Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Golden Compass

This series, written by Philip Pullman, was recommended during my reading rut by Anne and I have to say that I am so glad for her recommendation. I don't think I would have picked it up, otherwise, and this was highly enjoyable reading for me.

The series is called His Dark Materials, and The Golden Compass is the first book in the series. In it, the main character, Lyra, an eleven year-old girl, is introduced. Also introduced is the idea of daemons, which, while never actually explained, I'm going to describe as a kind of soul for human beings. Each person has a daemon, which is an animal who is with its person at all times and sort of reveals the mood and character of their human partner. Childrens' daemons can change, and do depending on need and situation. Lyra's daemon, Pantalaimon, changes between a moth, when Lyra is trying to hide, a lion when she's trying to intimidate someone else, and everything in between. I absolutely loved the symbolism it provided throughout the entire story.

Lyra is given an alitheometer, which is a truth telling compass that, through a series of needles, point to objects symbolizing the answers to questions she asks. No adult knows how to read it, and Lyra herself seems unaware of the great gift and power she possesses. Again, lots and lots of symbolism.

While this is billed as young adult fiction/fantasy, and has all of the exciting story lines that would provide hours of amusement and discovery for that age group, this plot...this idea is so complex that any adult should enjoy it. The dark materials, Dust, is viewed by some in the Church as evil, only because it is misunderstood, and therefore to be removed and destroyed. Experiments have revealed that Dust surrounds adults, but not children, and a theory is proposed that it settles only when a person's daemon becomes permanent and cannot change anymore. To test their theory, the group of researchers funded by the church, kidnap children of the poor and experiment "cutting" away their daemons so that this process can never happen. The children are left soulless and all die from confusion and shock.

Incredible analogies, fascinating settings and fantastical characters make this series one I look forward to reading!

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