The Golden Compass ~ Philip Pullman

“Snow began to fall early on, and soon the world was reduced to the gray shadows of the dogs ahead, the lurching and creaking of the sledge, the biting cold, and a swirling sea of big flakes only just darker than the sky and only just lighter than the ground.”

Synopsis: (From Back Cover)

“Lyra Belacqua is content to run wild among the scholars in Jordan College, her daemon familiar always by her side. But the moment she hears hushed talk of Dust, an extraordinary particle, she’s drawn 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, young Lyra never suspects the shocking truth: her destiny must be fulfilled not in this world, but far beyond.”

Review:

I could not get enough of this book! I was eager to read every chance I could and read through several of my lunch breaks as a result. The story line starts out by following young Lyra around Jordan College. She has her daemon, Pan, who is often more sensical than she is. For all she knows, her parents are dead and she was left by her Uncle to the care of the Scholars at the College. The world begins to unfold around her, and Philip Pullman did a great job of revealing the depth of his world slowly and without dumping information all at once. He built wonderful intrigue into the world of Dust and the vast opportunities that awaited in the North.

Pullman was able to create a fast paced book with constant action, even though it is long, that kept me engaged through every page. Another thing Pullman utilized to his advantage was vocabulary. His choice of words created several passages that had powerful imagery, metaphor, and correctly conveyed the emotions and challenges the characters faced. Even paging back through for this review is a reminder of how moved I was by some of the writing.

As a lover of all things winter, ice, arctic, etcetera, I was drawn to that aspect of the book immediately. The armored bear, Iorek, was a fascinating creature. He had such pain, but was rooted so deeply in his values that he ended up overcoming his past challenges, befriending Lyra, and being her most fierce protector.

All the characters in this book had depth. They were well rounded, articulate, and often more complex than their surfaces exposed. The deception in this book ran deep and each character had their own unique role in how Dust and connections to other universes played out. What I found interesting about some of the “bad guys” was their ability to harm those that were not their family. When other people’s lives and children were at stake, the price was never too high. Yet when someone near to their hearts was the price, it was too much and the evil couldn’t endure. Although there was a lot of treachery and heartache that took place, I found the concept of family and familial loyalty interesting to see develop.

The Golden Compass is the first book in a trilogy, but it easily stands alone. This was a great read full of adventures and fantasy in the North that will hook you from the beginning and keep you until the last page. And one I will enjoy reading again.

Movie Comparison:

After reading the book, I watched The Golden Compass on Netflix and I was disappointed. There were elements of the movie that followed the book to a T, but had I not read the book immediately before, I would have been so confused. My husband hasn’t read the book and he had no idea what was going on.

While some parts followed the movie exactly, other parts didn’t follow it at all (which I know is typical of movies). But what was most disappointing to me was the ending. The ending of the book was tragic and frustrating, while the movie cut most of that out in lieu of a “cliff hanger-esque” ending.

I was disappointed by the movie, but the book is still wonderful in my eyes and far outdoes the cinematic experience. There was by far more character development and emotion in the book that just didn’t come through on screen.

Worth the read.

Teacher Recommendation:

I would definitely recommend this book to upper middle school and high school students. It is a bit long, but it moves at a steady pace. If you have students who love fantasy, this would be a great title to recommend. This book would work well for close reading passages over imagery, visualization, character development, use of metaphor, and world development. 

Although I didn’t care for the movie, you might be able to entice a few students to read it by telling them there is a movie! Sometimes that extrinsic factor influences their decision making.

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