Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

I seem to be on a run of children's books lately, so I might as well review what I've been reading most recently: Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy.  I read these books for the first time over five years ago, back in 2007 -- I didn't realize it was so long ago until I checked my blog, just now!  I have always been meaning to read them again, but it wasn't until the girl I nanny for started reading The Golden Compass recently that I finally decided to do so.

I loved the books the first time around, and I didn't think it was possible, but I think rereading them has only served to make me love them even more.  There are many indications earlier in the books as to what is happening, things you miss the first time around when you really don't understand yet what is going on, and how big the story is going to be.  Reading the books a second time, even though I'd read them long enough ago that I don't recall everything about them, allowed me to pick up on some of these things.

You might remember the not-well-received movie version of The Golden Compass that came out a few years ago.  They watered down that movie so badly that it lost the meat of its message.  They were trying not to offend the Christian audience, but in doing so they took away the substance of the story.  Such a pity.

The Golden Compass takes place in a world very much like ours, but different.  The biggest and most obvious difference is that people have daemons, animal companions that are -- as you discover in the later books -- essentially the person's soul.  Person and daemon cannot live without one another.  The next most obvious difference is that the church is much more powerful and all-encompassing in this world, and all science goes through the church (and is controlled by it).

As Lyra -- a little girl who has grown up in her world's Oxford, running wild through Jordan College -- has discovered, scientists have identified something they call Dust, that seems attracted to adults but not to children.  The church has decided that Dust is the basis for Original Sin, and that they need to rid the world of it.  To that end, they have been doing horrific experiments on children and their daemons.  When Lyra's best friend, Roger, gets kidnapped, she becomes involved in trying to stop these evil things from happening.

It's only the first installment of a huge story, one that encompasses not only Lyra's world, but also ours and many others.  And yes, it paints a rather dark picture of Christianity, but try to remember that the evil church Lyra and her friends are fighting against is in Lyra's world, not ours.

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