The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials

by Philip Pullman

Paperback, 2001

Status

Available

Local notes

PB Pul

Barcode

1573

Publication

Knopf Books for Young Readers (2001), 368 pages

Description

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.

Language

Original publication date

1995

Media reviews

As always, Pullman is a master at combining impeccable characterizations and seamless plotting, maintaining a crackling pace to create scene upon scene of almost unbearable tension. This glittering gem will leave readers of all ages eagerly awaiting the next installment of Lyra's adventures.

User reviews

LibraryThing member billmcn
Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy has acquired the reputation of being a sort of Narnia for Atheists. This reputation is, at least by the end of The Golden Compass, largely unearned. Though the religious beliefs depicted in Pullman's fantasy universe throw their real-world parallels into
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an interesting light, there is nothing that compares to the explicitly Christian message in C.S. Lewis' classic children's books.

The Golden Compass is set in the Edwardian England of a parallel universe, where Pullman's fantastic reimagining of the staples of English children's literature makes them fresh again. The action begins at an Oxford full of stuffy dons, and the main character, Lyra, is a familiarly plucky urchin. She sets off on an arctic adventure in which she flies in hot air balloons, fights nefarious Tartars, and befriends fierce talking bears. The result is a heady mishmash that seems equal parts classic adventure tale, C.S. Lewis, and Edward Gorey. Pullman makes this all bracing stuff, but it's the ideas woven into the plot that hook you. Most compelling are the daemons. In the world of The Golden Compass every human has a daemon, a talking animal familiar that serves as a lifelong companion. The most affecting relationship in the novel is between Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon. It is emotionally familiar to anyone who has ever loved a pet (and Pullman doesn't refrain from pulling loyal-animal-in-peril heartstrings) but goes much deeper: daemons and humans are like Siamese twins bound by invisible flesh. Life as a fully autonomous human is as unthinkable as life without a head. The philosophical implications of this union give the novel a subtle but potent extra punch.

In comparison to the novel's musings on identity, the religious stuff seems pretty tame. Some of the evil conspirators Lyra must elude are members of a church faction that hides naked political opportunism behind a veil of orthodoxy. Pullman is having some subtle fun here, but doesn't invent anything worse than the real-life machinations of Reformation-era Europe. In the world of The Golden Compass, theology and particle physics are all mixed up together. But again, given modern science's origins in religiously-minded "natural philosophy", this seems more historically astute than theologically mischievous. The end of The Golden Compass quotes from a parallel-universe version of the Book of Genesis, which makes a great teaser for Book Two, but should prove heretical only to those determined to be offended.

Does Pullman show his true, insidiously humanist side later on in the series? I don't know, but I'm hooked enough by the first book to find out
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LibraryThing member elephant_issues
Philip Pullman has a lot of things going for him with The Golden Compass. He's created a fantastic, complex, and believable world, into which he gently and skillfully pulls the reader by offering random bits of information rather than huge explanatory paragraphs. The plot, as well, is an intriguing
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one. But Pullman's greatest failure is in his execution, and in the end, the book is driven much more by plot than character. None of the characters are particularly well developed; we are told many things about their emotions and personalities, but since few scenes allow us to see them interact with each other outside the realm of exposition, I found it very difficult to care about them. Lyra, the protagonist, is plucky enough, and I appreciated the fact that she did seem like a realistic child. But even she isn't given enough time to really shine as herself and not just "the main character," especially toward the end of the book, where the narrative almost seems to have been reduced to plot points alone.

Many characters make decisions for no apparent reason but to advance the plot, which is especially problematic considering the presence of the alethiometer--the titular compass-like instrument that always replies truthfully to any question asked of it, even to the point of foretelling the future. In reality, one assumes that the alethiometer would have been put to much more use, but since doing so in the context of a book would spoil several key plot points, characters are constantly coming up with excuses not to use it (such as, several times, "it was too cold"). In my opinion, Pullman never really reconciles the story with the presence of this object, which he definitely could have done.

