Monday, November 26, 2007

The Golden Compass

Being the incredibly fast reader that I am - NOT! - I'm only now getting to my book review for 'The Golden Compass' by Philip Pullman for Kailana's Four-Legged Friend Reading Challenge. I started the book in October and finished it just about the time that my gram went into hospital on November 7th.

No one should ever judge how much I enjoyed a book by how long it took me to read it. In fact, I often put off finishing a book when I really like it because I hate leaving that world behind. I'll start another book and keep the last 20 pages of the one I need to finish like a last delicious morsel to be savoured.

I'd been wanting to read this book for awhile, and Kailana's challenge was the impetus I needed to crack open that book spine and dive in. First published in 1995, as most of you know it will be released as a film next month. I cannot WAIT!

This is the cover of the book I read. I often gazed at the illustration which I really loved. Winner of the Carnegie Medal, this book is absolutely phenomenal. It reminded me a lot of my beloved Amber series in the way it presents our Earth as merely a ripple dimension, one of countless other dimensions which coexist without most of us knowing about the others.

Main character Lyra Belacqua is a girl growing up in an Oxford University-like setting called Jordan College, raised by academics and visited occasionally by her remote, fierce explorer uncle Lord Asriel. Lyra presides over a child culture of servants and gyptians, waging war on each other, honing her natural leadership despite her guardians' best efforts to remind her she's a young lady.

In Lyra's world, humans each have daemons which accompany them through life. Adults' daemons solidify into one form, while childrens' daemons change theirs according to the untamed passions of the young. Lord Asriel's, for example, is a snow leopard. The unnerving Mrs. Coulter's daemon is a cruel golden monkey. Lyra's daemon Pantalaimon often settles into an ermine, but becomes a bird, rabbit or even a moth. These daemons house the soul of the human and cannot be separated.

Lyra gets caught up in events with terrifying consequences for every child in her world. Mrs. Coulter works with the Church to eradicate Dust, which in this dimension emanates from the Northern Lights and seems to be connected to original sin. Lyra embarks on her journey armed with an alethiometer, a truth-telling device somewhat like a Tarot deck which only Lyra can decipher. She tries to rescue her Jordan College friend Roger from the Gobblers, who have been kidnapping children and taking them to the far north.

Lyra is such a heartbreaking character - her bravery really moved me so many times. The stakes in this novel are astronomical, yet placed at the feet of this bold little girl. And Lyra is up to the task in a humbling and completely believably way.

The reason I chose this for the first in my Four-Legged Friends Reading Challenge was the armored polar bear character Iorek Byrnison. I had no idea about the animal daemon characters which pepper the book, soon realizing I'd chosen a novel packed with four-legged friends. Iorek Byrnison is another character that had me in tears toward the end. His loyalty, courage and nobility are truly unforgettable.

I can't tell you how grateful I am that the film version is only weeks away. The image of Daniel Craig as Lord Asriel never left my mind as I read the book!

And to sound off on the ridiculous controversy about a supposed stealth campaign to promote atheism:

The book indeed paints the Church of the novel's dimension as a Spanish Inquisition-type entity. I have no idea what bearing this has on our Earth's actual church communities. I could potentially see people who are pathologically rigid being distressed by the philosophical subtexts present in the novel, where the scholarly academics are trying to preserve their autonomy from Mrs. Coulter's Church. Apart from that, I sometimes wonder if these so-called Christian protestors even read their New Testaments. More to the point, I sometimes wonder if these 'Christians' even read. They seem to me to be filled with hatred, and one can only wonder what goes through their minds as they charge throughout the world throwing stones at Mary Magdalens.

Case in point: this article from an online news site called AC Associated Content contains several utter fabrications that should embarass these rumour mongers, though I know that's not possible. Total lie number 1 - "For instance, in the movie the children set out to kill God, and when they do they go about life doing whatever they want."

Huh?!? In the book, on which the film is based, the children set out to rescue kidnapped children, who are being experimented upon by the Magisterium, the Church of the fictional other dimension. How this becomes children setting out to kill God is beyond my feeble powers of imagination.

