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The Golden Compass

The first book in Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" fantasy novel trilogy.

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A classic fantasy that will stand the test of time!

  • Mar 28, 2010

It is difficult to find enough superlatives to describe Philip Pullman's masterwork fantasy "The Golden Compass". Heart stopping adventure pitting good against insidious evil and weak against strong, a cast of magnificently crafted characters, compelling dialogue, a child's sense of awestruck wonder and insatiable curiosity, the heart wrenching sadness of unexpected death, a healthy serving of ultra-modern science and cosmology cleverly juxtaposed against a soupçon of old-fashioned Victorian lifestyles and a completely original "world" will all ensure that "The Golden Compass" has a place in the classics section of libraries for decades to come. It has earned that status and will hold its head high beside other ground-breaking fantasy adventures such as "Lord of the Rings" and "Duncton Wood".

Lyra Belacqua, an orphan girl raised from infancy by the masters of Oxford College, is now approaching womanhood and must soon leave her childhood haunts to be educated by the enigmatic Mrs Coulter, a scholar and explorer. On the very night before she is to leave, Lyra and her daemon, Pantalaimon, overhear a secret discussion about "dust", a mysterious particle or force apparently originating in the far North that seems drawn to children. She is then inexorably swept into a maelstrom of events - an assassination attempt against her uncle, the abduction of children, the invasion of Svarlbad by an overwhelming force of Tartars, a fight to the death for the right to rule an army of armor clad polar bears, inter-clan warfare among witches flying through the northern skies on their twigs of Cloud Pine. It all leads to a climactic struggle against the "magisterium", the ruling church, the religious force and the political power in Pullman's world that will do almost anything to suppress opposition. The battle rages around the search for knowledge of the source of "dust".

Many readers (almost certainly of the Christian faith) have soundly criticized "The Golden Compass" as being anti-Christian and pro-atheism. I disagree. Beyond an extraordinary fantasy adventure that will appeal to children of all ages, what I read was a morality tale that cautioned adherents of any faith against the slavish acceptance of dogma if those rules insist upon blind faith and prohibit any questions or exploration into the fundamentals of that doctrine or faith. Frankly, it didn't appear to me that Pullman set out to target the Christian faith but I doubt if I'm the only reader that saw the irony in the aftermath of its publication. I suspect the vehement insistence that "The Golden Compass" be banned from the shelves of children's school libraries was probably an act that placed themselves into the very category of narrow-minded religious sectarianism that Pullman was talking about.

Highly recommended. "The Golden Compass" is the finest book I've read for a long, long time.

Paul Weiss

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October 09, 2010
I love this book and also the second one the Subtle Knife, really good stories that are so full of suspense you simply can't stop reading. BUT, then came the third one and I have had that book for many years now and tried two times to read it but it is just sooooo dull. It's amazing, how can the same author write two books full of suspense and interest and then write the third one that is like gooey syrup, you simply can't get through it.
October 09, 2010
I haven't read the second one yet but it is coming closer to the top of my reading list. Thanks for the heads up on number 3.
October 24, 2010
I came to these novels because of an article in Vanity Fair on Pullmann shortly after the publication of the last of the series: The Amber Spyglass.  In that article he is open about his distaste for religion in general and the Catholic Church and Church of England. 

I am a never-believer but have always been fascinated with religion, but that isn't what made me buy the books.  The article mentioned a young girl who mailed a picture of a squirrel to Mr. Pullmann shortly after the publication of the second in the series: The Subtle Knife.  I paraphrase: See this squirrel?  If you like this squirrel and want to see it alive again, you will finish the next book now."  Something that would inflame a story-addicted, rodent-stalking pre-teen was going to jump to the head of the line for curiosity if nothing else.

If taken on its own, I can support a reading that says it doesn't attack Christianity; I can also support the idea that what it attacks is religious hierarchy -- the novel contains several different peoples/tribes/animals all of whom have belief systems of their own even if not explained in depth.  The problem is that Compass was never intended to stand on its own and when read in its full context it is very much anti-Christian/Catholic.

