The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials Paperback – May 22 2001
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Some books improve with age--the age of the reader, that is. Such is certainly the case with Philip Pullman's heroic, at times heart-wrenching novel, The Golden Compass, a story ostensibly for children but one perhaps even better appreciated by adults. The protagonist of this complex fantasy is young Lyra Belacqua, a precocious orphan growing up within the precincts of Oxford University. But it quickly becomes clear that Lyra's Oxford is not precisely like our own--nor is her world. For one thing, people there each have a personal daemon, the manifestation of their souls in animal form. For another, hers is a universe in which science, theology, and magic are closely allied:
As for what experimental theology was, Lyra had no more idea than the urchins. She had formed the notion that it was concerned with magic, with the movements of the stars and planets, with tiny particles of matter, but that was guesswork, really. Probably the stars had daemons just as humans did, and experimental theology involved talking to them.Not that Lyra spends much time worrying about it; what she likes best is "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." But Lyra's carefree existence changes forever when she and her daemon, Pantalaimon, first prevent an assassination attempt against her uncle, the powerful Lord Asriel, and then overhear a secret discussion about a mysterious entity known as Dust. Soon she and Pan are swept up in a dangerous game involving disappearing children, a beautiful woman with a golden monkey daemon, a trip to the far north, and a set of allies ranging from "gyptians" to witches to an armor-clad polar bear.
In The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman has written a masterpiece that transcends genre. It is a children's book that will appeal to adults, a fantasy novel that will charm even the most hardened realist. Best of all, the author doesn't speak down to his audience, nor does he pull his punches; there is genuine terror in this book, and heartbreak, betrayal, and loss. There is also love, loyalty, and an abiding morality that infuses the story but never overwhelms it. This is one of those rare novels that one wishes would never end. Fortunately, its sequel, The Subtle Knife, will help put off that inevitability for a while longer. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
If Pullman's imagination dazzled in the Victorian thrillers that culminated with The Tin Princess, in this first volume of a fantasy trilogy it is nothing short of breathtaking. Here Earth is one of only five planets in the solar system, every human has a daemon (the soul embodied as an animal familiar) and, in a time similar to our late 19th century, Oxford scholars and agents of the supreme Calvinist Church are in a race to unleash the power that will enable them to cross the bridge to a parallel universe. The story line has all the hallmarks of a myth: brought up ignorant of her true identity, 11-year-old Lyra goes on a quest from East Anglia to the top of the world in search of her kidnapped playmate Roger and her imprisoned uncle, Lord Asriel. Deceptions and treacheries threaten at every turn, and she is not yet certain how to read the mysterious truth-telling instrument that is her only guide. After escaping from the charming and sinister Mrs. Coulter, she joins a group of "gyptians" in search of their children, who, like Roger, have been spirited away by Mrs. Coulter's henchmen, the Gobblers. Along the way Lyra is guided by friendly witches and attacked by malevolent ones, aided by an armored polar bear and a Texan balloonist, and nearly made a victim of the Gobblers' cruel experiments. 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. 100,000 first printing; $250,000 ad/promo. Ages 10-up.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Yep, I can see it now, the legions of devoted Pullman fans racing down to tar and feather me. But please, before you begin, hear me out.
This was not a bad book. It certainly was not the worst I have ever read, but it was by no means the best. I have read worse fantasy, but I have also read much, much better books from the same genre. What didn't I like?
Well, first off, the alternate universe thing confused me. Lyra, the heroine, lives in this weird sort of other universe, which is very similar to our own, except that everyone in it has a daemon, a sort of "visible soul." The result of this is that Oxford, London, and zeppelins will be mentioned almost in the same sentence as daemons and anbaric lights. This creates a strange, surreal universe, that contains no depth, reality, or believability. There is no sense of an actual living, breathing world, with the result that the characters cease to be real, concrete people, and their adventures become silly and improbable. Now granted, this is fantasy we're talking about here, so the events in the story are not going to be typical things that could happen to anybody anytime. But compare this world with the wonderful Middle Earth of Tolkien's books. Middle Earth is real, it is concrete. It is replete with different cultures, each with their own language, history, mythology, and customs. It is belivable, so that its characters and their adventures are also belivable. When reading Tolkien, I have no problem beliving that the hobbit Frodo is being pursued by evil black horsemen to the house of wise and beautiful elves.Read more ›
In all though I found His Dark Materials to be inferior. It was duller and at many points simply implausible even granting the flexibility due a fantasy and the rules laid out by the author in his fantasy world. This first book is comparable to Voyage of the Dawn Treader or The Magician's Nephew in terms of tedium.