In the end, though, I'm intrigued enough by the world and the ongoing question as to the true nature of Dust (one of the central questions posed from the beginning) to continue on to the next book. Were the story a touch less compelling and the world less well constructed, however, I'd be tempted to put the series aside.
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
I liked this book the most out of the His Dark Materials series. My problem with the series as a whole is that it's too didactic, Pullman pounding in his message against organized religion in later books with ten-inch nails. In terms of message and themes this series seems to consciously be the
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anti-Narnia, without ever being derivative of that world in its creative details. However, in the first volume, I was so fascinated by the world Pullman creates, the rich style and the non-stop action that this first book didn't simply outweigh the problem I had with the polemics, I didn't even notice it: compulsively readable.

I particularly was intrigued and charmed by his "daemons"--talking animal spirits that are more than just companions, they're a part of your soul. The relationship between the protagonist, Lyra, and her daemon Pantalaimon is one of the most compelling aspects of the book. (And displays the most appealing part of Lyra's character--one problem I do have with the book and the series is that I otherwise find Lyra hard to like. Iorek Byornison, on the other hand, the armored talking polar bear, is made of win.) I also loved how this book (and the trilogy as a whole) blends fantasy and science fiction. Daemons, "Dust," the "alethiometer" referred to in the title aren't just magical devices but thought-provoking ways to examine questions of identity and reality.

Pullman in this novel creates one of the most fascinating worlds I've seen in fantasy, and one unusual for being set in an alternate history Age of Steam rather than a pseudo-medieval setting. Marketed as "young adult" or even for children, this is definitely the kind of novel that can fully capture adults too.
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LibraryThing member Smiler69
Lyra is an orphaned girl who has been living at Oxford College for as far back as she can remember. The book begins as she is surreptitiously making her way to a forbidden room accompanied by her daemon Pantalaimon. In this world, which closely resembles our own sometime in the late 19th century,
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everyone has a personal daemon—a manifestation of the soul—which takes the shape of an animal and accompanies it's human everywhere. The two hide to listen to Lyra's uncle, an explorer just returned from the Arctic North where he has discovered the physical manifestation of a mysterious substance called Dust. There are children all over England going missing and the rumour is that they are taken by the Gobblers who perform mysterious experiments on them. When Lyra's close friend Roger disappears, she vows to find him and rescue him along with all the other missing children, said to be held by the Gobblers (or 'General Oblation Board') who are performing cruel experiments on them at a research facility in the North. Along the way in this fascinating fantasy world we meet the beautiful and treacherous Mrs. Coulter and her golden monkey daemon. There are boat people called gyptians, armoured talking bears, there are good witches and evil witches and an air balloon. And of course, there is the Golden Compass, or 'alethiometer', a rare instrument which has the ability to answer any question, as long as one knows how to decipher it's mysterious symbols, and which Lyra must keep from falling into the wrong hands at all costs.

I saw the movie version of this story a couple of years ago and thought it was great, and I absolutely loved this book, which is ostensibly geared toward children, but with a level of sophistication to keep adults wanting more. There is a great adventure filled with plenty of thrills and hurdles along the way, and there are philosophical matters to do with the nature of the human soul and the role that religion plays in our search for greater understanding of the universe. There are brilliantly evil people, and there are heros you just want to cheer on. I didn't want this magnificent tale to end, but lucky for me, there are two more volumes in the trilogy still to discover. Once that's done, I'll probably want to read them all over again.
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LibraryThing member C.Vick
Definitely the best of the trilogy, Pullman's The Golden Compass introduces the reader to a fascinating alternate reality, where people's souls take the form of an animal visible to all. Up until puberty, this animal (called a Daemon), can change form, but, as the church scientists are discovering,
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from that moment a strange substance called "Dust" begins to settle on humans and their Daemons settle on a final form.

The all-powerful church becomes obsessed at discovering the cause of dust and connects it with the loss of innocence. Caught up in this, in more ways than she can understand, is the orphaned Lyra, who lives amongst old scholars at Oxford University. Unaware of her own power, she is warred over by those who would serve the church, those who would serve to destroy it, and those who would protect her at all costs.

