Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Some of the controversy surrounding this book preceded the film’s opening in Texas. Unlike my usual practice, I went to see the movie first. I was surprised at the complexity of the plot, surprised at the number of pre-teen children in the theater, but not at all surprised they spent most of their time running up and down the aisles. They may have been as confused as I was by some of the plot twists and turns.

I already had a copy of the book, and I was curious to see exactly how sanitized this first volume of the trilogy was. In the film, the villains are associated with an organization known as the “Magisterium.” The book refers to them directly as “the Catholic Church,” and “the Vatican,” and there is “talk of reviving the Office of Inquisition.” There were a dozen or so other references to “the Church.”

The ending of Book One reveals the origin of Dust and the conflict between the Church and scientists. I do not want to give away the ending, but now I understand quite a bit about the rationales of religion, especially fundamental Christianity.

Most of the mysteries of the plot were handled by subtle foreshadowing. Although this story is not quite as well-written as the Harry Potter series, it is a rip-roaring good tale.

The heroine Lyra is, as the jacket promises, spunky and lovable. The exact explanation of the role of the “daemons” (pronounced “demons”) is clarified. Interestingly, Pullman writes that “Bernie was…one of those rare people whose daemon was the same sex as himself” (124). There must be something here about gender, sexuality, the soul, and all sorts of other metaphysical possibilities. I want a daemon! Perhaps an ermine, or a wolverine!

Most of the time, I could hardly put it down, but if it has any flaws, it is the stiff and sometimes childish dialogue of the adults. J.K. Rowling has it all over Pullman there.

Another viewing of the film is in order, I think, and I definitely can’t wait to get to the next volume. Armored bears? Woo-hoo!
--Chiron, 4-1/2 stars

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