially most eager to see the movie? Like those based on the Harry Potter series, all the cinematic bells and whistles are sure to effectively mask the many textual shortcomings of the source. The takeaways, at least initially, will be an overwhelming sense of a truly fantastic world and a story that's a lot of fun onscreen. I wonder, though, how they'll deal with the angry atheist screed of the later books. Probably badly, given the lukewarm treatment of Biblical allusion in the film adaptation of C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
          Notes: trade paperback, 6th printing (first published in the UK in 1995)
          Rating: 6/10 - A rip-roaring adventure story. But by the end, the fun takes a sharp left turn into the sinister and cerebral.
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