I can hardly do this book justice, but it is one of the favorites in my collection, and gets re-read every few years. The trilogy as a whole has so much depth, so many twists and turns, that I discover new things each time.

Part fantasy, party mystery, part science fiction, The Golden Compass has something to please almost all readers.
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LibraryThing member AbigailAdams26
In his Carnegie Medal Acceptance Speech, given in 1996, Philip Pullman contends that "There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children's book." His subsequent remarks about the importance of story, its centrality to both
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children's and adult literature, will be most welcome to anyone who grows tired of the sort of "literary armageddon" that certain critics, ala Harold Bloom, envision when faced with the adult consumption of children's books.

These are exactly the sort of bold words one would expect from the author of His Dark Materials, a juvenile fantasy trilogy inspired in part by the works of Milton and Blake, and which takes up the cause of challenging certain long-entrenched theological and religious beliefs; among them the perfection and immortality of god, the justice of religious authority, the concept of original sin, and the role of free will.

The Golden Compass is the first book in Pullman's trilogy, and opens in Oxford, in a "universe like ours, but different in many ways." It follows the adventures of a young girl named Lyra, who, together with her daemon Pantalaimon, finds herself swept up in an extraordinary adventure, the consequences of which will be more far-reaching than anything she ever could have imagined.

With a sinister and all-powerful church, known as the Magisterium; a mystery involving kidnapped children and the terrible rumors as to their fate; a sea voyage to the far north; a fascinating cast of characters including gyptians, armoured bears, and Siberian witches; this book offers more than enough narrative excitement to keep any reader enthralled. The theological and philosophical controversies of Lyra's world provide a fascinating undercurrent to the story, particularly the concept of dust - a mysterious substance with great significance for the future of individual people, individual worlds, and the general universe....

This is my third time reading The Golden Compass, which I first encountered when I was given an advance reading copy of it back in 1996. I have found each reading to be an incredibly rich and rewarding experience, and have been struck by different aspects of the story every time. As there are over 1,000 reviews for this title, I will avoid any more general summary, and focus on some of my specific observations this time around.

First, this work always reminds me of the fact that adults too frequently undervalue the intellectual capability of children, their curiosity about and ability to grasp complex ideas and realities. Given that Pullman explicitly makes this point, when writing of Lyra's desire to learn about Dust, I find it ironic how often adult reviewers of this series will speak of its sophistication as somehow astonishing, "in a children's book." I must conclude that they have either failed to grasp this key point, or are seeking to assuage their own insecurities.

Pullman's books have stirred up quite a bit of controversy, due to their sharp criticism of orthodox theology and religious institutions. While I do not find his arguments arbitrary or unfounded, I had to chuckle when I realized that much of what is considered "theology" in Lyra's world would be considered science in our own. Is Pullman being ironic, or is he intentionally implying that scientific institutions are as susceptible to corruption as religious ones?