The Subtle Knife, the second book in the trilogy, is much more engaging and the most readable of the three by far. Coming across as much as a sci-fi book as a fantasy, the story drew me in to the relationships and internal conflicts of the characters and exuded a spirit of mystery and adventure.
The Amber Spyglass though was a big disappointment after the adventure and drama of The Subtle Knife. It read like The Last Battle. The "story" should have been interesting but read more like a sequence of events of existentially bent morality. One more thing, the first two books of the trilogy can be read by young children but The Amber Spyglass I think should first be read by a parent. I definitely do not think it can be construed as an innocent childrens' story.
If you don't mind a passive hero who has all the "twist and turns" handed to her on a silver platter, and you don't mind suffering through dialect that substitutes for character development (all the lower class people say "en't" instead of "ain't" -- en't that clever), then you'll love this book. For truly captivating storytelling, re-read Harry Potter.
Set at the turn of the twentieth century in an alternate Europe where everyone is inseparable from their animal daemons, shape-changers that only settle at puberty, this is the story of Lyra Belacqua (and her daemon Pantalaimon), a teenage orphan girl living in Oxford College in charge of her powerful uncle, Lord Asriel.
Being a curious little girl, Lyra hears lots of gossip in the old halls. Some, about Dust, as well as pictures of a mysterious floating city in the aurora, make her dream of travelling North on one of her uncle's expeditions. But soon she also hears rumours of children, mainly from Gyptian families, who have started to mysteriously disappear, lured and captured by what people call the "Gobblers".
And when her playmate Roger the kitchen boy is kidnapped, she's desperate. But at the same time arrives Mrs. Coulter, an elegant and fascinatingly intelligent woman, who wants to take Lyra to her school in London. Believing that she'll learn more about Dust and maybe travel North with her, she soon becomes Mrs. Coulter's protégée. Until she realizes that the woman is none other than the head of the General Oblation Board of London, in other words the "Gobblers", and runs away.
The rest of the story tells how Lyra finally travels to Lapland, setting out in search of Roger and the other missing children with the help of the Gyptians, with whom she first takes refuge, of Panserborne (armoured bears) and witch-queens, and of the alethiometer, a strange compass-like device that reveals the truth to anyone who can read it, which the Master of Oxford College secretly gave her just before she left.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
I listened to the unabridged audio book version of this, and while I enjoyed the story, I didn't so much like the full cast narration. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Heather Pearson
I give Philip Pullman a standing ovation for the Golden Compass his dark materials. Both me and my husband loved the Golden Compass. Read morePublished on Sept. 16 2014 by Cindy Beverly
Fascinating fantasy book for all ages. I have read this book 3 times and every time I learn more about Lyra's complex journey to understand why worlds can be shared and loves... Read morePublished on Sept. 10 2014 by Debra
I remember reading these books as a kid. I still remember every bit of my journey through the universes and how Crushed I was when I flipped the last page of the Amber Spyglass. Read morePublished on July 18 2014 by Andres Consumer
Lower class children are disappearing and when Lyra finds that her friend is missing she wants to find him and get him back. Read morePublished on Nov. 8 2008 by Nicola Mansfield
There are many people who liked this book, but I for one am not that impressed. I'm not saying it's horrible because it's not. Read morePublished on Sept. 11 2008 by Momus
While I am just wrapping up book two, I have to say that The Golden Compass was, in itself, the more diluted book. Read morePublished on Jan. 28 2008 by Don Eglinski
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