Philip. 1995. THE GOLDEN COMPASS. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN:
Compass is the first book in Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy. Pullman has created an intriguing
and fascinating world of magic, witches, daemons, gyptians, and armored bears. The
setting of the story begins at Jordan College in Oxford where the young protagonist Lyra Belacqua and her daemon, Pantalaimon, are introduced.
Lyra is an
orphan that leads a carefree life and lives among the elderly scholars at the College.
Through Lyra, Pullman has created a very strong, independent, and complex character.
He describes her in great detail allowing the reader to identify with her character.
“ In many ways Lyra was a barbarian. What she liked the best was clambering over
the College roofs with Roger, the kitchen boy who was her particular friend, to spit plum stones on the heads of passing Scholars
or to hoot like owls outside a window where a tutorial was going on, or racing through the narrow streets, or stealing apples
from the market, or waging war. Just as she was unaware of the hidden currents of politics running below the surface of College
affairs, so the Scholars, for their part, would have been unable to see the rich seething stew of alliances and enmities and
feuds and treaties which was a child’s life in Oxford. Children playing together: how pleasant to see! What could
be more innocent and charming?” (P. 35)
daemon, Pantalaimon is a constant companion in animal form that represents a manifestation of the soul. Only humans have these daemons, and these daemons have the ability to change forms when their humans are
young, before they reach puberty.
begins in the secretive Retiring Room in which only the Scholars and their guests were allowed in, and never females. Lyra and Pantalaimon hid in the retiring room only to see the Master put poison in
the wine intended for her uncle, Lord Asriel. After hiding in the wardrobe, Lyra
prevents her uncle from drinking the wine and she overhears a conversation about a secret and mysterious item, “Dust.”
street urchins and servants’ children begin disappearing all over Europe (in the parallel world in which the action takes place). The “Gobblers” have stolen
them, and are performing terrible experiments on them way up in the Arctic
Circle. This mysterious substance
called “Dust” seems to be involved, but the Church has forbidden any discussion of it, for it falls in the realm
of philosophical speculation rather than theological research. Lyra’s friend,
Roger is taken by the “Gobblers” thus making her very determined to help him.
Lyra is ready to begin her search for Roger, but before she goes, the Master introduces her to Mrs. Coulter. Mrs. Coulter was beautiful and young and her daemon was a golden monkey. Lyra travels to London with Mrs. Coulter as her
assistant to help her in her next expedition to the North Atlantic, but before she leaves the Master of the College secretly gives her an alethiometer or golden
compass. The alethiometer is one of only six in the world and is used to “tell
you the truth.”
to London with Mrs. Coulter, but soon discover’s that she is not the wonderful and kind person that she thought her to
be. Mrs. Coulter is a part of the Oblation Board or the “Gobbler’s”
that is responsible for the disappearing children. She learns that the children
are being taken to Bolvangar where a terrible procedure is being performed on them resulting in the removal of their daemons.
Lyra and Pantalaimon frantically escape and are taken in by gyptians. As the plot continues, Lyra sets out on a journey to the Far North to save Lord Asriel, who is being held
captive, her friend Roger, and the other children. Publisher’s Weekly states, “As always Pullman is master at combining impeccable
characterizations and seamless plotting, maintaining a crackling pace to create scene upon scene of almost unbearable tension.”
gyptians, witches, an armored bear, and the alethiometer, the fantasy and adventure continue for Lyra. She is unaware that the fate of the universe lies in her hands. With
memorable characters, settings, and scenes Pullman has created a traditional sense-of-wonder. Readers will find themselves stimulated both intellectually
and emotionally as they follow Lyra's quest into the frozen north, accompanied by her ever-faithful daemon and Iorek Byrnison,
the armor-plated, intelligent polar bear. Booklist states, “It becomes evident that the future of the world and its
inhabitants is in the hands of the ever-more-resilient and dedicated Lyra. A
totally involving, intricately plotted fantasy that will leave readers clamoring for the sequels.”
Pullman has created a fantasy novel rich in creative
details and symbolism. It has all of the elements necessary for a spell-binding
fantasy. “Stunningly original, beautifully crafted, and thrillingly told,
Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass is a masterwork of fantasy and storytelling
that heralds the arrival of a classic. (Book Jacket)
Annette Curtis Klause