Finally, I consider Pullman's conception of the "daemon" to be a stroke of pure genius! The physicality of the soul in this world provides an extended, and very useful, metaphor for examining the human soul. It also allows the reader to truly witness the horror of spiritual violence, in a way impossible under any other circumstance. The complicated relationships between people and daemons, both their own and others, and between the daemons themselves, gave me much to ponder, this time around.
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LibraryThing member nperrin
I've read dozens of rave reviews of The Golden Compass that claim adults will love it even though it's a young adult book. I have a hard time believing this. Pullman's writing just wasn't good enough. The characters were flat - including the heroine, who went from inexplicably bratty to
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inexplicably loving and nice in a flash. I found it impossible to understand her motivations throughout the book.
The action scenes also made little sense and didn't seem very well plotted. Each disaster that befell the characters came out of nowhere, and each rescue was equally bizarre and unexpected - and not in a good way. It felt like all the twists and turns were just for their own sake, to make the story more exciting, but it left the book feeling disjointed and poorly paced instead.
On the other hand, the parallel Earth Pullman has constructed is well done and I found it quite appealing. I plan to read at least the second book in the trilogy and possibly the third despite my disappointment; I do want to know where the story goes. It's just unfortunate that a book that gets such positive reviews would be so lacking, especially when I feel a real need for just this kind of story.
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LibraryThing member thelorelei
I was absolutely captivated by this novel. Philip Pullman is not at all frightened of big ideas, as evidenced by his leap into themes of destiny and theology (to put it in very general terms). Many of the more mind-boggling revelations are saved for the later books in this trilogy; what Pullman
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does SO WELL in the first book is to reel in the reader with an intricately, precisely built world that is just slightly different from our own. In this world, bad things are being done to children who are disappearing from the streets, and Lyra Belacqua, an orphan raised by the Scholars of Oxford, wants to find out what, and why. Pullman lays the groundwork of this world so effectively that the reader feels it like a physical blow when it is revealed exactly what these bad things are.
I am a longtime reader of the fantasy genre, and I was pleased to find that I was continually surprised by each new turn of events, and I was not able to predict the outcome of the novel. Part of this was because the breathless pace of the book left little time to try to guess where it was taking me, and the other part is simply because Pullman is not so transparent as to give obvious tells.
I highly, enthusiastically recommend this novel. I cannot believe it took me so long to discover this series. It has been a long time since an author tackled such heavy subjects with such power and daring.
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LibraryThing member SamuelW
When The Golden Compass hit cinemas in December of 2007, I opened Philip Pullman's Northern Lights for the first time in years, thinking to refresh my memory of the book before seeing the film. I had quite forgotten what a masterpiece it is. Inventive, perceptive and captivating, this book deserves
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every bit of the rapturous praise that fills its first four pages. I can now understand the novel on a more sophisticated level than I could when I was twelve or thirteen, but I still feel as though I could extract much more from many subsequent reads. I envy the Year Seven students at my school who will soon have a chance to study this book in depth.

At the heart of the story is the enchanting character of Lyra, masterfully brought to life by Pullman's writing. His third-person-limited style provides the perfect balance between childhood and maturity - as readers, we are both amused at Lyra's mischief and swept up in her limitless energy and emotion. With its powerful characters, big ideas and gripping excitement, Northern Lights is never dull. The writing flows effortlessly from start to finish, and turning pages is as easy as losing track of the time. (I now feel tired after many nights of reading for too long.)

Pullman also deserves to be commended for his ingenious creativity. The world of Northern Lights is mostly similar to ours, but with many small differences. Electricity, for example, is called anbaric energy, churches dabble in 'experimental theology', and zeppelins are a popular mode of transport. Instead of wasting time explaining all these things to us in detail, Pullman simply acknowledges them briefly as Lyra would, and leaves us to piece together our own picture of her world. Every reader's picture will be slightly different, but all of them will reflect the originality of Pullman's writing.

Northern Lights is sure to delight readers of all ages for many more years to come. I look forward to reading it again when I am an adult, and hope the film manages to capture the genius of Pullman's work.
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LibraryThing member bluenettle
After a traumatic time with Harry Potter, I've been resisting further forays into kiddy fantasy. I've been the cat who desperately wanted the goldfish, looking at my wet paw in puzzled horror.

But then I got lured into the murky Pullman ocean by the Golden Compass film (it's not a compass, it's an
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alethiometer, dagnammit!) which was partly filmed in my (mainly) beloved Oxford. Though the brute of a film wasn't all it could have been, some aspects of the story intrigued me. Like Iofur Raknison, I now longed for a daemon of my own. A budgie perhaps.

My fumble into this allegory-laden adventure started well. I wanted to know about Dust and daemons and find out what on earth the mysterious Lord Asriel was up to. I liked Lyra and her youthful exuberance, her cheeky foot-stomping attitude. I was even creeped out by the golden monkey.

But somewhere along the line, Northern Lights lost my interest. Maybe the noble polar bears were a step to far. Maybe it was the thick bog of fancy name detail which always goes in one eye and out the other and leaves every tenth word meaningless. Perhaps I should give up reading fantasy all together and stick to Stephen Fry and Danny Wallace. Perhaps, contrary to previous musings, I ++am++ an imaginative failure.

I've been thinking about it.

