Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Book Review- The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Note: I previously wrote an explanation as to why I'm reviewing the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, which you can read here if you care to.

The Golden Compass is the first in atheist Philip Pullman's trilogy, His Dark Materials. This is a fascinating sort of science fiction story that involves the supernatural and a scrappy little girl whose bravery and perseverance render heroic results.

Wildly imaginative and nail-bitingly suspensful in parts, the story is centered around Lyra and her daemon, Pantalaimon.

We learn that in Lyra's world, almost everyone has a daemon- not demon- who sort of acts as the person's soul, and can change its form into different animals.

Lyra is a willful, fearless tween-ager who lives at Jordan College in Oxford. Her impertinent behavior early in the book sets her on a course of adventure in which she meets powerful, armored polar bears, witches and other exciting characters.

It becomes apparent that Lyra, either by birth or by happenstance, is charged with many a heroic responsibility as she embarks on a journey to save her friend from the Gobblers and to free her imprisoned father. She uses help from a band of Gypsies combined with her own raw wit, guile and a magical device previously given to her by the college's Master to accomplish her destiny.

Personal Thoughts
There has been quite a stir on the Internet and in Christian communities about this trilogy. Some Christians believe this is Pullman's way of attempting to kill the belief in God among children. It is said that The Golden Compass is the "tamest" of the three books.

With the movie based on this book set to be in theaters on Dec. 7, some Christians have voiced concerns that parents will take their children to see this movie, then children will want to read the books. They fear reading The Golden Compass will lure children into reading the other two books, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, which are said to be less subtle in their denouncement of God.

I am a Christian, and I loved reading The Golden Compass. I found it to be exciting, well-written and incredibly entertaining. It made me anxious to see the movie, even though I almost never like movies based on books as much as I like books themselves.

Because I was aware of the controversy going into it, I found myself constantly trying to read more into the story than perhaps was there. The whole daemon thing through me for a loop early on, but as best I can tell, there is nothing "evil" about these daemons.

The whole story involves underlying themes of a sort of battle between church and science, and Chapter 21 mentions Genesis Chapter 3, where Eve is speaking to the serpant about eating from the tree in the middle of the garden. The author puts an interesting spin on it by quoting the Bible as saying that the serpant told Eve if she ate of that tree, her eyes would be opened and "your daemons shall assume their true forms, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil."

I view my Bible as I view my Coca-Cola. I don't want anyone screwing around with its ingredients. No vanilla or cherry Coke for me, just the Classic stuff, thank you. I don't like reading where anyone is changing wording in the Bible, even if it is fiction.

But with that said, I believe a fiction book can convince children not to believe in God about as much as I believe that children get violent tendencies from watching Yosemite Sam and Roadrunner/Coyote cartoons. Children know when they're reading a story and when they're reading something based on the truth. This book clearly is fantasy.

Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to finishing the last two books to see if my views change.


Kelly said...

I appreciate the time you are taking to review these books to see for yourself what all the hubbabaloo is about. I admire that quality in people--reading it for yourself to find out what the truth is. As a fellow Christian I was contemplating doing the same thing to see what was the real message of these books. Anyway, I like your writing. Keep it up.

Chuck said...

For those without their bible handy:

"No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad."

I have a couple of questions: Why did you choose "science fiction" instead of "fantasy" at first to describe the novel? Did you see any science fiction elements in the novel?

And for completeness: How do you feel when a believer changes wording in the Bible, even in fiction?

Lorrie said...

I chose science fiction to describe it simply because this book was filed in the science fiction section in the library. Oddly enough, the other two books are located in the young adult fiction section. Regarding your completeness question, good point. I'm rewording that statement right now.

Chuck said...

Thanks for the clarification. After many years working in libraries I can tell you why those books are all probably misfiled. "Science fiction" and "fantasy" are very different genres that cataloging librarians and small libraries simply chose to lump together.

However, they are important distinctions due to expectations informed readers make when picking up the books. A fantasy novel gets away with a lot that would ruin a science fiction novel. The latter must follow pretty stringent guidelines.

Bobby said...

Great view. I'm struggling with this one at the moment. My children and I have seen the trailers and went "ooooOOOOOo and AAAaaaaahhh" when it was on the screen. But already I've gotten emails from the AFA about how bad Pullman's books are.
So I too am concerned about this series. I'm glad you took the time to read/review it.
Like Kelly, I too am thinking of taking a time to see what it is all about before I let my family do the same.