I totally agree with ornleifs on his opinion about the last book.  The way I looked at it was that he really wanted the girl to refrain from killing the squirrel, so he just typed and typed and typed and the publisher finally just took the sheaf of paper and published it as is -- for all I know, he's still typing.
October 24, 2010
When you label Compass as anti-Christian or anti-Catholic "in its full context", I presume you mean in the context of all three novels considered together. Since I haven't read #2 or #3 yet, I'll have to reserve judgment to see if I agree with you. In the meantime, I stand by the comment that Compass (admittedly, on its own) is only anti-religion (in the general sense of organized religion with codified dogma). Thanks for the comments. I'm pleased that I made you think to the extent that you'd prepare such an extensive, cogent comment.
January 17, 2011
Guess that means I get to judge for myself :-)
May 03, 2010
I really enjoyed this book and found it to be a refreshing change from the "Dungeons & Dragons" fantasy stuff that's so pervasive in the genre. I still need to read the rest of the series though.
May 03, 2010
Me too actually. I've had books 2 and 3 for a long time but somehow I've just not managed to get around to reading them. Thanks for the reminder.
More The Golden Compass (Northern L... reviews
review by . June 16, 2010
I first read this book at age 12, and I continue to read it and its sequels (The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass) every few years.  I do this because every time I read them, I pick up on new and ever-more-complicated thematic issues through my changing worldview.      The Golden Compass sets the stage for the course of the whole trilogy, but it could stand alone as well.  It introduces themes of power and oppression, and abuse of religious doctrine and authority. …
Quick Tip by . February 23, 2011
It's a great adventure story in a parallel universe where people's spirits (or souls, but that becomes problematic) exist as animals outside the body. Read it as an adventure tale and it will hold the attention. If you want to read it and the series because of its take on religion, then you are likely going to be disappointed. The book also contains the single ... meanest ... act ... of ... all ... time.
Quick Tip by . January 17, 2011
Heart stopping adventure pitting good against insidious evil and weak against strong, a cast of magnificently crafted characters, compelling dialogue and a child's sense of awestruck wonder and insatiable curiosity, Unfairly characterized as being anti-Christian (in my opinion), this is a book that should be in the classics section of libraries for many, many years to come.
review by . July 04, 2010
      I picked up this book by browsing through the library and randomly choosing a book that I thought looked interesting, yet knew nothing about.  I had never even heard about the author Phillip Pullman.  This book took me on a literal ride and really made me think and even conduct some research after reading!  The author takes you through a thrilling magical adventure, from polar bears who can talk to a parrallel world city in the sky.  He develops the …
Quick Tip by . July 13, 2010
A great fantasy book. It is a good read and moves quickly.
Quick Tip by . July 05, 2010
This book is fantastic. It was great when I was younger, and it's still great now. It's a wonderfully exciting story.
Quick Tip by . June 25, 2010
Masterpiece literature. The concepts and dimensions of this book reach far beyond young adult reading. I am an adult and I am still drawn to the concepts of this book. Once you get past the Demon (daemon) aspect of this book you will love it. If you are willing to put aside old concepts of what a demon is, you will be more inclined to enjoy the book..since the official definition does not apply here.
Quick Tip by . June 24, 2010
One of the longest and most intriguing books from my youth. Couldn't put it down, powered through the trilogy within the space of a few months.
Quick Tip by . June 22, 2010
Great characters and a truly intriguing world. The (anti)religious polemic seemed heavy-handed and unfortunate.
Quick Tip by . June 18, 2010
This book has a clever premise, and the plot is fabulously fleshed out!
About the reviewer
Paul Weiss ()
Ranked #15
   A modern day dilettante with widely varied eclectic interests. A dabbler in muchbut grandmaster of none - wilderness camping in all four seasons, hiking, canoeing, world travel,philately, … more
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About this book


 Accompanied by her daemon, Lyra Belacqua sets out to prevent her best friend and other kidnapped children from becoming the subject of gruesome experiments in the Far North.
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Author: Philip Pullman
Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers, Del Rey
Date Published: April 16, 1996
Format: Originally published as: Northern lights. Prequel: Once upon a time in the North. Sequel: The subtle knife.
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