Something nagged at me all the way through this book, and I've finally figured out what it was. This is a grown-up book with a child protagonist. Far more intellectually demanding than Mr Potter and his merry little wizards, this is a book that touches on the real world and the things that we all wonder about: God, sin, hope and desire. The nature of the universe. And what we get is a through-the-eyes-of-a-child nothing-really-makes-sense outlook. Well, maybe it doesn't. But stop letting the kids steal the limelight and give us grown-ups something to do? Please?

I ++liked++ Northern Lights. I read it all the way to the end and didn't skip any dull bits (there were a few - mainly the polar bears). It confirmed my suspicions that the film neglected huge chunks of good stuff. But that's all I can say. It wasn't the revelation I was hoping for. I still want a daemon though.

Apologies to any polar bears.
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LibraryThing member Stevil2003
This is my third time through this book-- I read it in high school, I listened to the unabridged audio book last year, and now I had to read it for class. (Oh, and I saw the film when it came out for what it's worth.) It's pretty much the most well-executed YA fantasy novel I've ever read. The way
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the book opens is stunning: there's an orphaned (of course) protagonist who lives a fairly boring life, but still one intriguing to the reader, given the way that Pullman constructs the world of her Oxford as this strange, adventurous place. And of course an instant attraction to the idea of the dæmon-- who wouldn’t want a faithful animal companion that represented their soul with them throughout the entirety of their life? Just as finding yourself to be a wizard or a dragonrider is instantly appealing-- to anyone, but perhaps especially a child-- so is this.

Perhaps the strongest part of the opening is the way Pullman draws the reader into the alternate world he has constructed. Though by the end of the book, the reader is clearly aware that this is an alternate world to our own, it is far less certain. The book draws us in with an event on a small scale-- Lyra hiding in the retiring room—that serves to immediately introduce an element of danger and excitement, as well as the characters of herself and Lord Asriel. And though there is a large amount of exposition in this scene, it works because 1) it’s made exciting through the fact that Lyra's not supposed to be hearing it and 2) Lyra doesn’t understand everything said here any more than the reader does, so it's perfectly acceptable that the reader will have to pick it up at the book moves along. From this small, intimate escapade, the book gradually moves outwards and grows, showing us more and more of this world pieces at a time, so that the reader is never overwhelmed with details. And, indeed, most of the details that come up are fascinating. By the time that Lyra makes her journey to Bolvangar, the reader is fully invested in the world that Pullman has constructed-- especially the dæmons. Not only is the fact of their existence accepted, but small incidents here and there have built up the taboos and rituals that surround them: Mrs Coulter's golden monkey's actions, the coins in the crypts of Jordan College, the reaction to Serafina Pekkala's long-distance goose. Thus, when we find out that the Oblation Board is cutting dæmons away, it's a horrifying revelation, despite the fact that we only learned about these creatures 150 pages ago.