Complete lie number 2 - "If you Google the synopsis of the book version you will read such topic as castration and female circumcision. Whether these concepts enter the movie series I don't know, but why would you want to take your kids to learn something like that."

I can happily assure all of you that there is neither castration nor female circumcision in 'The Golden Compass.' But it does relieve me that people who didn't read the book took time out of their day to bombard emails all over North America to warn people of nonexistant evils in Philip Pullman's exquisite fantasy novel.


Kelly Boyce said...

Great review, Julia. I wanted to read the book and see the movie but even more so now!! I see another movie night in our future.

Karina said...

Great review. I started reading this book when it first came out in 1995, and I was working in a bookstore, but I never got past the first chapter...I don't think I was in the right frame of mind for this type of book then. But I've always wanted to go back and read it...I think I'll wait to see the movie first though, because lately I've only been disappointed when I watch a movie AFTER I read a book...I'll do it in reverse from now on.

By the way, I answered your question on my blog today.

Kailana said...

I am glad you got one of your books read! I am not a super big fan of this book, but I am looking forward to seeing the movie.

Jill said...

I will probably wait to watch the movie(I've been waiting sice I saw the trailer like 5 month ago) to read the book...

Akelamalu said...

I've seen the adverts for the film and thought I might like to see it. Whether I actually get there is a different matter! :(

Miss Frou Frou said...

I'm another who will wait until I've seen the movie before reading the book. I'd never heard of the book at all until I saw the trailer to the movie, so have no preconceived ideas, though it looks fantastic!

Christine d'Abo said...

I've been eyeing this story for my daughter for Christmas (ironically enough) and will definately get it now. Great review. :)

Wylie Kinson said...

This book was lent to me by a friend of mine in the UK - it was very popular over there, and was touted as the next big 'Harry Potter' like phenomenon.
But honestly, I read it so long ago that I completely forgot about it until I started reading the movie synopsis.
Once the old memory was jogged, I do remember thoroughly enjoying it and never once stopped and thought - hmmm... this has religious undertones. Let's go kill God.
WTF people? First Harry Potter and now The Golden Compass. Seriously, just get a life.

Toni in the midst said...

I read your review with sincere interest. Admittedly, I have not read the book (the series, actually) so I cannot contribute to this dialogue as a Christian, regarding how the book might have personally impacted me.

I do have a sense though, that the series content in its entirety (and not just the first book) has stirred some Christians to speak out against the upcoming film. That, coupled with Pullman's personal beliefs (which he is entitled to persue and I respect that), may be the source of such unrest for some (imho). This article at SNOPES might shed further light on what I'm "hearing" or sensing in the reactions of other Christians.

You know I treasure your insight, Julia (I do hope you know that, friend.) Thank you for presenting your views on this particular "hot topic" work. A former pastor once said we should read many different sources and not just those that reflect purely Christian viewpoints. With that point in mind, I believe my faith is strengthened most when I find it challenged by life's trials or differing viewpoints.

Toni in the midst said...

P.S. For the record, I never burned a single Harry Potter book (I'm of course trying to be silly/funny here, but it's true. I didn't.) ;)

julia said...

Wylie - I know. I never once would have suspected such a book could provoke the reaction it has received. The entire fanatasy/paranormal genre has books far more heretical than this one, and not a word about them. The funny thing about the controversy is that it merely sells more tickets.

Toni - I would never think of you, my dear, dear friend, as a Harry Potter book burner! It's more the sense of people who should know better doing the torches-and-pitchfork-mob-thing that really gets to me. If a person's faith can be shaken by a fantasy novel or film, I have to ask myself what kind of foundation was it built upon? Quicksand. If there's no room for the idea that institutions can become dangerous - even if the institution is a church - then the die is already cast for individuals to be lead by unscrupulous powermongers hiding behind the wrath of God.
The saddest thing to me about Christians falling for this type of thinking is Christ's role as the challenger to the religious institution of his time. I find the Son of God so little understood by some who say they follow Him. However, God made all types and it's not for me to understand everything in creation until I cross over to the other side.

