Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Golden Compass

Pullman, Philip. 1995. THE GOLDEN COMPASS. Great Britain: Scholastic Children’s Books. ISBN 0679879242

Lyra Belacqua lives at the Jordan College where the scholars have raised her since she was a little girl, with her daemon Pantalaimon. Being the curious young girl that Lyra is she decides to eavesdrop on the scholars who are meeting with her uncle, Lord Asriel, who has just returned from the North. During this meeting she learns about a magical and mysterious world in the North and how the missing children of the country might be apart of this world. Lyra soon finds herself on an amazing adventure where she meets gyptians, witches, armored bears and a camp where experiments are being conducted on children.

The characters of THE GOLDEN COMPASS truly make this book come alive and keep the readers engage throughout the story. Lyra, the main character, who is young in age proves herself as the heroine of the story. Her side kick or daemon, Pantalaimon is another key character to the story. In this world each human has a daemon that stays by their side throughout their lives and can read and feel their emotions. As a child the daemon can change into different shapes of animals depending on what the child needs. Pantalaimon turns into a moth when Lyra needs to spy on someone, or a cat to fight off attackers, or an ermine to keep Lyra warm. Mrs. Coulter the villain of the story is described as “…beautiful and young. Her sleek black hair framed her checks, and her daemon was a golden monkey.” Throughout the novel we learn that Mrs. Coulter is behind the disappearance of the children and is running the experiments on the children. My other favorite character in the story is the armored bear Iorek Byrnison who protects Lyra on the adventure and takes back his kingdom after a deathly fight.

The true adventure of this story begins when Lyra runs away from Mrs. Coulter and begins living among the gyptians. Soon after meeting the lord of the western gyptians they decide to take Lyra on the journey to find the missing children who have been reportedly taken to the North. Along their journey they stop at several villages but the one that is described in the most detail is the land of the bears, Svalbard. “Vast building… carved all over with representations of warfare, showing bears victorious and Skraelings surrendering, showing Tartars chained and slaving in the fire mines, gifts and tributes to the king of the bears, Iofur Raknison.” What is also unique about the setting of most of the book is once Lyra begins to travel North the weather is freezing. There are many times the author explains the type of dress she is wearing to give the reader a good sense of how cold the land is.

Philip Pullman’s style of writing in this book is high fantasy. There are made up creatures, cities, pets, and tools to tell the future. As Lyra is leaving Jordan College to live with Mrs. Coulter the head master gives her an alethiometer, which is an instrument that tells the owner the truth of their questions. “It was very like a clock, or a compass, for there were hands pointing to places around the dial, but instead of hours or the points of the compass there were several little pictures… there was an anchor, an hourglass surmounted by a skull, a chameleon, a bull, a beehive… thirty six altogether.” This tool helped Lyra to find a lost boy, save the armored bear, and escape her kidnappers. This example of the authors’ imagination is one of many the reader will discover while reading the book. My personal favorite example of his imagination is the daemons that each human has throughout their lives. Other examples of the daemons in the book are: dog, raven, snow leopard, squirrel, goose, and monkey.

*Publishers Weekly- “As always, Pullman is a master at combining impeccable characterizations and seamless plotting, maintaining a crackling pace to create scene upon scene of almost unbearable tension. This glittering gem will leave readers of all ages eagerly awaiting the next installment of Lyra's adventures.”
*Children’s’ Literature- “This is a complex fascinating fantasy, the first volume of his "Dark Materials Trilogy." The heroine is Lyra Belacqua who lives with the scholars of Jordan College. Headstrong and independent, she is caught in a web in which science and politics are entangled. Why are hideous experiments being performed on children? Alliances with Gyptians, witch clans, battles with trained mercenaries and armored bears keep the reader on edge.”
*School Library Journal- “This is a captivating fantasy, filled with excitement, suspense, and unusual characters. The armored bears are wonderful and more interesting than most of the humans. There is some fine descriptive writing, filled with the kind of details that encourage suspension of disbelief. The story line moves along at a rapid clip, but flags when it delves into philosophical matters.”

*Have students journal what animal they think their daemon would be and why.
*Discuss with students some of the themes that this book illustrates like good vs. evil, courage, trust, and fear.
*Complete a character analysis about four characters in the book: Lyra, Mrs. Coulter, Lord Asriel and Iorek Byrnison.
*Read other books by Phillip Pullam:
- THE SUBTLE KNIFE. ISBN 9780375846724

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