Of course, it's not always effective. The scene where Lyra learns the plot of the entire trilogy from Lord Asriel is a lot of information on a lot of different topics to learn at once. But overall, the book is remarkably effective as creating a world and drawing the reader into it. I don't think I could say enough good things about this book. My girlfriend loves the last line, and she's right-- it's a corker. Like I said, I've read the trilogy before, but I'm definitely going to take the time this summer to reread the other two books as well; I need to see this through to the end again.
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LibraryThing member fgjohnson
Take all the worlds religions and dump them into a big bucket, stir them up and dump them out and build a story around the different perspectives that exist around god, death, good, evil, after life, servitude, heros, strength, relationships and reality.
Loved this series. Not sure what it did to my
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daughters brain though! V ery thought provoking images and concept that don't always play nce with standard North American culture.
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LibraryThing member dreamseeker
This book (along with the entire "His Dark Materials" trilogy) has been much maligned by the Christian right. Unlike most of the books maligned by the Christian right - this book is actually asking for such treatment. It outrightly attacks established religion, government, and even academic
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establishments,. Furthermore, it often seems to advocate a very amoral attitude (though the author seems to back-peddle a good deal on this stance in the third book.) This makes me hesitate to recommend it for children - or even immature adolescents. Still, I rate it highly because it is a beautifully written book, full of wonder and imagination. The writing style keeps you turning pages and the stories and characters are truly moving. A mature, thoughtful reader can see that, at its heart, this book is not so much amoral or even atheistic as it is iconoclastic. (Though I suspect that the author would argue that he it is meant to be atheistic - but different people have different definitions of 'god' and 'no-god'.) Iconoclasm literally means 'to smash icons' . The word is linked to the monothiestic notion that tangible representations of divine principles are always limiting and ultimately false - so any such tangible representations should be destroyed. This icon can be a picture, a statue, a temple, an institution, a person, a ritual, an order of discipline, a moral code, a belief system, or anything that human beings set up as an ultimate authority or ultimate reality. It is the attitude encapsulated by teh Buddhist saying" If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him." In other words, human beings cannot truly perceive or embody ultimate truth - which is too great for the human mind to grasp. So if you think you have found the ultimate truth, you are deceived - the truth is in the quest, not the "answers" to the questions. This is what I think the heart of the author's message is in these books: don't take these institutions, these beliefs, these authorites as 'ultimate' they are as frail and limited as any human being - they can't encompass the ALL. He pleads with his readers to appreciate the beauty of the passions and desires that are so often left behind in a spiritual quest. Interestingly, the first chapter of the book of Genesis in the Bible states the same plea. In this chapter God is creating the world, and every time he pauses he looks at the world and declares "This is good!" In this first chapter of Genesis, the physical as well as the spiritual creation is good. Neither is juxaposed to the other, all is good, all is in harmony, all is according to plan. This is part of the message -maybe the main message of the "His Dark Materials" books: Embracing it all.
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LibraryThing member nmhale
The first book in a trilogy that has become an acclaimed masterpiece in the fantasy world, and a highly regarded work outside the bounds of genre. Whenever I read recent lists of the top fifty books, or the best English books, or books I must read before I die, I always see the Dark Materials
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series included. I read this book several years ago, and never finished the trilogy; now I've decided to finish the whole set, and felt a reread of the first book was in order.

Here we meet Lyra, a girl that is loyal and brave and savage, an excellent liar but not strong in imagination. She lives among professors and scholars at Oxford College, in a world that is much like our own but isn't. In this alternate universe, every person is born with a daemon, an animal that is an extension of their soul, and which changes shape to match their mate's mood, until they reach puberty and the creature assumes a permanent animal guise that reflects the character of their human. Lyra is still young enough that her daemon, Pantalaimon, can still shape shift. Together they pursue all the mischief that young minds can conceive, but when the Gobblers come to town her games turn deadly. These boogie men are rumored to snatch children, and Lyra's friend Roger disappears along with gypsy children. At the same time, the enigmatic Mrs. Coulter arrives in Oxford and sweeps Lyra off her feet, asking her to be her assistant. Once they arrive in London, though, Lyra learns Mrs. Coulter's secret: she is head of the Gobblers. Lyra uses her cunning to flee into the night, and resolves to find and rescue Roger. She is fortunately found and sheltered by the gypsies, who have a purpose similar to hers as many of their children have been taken by this mysterious organization. Lyra travels with them to the north, on a mission to find and restore the lost children.

The plot is quite complex, as Pullman creates a complete world with politics and religion clashing in grand style, along with secret organizations, a variety of different societies - some like ours, others not (witches and armored bears, for instance) - that operate by their own cultural standards, and magical artifacts. Into this dense setting he weaves a story that is a mystery and an adventure, with clues and betrayals and surprising twists at the end. What is amazing is that Pullman can write an elaborate framework for a story that rolls along with such momentum; never did the writing bog down in the details, but sustained a fast pace and a suspense that kept me wanting to read more. He seamlessly integrated the back story and history of his world in to the action of this page-turning epic.

