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The Golden Compass
(His Dark Materials. Book One)

by Philip Pullman


Alfred A. Knopf, 1996, many reprints
reviewed by Fred Patten

compass

 

The Golden Compass (published a year earlier in England as Northern Lights) is the first volume of three, and does not stand alone. The other two are The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. As with J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, you must read all three volumes and in the proper order.

The Golden Compass is set in a unique fantasy parallel world in which all humans have their souls manifest as physical talking animal companions or dæmons. Polar bears can also talk; they wear armor as panserbjørne, armored bears, and they have their own kingdom in the Arctic.

Lyra Belacqua, the eleven-year-old ward of Lord Asriel of Jordan College, Oxford, learns of a strange plot by the General Oblation Board, a mysterious agency of the Magisterium (this world's universal Church) to kidnap children off to a laboratory in the Arctic to sever their psychic links with their dæmons. Lyra and her dæmon Pantalaimon (usually an ermine, although he can change into any small creature) follow to rescue Lyra's best friend Roger, a kitchen boy, and find themselves mixed up in the politics of human nations including flying witches, and the armored bears of the North.

At the end of The Golden Compass Lyra and Pantalaimon escape into another world which may be ours, in which people's souls are within their bodies.

The revelations of the whole novel have been controversial (Pullman is an acknowledged atheist), but taken strictly as a literary fantasy, the three volumes of His Dark Materials are an exciting and highly imaginative adventure.

 

The Golden Compass (published a year earlier in England as Northern Lights) is the first volume of three, and does not stand alone. The other two are The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. As with J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, you must read all three volumes and in the proper order.

The Golden Compass is set in a unique fantasy parallel world in which all humans have their souls manifest as physical talking animal companions or dæmons. Polar bears can also talk; they wear armor as panserbjørne, armored bears, and they have their own kingdom in the Arctic.

Lyra Belacqua, the eleven-year-old ward of Lord Asriel of Jordan College, Oxford, learns of a strange plot by the General Oblation Board, a mysterious agency of the Magisterium (this world's universal Church) to kidnap children off to a laboratory in the Arctic to sever their psychic links with their dæmons. Lyra and her dæmon Pantalaimon (usually an ermine, although he can change into any small creature) follow to rescue Lyra's best friend Roger, a kitchen boy, and find themselves mixed up in the politics of human nations including flying witches, and the armored bears of the North.

At the end of The Golden Compass Lyra and Pantalaimon escape into another world which may be ours, in which people's souls are within their bodies.

The revelations of the whole novel have been controversial (Pullman is an acknowledged atheist), but taken strictly as a literary fantasy, the three volumes of His Dark Materials are an exciting and highly imaginative adventure.

Last Updated ( Monday, 14 July 2008 )
 
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