As to crossing over - my gram is now in palliative care at the hospital and my mom and I are camping out with her till the end. I will let you know how it all goes as soon as I can.

Ann said...

Sorry to hear about your gran, I hope the palliative care helps.

Annie Mac said...

Julia, my heart and thoughts are with you and your family. Take care.

Toni said...

>>I find the Son of God so little understood by some who say they follow Him. However, God made all types and it's not for me to understand everything in creation until I cross over to the other side.<<

Such a valid point, Julia. And please know I am praying for you, your grandmother and all who know and love her at this most fragile time. I feel like we've all had a chance to get to "know" her through the wonderful word pictures you've created for us here. (((Love her well.)))

Anonymous said...

This book is the first in a trilogy that is written a man who had publicly admitted that they are to be the antithisis of the C.S. Lewis series 'The Chronicles Of Narnia". And has stated on more than one occasion that his books 'kill God'.

The reviewer accuratly points out that this does not happen in the 1st book, yet the stage is set and an atheist/humanist agenda is poorly if at all veiled. This series continues to get much darker and in the end the children do kill God-often refered to as Yehweh.

I encourage people to be open minded. However, children are very impressionable and it is series like this that can lead to a very slippery slope. I will not see this movie or buy the books-I have read all of them-(one should not comment without first gathering information) due to the views of the author and his intentions behind this series.

Best Regards-


Sniz said...

I abhor jumping on any bandwagon just because it's popular. So when I started getting the same warnings about the religious themes of the books and the quotes from the author, I didn't pay much attention until I read the Snopes article that Toni was talking about. I have to admit, that was the first thing that really gave me pause. I read a post today that was really interesting about this topic.
because that's how I feel.
I haven't read the books but this review makes me want to read them and make up my own mind about the religious undertones. I won't take my kids to it, nor let them read the books until I have done that, but that's our policy for anything.

No Nonsense Girl said...

I want to see the movie!!!!

julia said...

Thanks for the discussion, everyone - I'm really glad this post was here while I was busy at the hospital with my gram. Thanks for commenting and for the links to other threads on this topic.

Sniz said...

Dear Julia,
I was reading back over the comments here and wanted to make sure mine didn't come across wrong! :-) It's popular in Christian circles to boycott the movie. I was only saying that although I'm a Christian, I don't jump on the bandwagon of hating or boycotting something just because it's popular to do so. I have gotten the same emails from various sources all saying, "This movie is dangerous. Don't let your kids see it!" I hadn't heard about the female castration, though, so that was new. I'd heard that the author was an atheist and that the movie was watered down, and that each book gets darker and the kids kill God in the last one book of the three. But I'm an author too, and while I don't write about things that are polar opposites to my beliefs, I'm writing fiction. Just like Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code is fiction. And fantasy, by it's nature, is so far from reality that it's a stretch to try to apply it to our real world. CS Lewis did have spiritual and religious themes in the Chronicles of Narnia, but I've read all 7 numerous times, and it isn't until the last book that I feel that his beliefs are really expressed, and even then, you have to be looking. What are people afraid of? As far as kids and the fact that they are still developing, I think thinking parents have a responsibility to sift through the things that they are exposed to, body and mind, but that is true about anything. Which is why I feel it is my responsibility to read the books and decide for myself, especially if they are interested in the movies or books. I really enjoyed your review. It really got me thinking! And you pegged it just IS the train wreck mentality with Dr. 90210!

julia said...

Sniz - I really enjoyed your last comment. My friends and family all sift through the stuff their kids are exposed to because that's the job of being a parent. When I was a nanny for a little girl, every time we went to the library I had to skim through the pictures books I was going to check out for her because some of them just did not reflect the values her mom or I held. Some of these kids books were just plain weird.

The Rock Chick said...

Hey Julia!

What an awesome review of the book! As you know, I took the messages in the book similarly to you and I enjoyed them on a story level, as well as a symbolic one.

I'm glad all of this controversy surrounding the books occurred because I know I never would have read them otherwise!