I'm guessing that most people who take umbrage with the novel (half a star, really?) are doing so out of religious reasons, but that aspect never bothered me. I'm a Christian myself, and I know that Pullman is an atheist, but I don't have to agree with his views to enjoy a fictional story. And this is, after all, fiction. Yes, the church in this story looks poorly, as they assist the Gobblers in their cruel operation and are a power hungry institution. Then again, our own church does not have a pristine reputation, especially when it mixes itself with politics and power. I won't go into a diatribe about my feelings of religion as an institution and power structure versus religion as a faith and personal walk with God, but will just say that this is a story that certainly reflects how religion can behave when it is all about power and not about God, and if Pullman believes that is the whole end of the matter, then he has his opinion and I have mine.

For me, this is simply a fun story and I look forward to finishing the trilogy. As so many have attested to before, this is a great story, that is a wonderful fantasy read but more than that, a quality piece of writing. Even those who don't like fantasy will find much to enjoy in the book.
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LibraryThing member tikitu-reviews
The dates say it all: this is compulsive reading. Don't be put off by the cutesy cover, it's true to events but not to mood. This is a novel with magic and children and talking animals, but it's not that kind of ... you get the idea.

Actually, I should be a bit more cautious there. This is a
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young-adult novel, and at times it shows; particularly in the stark with-or-against characterisations. There is plenty of confusion and misdirection, but this is aimed at hiding which side the various characters are really playing for, not at giving them truly complex allegiances. (Yes, talking about "sides" already says something.) Pullman is working up to a theological inversion/subversion --I've already read book II-- but, so far as I can see, a straightforward one.

Despite that caveat, I must say the world-building is fantastic. I won't spoil too much, since the gentle buildup of explanation in the first few chapters is a delight in itself, except to say that those talking animals (which would normally put me off pretty smartly) are woven into the society, the theology, and the psychology of this world so thoroughly that without them there wouldn't be a world at all.

I'm trying really hard not to compare it to Narnia, but I can't help it. Lewis didn't manage to make his animals essential, they were there to keep the kiddies listening. Pullman pulls it off.
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LibraryThing member phlegmmy
I love this book. It is one of the few books that made me gasp out loud while reading and cry--there were some absolutely heartbreaking moments. I found myself reading slower and slower to make it last and went into a funk after I finished it, actually missing the characters--a first for me in 50
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years of reading. I loved the feisty little Lyra and her daemon Pan. I loved the whole concepts of daemons although I shudder to think what mine might have been--some sort of stubborn, abrasive donkey I suppose. Anyway, this book will remain one of my top favorites and I will probably end up re-reading it every year.
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LibraryThing member benfulton
A delicious sense of horror creeps over most of the book. Who are we running from? Can they catch us? Can we stop them from splitting us? Just how powerful are they?

Lyra, the heroine, is a little too tough of an eleven-year-old for me, but it made sense in a lot of ways, especially when you start
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getting hints that she's sort of the Neo of the book. But around about the fourth or fifth time she was taken prisoner it started getting a bit old. Pacing is good, the world is very good and leaves hints of a lot of untold depths, and the daemons are a really interesting touch.

On to the next one for me!
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LibraryThing member ellenmarine
Probably the best-written "children's book" I've ever had the pleasure of reading.

Of course, it's not really a children's book at all. That's not to say it's unsuitable for children; more that there's depth enough for any adult to get lost in it entirely.

The heroine (Lyra) is instantly likeable,
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the descriptive language is second-to-none, and the imagination behind the multi-layered plot is astounding. Pullman writes Lyra's world (similar to ours, but with some distinctive differences) with such care that - to use a cliche I usually despise - the whole thing really does seem to leap off the page.

