The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

“Everyone’s daemon instantly became warlike: each child was accompanied by fangs, or claws, or bristling fur, and Pantalaimon, contemptuous of the limited imaginations of these gyptian daemons, became a dragon the size of a deer hound.”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure

Book Jacket Synopsis: Lyra Belacqua is content to run wild among the scholars of Jordan College, with her daemon familiar, Pantalaimon, always by her side. But the arrival of her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, draws her to the heart of a terrible struggle – a struggle born of Gobblers and stolen children, witch clans and armored bears. And as she hurtles toward danger in the cold far North, Lyra never suspects the shocking truth: she alone is destined to win, or to lose, this more-than-mortal battle.

Review: Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I am a lover of fantasy fiction. I think it takes immense skill as a writer to create entire worlds and universes from scratch. For that reason, I have a lot of respect and admiration for Pullman because the parallel universe he creates in The Golden Compass is incredibly intricate. I really loved the different subcultures his readers were introduced to, from the comradery of the gyptian families to the solitary lives of the panserbjørne (sentient, armored, polar bear-like creatures). And Lyra Belacqua certainly makes for a complex, lovable, intriguing heroine. I also have to commend Pullman on his idea of the human-daemon bond; indeed, I finished The Golden Compass wishing that I had my own daemon and contemplating what form it would likely take. That being said, my rating is somewhat lower than I would have expected given my affinity for the fantasy genre. Oddly enough, I finished this book without any immediate desire to read the rest of the series. While Lyra and her companions undertook many different adventures, I felt like The Golden Compass definitely suffered from a disjointed feeling when it moved from one adventure to the next. While I definitely won’t rule out finishing the series eventually, I feel no pressing need to get the next book.

Reason for Ban/Challenge: Since its first publication in 1995, The Golden Compass has faced plenty of opposition. In this book, one of the main entities that directly opposes Lyra is the Church (which shares many structural similarities with the Catholic Church); the unfavorable depiction of this Church has led many religious organizations to call for bans of the book. The vendetta against The Golden Compass reached new levels of animosity in 2007, when the movie version first hit theaters. Primary opposer, the Catholic League (an anti-defamation group), declared that both the book and the movie promoted atheism and attacked Christianity. And Pullman certainly didn’t assuage those feelings when he gave his own opinion on religion:

“I think my position would be that throughout human history, the greatest moral advances have been made by religious leaders such as Jesus and the Buddha. And the greatest moral wickedness has been perpetrated by their followers. How many millions of people have been killed in the name of this religion or that one? Burnt, hanged, tortured. It’s just extraordinary.”

However, critics are missing the point of The Golden Compass when they focus solely on its portrayal of religion. Indeed, Lyra and her companions have no shortage of faith, courage, or kindness: admirable qualities by any standards. Altogether, I see The Golden Compass as being more a depiction of the depravity and oppression that can result from religion gone wrong, as opposed to a direct attack on any specific religion.




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