I can't recommend this book, and its sequels, strongly enough.
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LibraryThing member heidilove
This addition to fantasy young adult literature gives us a heroine worth following. I love the polar bear, and even as an adult fantasize about meeting someone as meaningful to me as this bear is. The power of not youth but of innocence and hope is what drives this story, and loyalty and love are
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the weapons of the day. Prepare to want a daemon of your own.
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LibraryThing member thea7
I really enjoyed this, and I'm glad I finally got round to reading it. It took me ages to start reading because I thought it sounded more like a childish book. It was very exciting and involving - I found bits of it really quite moving too. I have heard a ton of controversy about this book trying
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to promote Atheism. Personally, I could not really sense any feeling that Pullman was trying to send a message to be anti-God or anti-Catholicism. If anything, I believe he was trying to be anti-control or reminding people to keep their individualism. I also really relished the fact that the heroine was a proper, little girl, who was taken in by manipulative people and was told horrid lies but was still brave and determined. It was refreshing to read about how big of a hero she was even though she was such a little person. I hope to read the rest of the series somewhere in the future.
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LibraryThing member MSWallack
I didn't love The Golden Compass, although I'll most likely read the rest of the trilogy just to see what the fuss is all about. I would have liked to see and learn more about the world that Pullman created. As to the "anti-religion" tag that has been attached to the book, I must say that I did not
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see anything offensive (or which could be seen as offensive) unless one is offended by an criticism of the Church (even a Church in an alternate universe). But even then, Pullman's criticism of the Church is less on religious grounds and more on the idea that no institution should try to tell people how to think. My 8-year-old son started reading the book. He claimed that he understood it, but when pressed, he admitted that he didn't really. Looking back now, I can see that there is virtually no way that a young child could read and understand The Golden Compass; much of the language is difficult and some of the plotting and description is clearly aimed for a somewhat older audience. One thing that is worth mentioning is that the film stayed very true to the book for the first half or so, then events became very jumbled and story points told out of order. I'm not sure why or which version I prefer.
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LibraryThing member SammieDV
I have NO idea what you people are thinking!!!! This is ABSOLUTELY NOT a children's book! Have you read the other 2? Unless you want to discuss the ethics of whether or not theres a God, or the cruelty of animal and human testing, or the theories of interworld dimensions! Seriously guys! Also, the
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movie was HORRIBLE compared to the book! If you had never read the book it would have been a cute movie, but if you did read it, the entire movie you would be like "WHAT?! that never happened in the book" and "Wait, what happened to this part?" But, i did love the book, i just don't think its something to read to your 9 year old. Definitely 5 stars + 2 thumbs up!
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LibraryThing member shieldsk2
I was blown away by this well written page turner that has a strong female character. The author paints incredible scenes and draws the characters with a fine brush. Very recommended!
LibraryThing member bhrdaleo
I received an email, as many others did in the fall of 2007, saying to NOT go to this movie because this author advocated "killing God". Many authors have dabbled in fearsome topics. I saw this as a very engaging adventure, packed with imagination and human dignity. I'm surprised that people didn't
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have more concerns about the "daemons" than the "dust". I imagine I'll read the rest of the series at some point. Truly, I probably wouldn't have picked it up if it weren't for the controversy.

Book banners are often the best friends of authors.
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LibraryThing member Helena81
I was unsure at first, as everything seemed rather unfamiliar, unrelatable, and daunting. But "Northern Lights" ("The Golden Compass") soon sucked me in until I couldn't put it down. Pullman is a master storyteller; the parallel universe this book is set in was incredibly cleverly drawn and
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intriguing.

I am a 29-year old woman, but I think as a pre-teen I would have loved this book even more than I did, which is why I gave it 5 stars. For myself, at this age, perhaps 4 or 4.5 is more appropriate.

*SPOILER ALERT*
My only slight criticism is that a couple of the plot devices seemed a little heavy-handed. For instance, when Lyra goes by herself to tell Iorek where his armor is she's so scared of him that Pan. has to drag her toward him using the painful pull they feel when apart. This section seemed odd to me, and jarring that Pan. was suddenly so assertive and she so reluctant. Later on in the book, however, when we find out that the daemons are being cut from the children by Mrs. Coulter, it was very obvious to me that the "dragging" section was deliberately inserted so that the reader truly understands how devastating intercision must be for the children. It worked--I cried when we found out what was really going on in Bolvangar--but the plot device employed to create this empathy was very obviously used. Similarly with the flying spy thing that the Gyptians capture, Lyra's motives in having it soldered into a tin that she carried around with her baffled me--until it became clear that it was another plot device used so that Lyra could later throw the spy bug in Mrs. Coulter's face.

Let these small criticisms not detract from what was a truly wonderful read, however. I can't wait to begin "The Subtle Knife"!
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368

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(10664 ratings; 4.1)
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