Monday, November 19, 2007

The Golden Compass: A Book Review

I had chance to review the book The Golden Compass last week. I needed to find out what is fact and what is hype over the controversy of the upcoming movie.

I thought the book started a little too quickly, introducing a large number of characters all at once, without any type of introuduction to them. As the book went along, however, it became a very good read, and there are some very original aspects to the story.

The Golden Compass takes place in a world similar to our own, but also many differences. For example, the beginning of the book takes place Jordan College, which is a school at Oxford University. There is of course an Oxford College, but I could not find any references to a Jordan College. Another example dealing with geography is a reference to the Nation of Texas. There are also some religious references when talking about the Church, such as Pope John Calvin. And even if geography or the history of calvinism is not your cup of tea, the daemons and talking bears make sure that you realize that this world is not like ours.

A big difference in this world is that everyone has a daemon. A daemon is an animal that is a constant companion to each individual. There is a very deep connection between each human and his daemon. If a daemon dies, the human dies, and vice versa. A daemons animal form is representative of his master. For example, a human servant may have a dog as a daemon. A dog symbolizes obedience. In young children who do are still trying to find their path in life, the daemon may switch forms to represent the emotions and attitude of the human.

The story begins with Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon sneaking into the room of the headmaster. There, they learn that the headmaster intends to poison her uncle, Lord Asriel. She warns her uncle in time, and also witnesses him give a presentation to a group of colleagues about "Dust."

There are rumors going around the college that a group called the Gobblers are kidnapping children for unkown purposes. In fact, one of Lyras friends actually turns up missing. The headmaster gives Lyra a device called an alethiometer, which uses symbols to represent the truth. If one figures out how to use it and interpret it properly, one can have the answer any question that is asked. Lyra is asked to keep it very secret.

Soon, Lyra is introduced to Ms. Coulter, who came to Oxford to take Lyra to London. Lyra likes Ms. Coulter until she realizes that her daemon monkey has been snooping in her room and found the alethiometer. Just after this, she overhears Ms. Coulter talking to a group about Dust. She also learns that Ms. Coulter is the head of the General Oblation Board (GOBblers) that is kidnapping children. Lyra runs away.

Once safe from Ms. Coulter and the Gobblers, Lyra is introduced to a group called the gyptians who keep Lyra safe from the police who are searching for her. They find that all of the children are being held up north in the arctic region in a place known as Lapland. The storyline from here is fast and furious, with an attempt to save the children who have been kidnapped.

The children were not only kidnapped, but it comes to find out that experiments are being performed on them. Their daemons are being cut away from them in an effort to see how "Dust" affects children and their daemons. Children and their daemons sometimes die in the process, but they also sometimes live as a shadow of their fomer selves. They become almost like a walking zombie.

Lyra is later taken by force away from the gyptians, and taken to the other children. She helps to successfully rescue the children from their impending torture, then continues her journey to rescue Unlce Asriel (actually Lyra's father) who was sent to exile.

After she locates Asriel, he begins to explain Dust to Lyra. This it the point of the story where many of faith will really begin to wrestle with the message of the book. There are some shots taken during the book about the corrupt power of the church, and how they suppress knowledge, but it could easily be seen as the church in earlier parts of history. As Dust is explained, there are no veiled inferences.

Dust is not attracted to children, but is attracted to adults. Dust is knowledge and represents all of the possibilities that are seen by an individual. The Church teaches that Dust is equivalent to original sin. It stays away from children who are pure and innocent, but begins to attract on adults who have the knowledge to wilfully sin. The Church wishes to destroy Dust, thus destroying sin. This is the reason for the horrible experiments on the children and their daemons.

If Dust is destroyed, man would lose his entire ability to sin or not sin, and would be a walking zombie just like the children and their daemons who were cut from each other.

Lord Asriel's reasearch has led him to believe that when a child's daemon is cut, enough energy is released to open the door to another universe. This other universe is located in the Northern Lights. When Lyra is asleep, Asriel kidnaps her friend, severs his daemon, and enters the doorway to the other world with the intent of destroying the Dust. Lyra leaves the body of her friend to enter the world and save the Dust.


  1. Anonymous said...
    thanks for the review. I was looking to find more about what the movie and book are about. Particuly the parts that have christains upset. the book isn't bad just because it was written by a athist. My bean burrito from taco bell at lunch today might have been made by an atheist, but I enjoyed it anyway.
    I am glad to finally see some good examples of why catholics are boycotting.
    nice job.
    Brian said...
    Okay, I'll try this once more. I am not sure why I have such a tough time getting my comments to post here.

    To start, I must say that I am impressed with your analysis of the book. I doubt I would have ever read it. Surprisingly, it sounds interesting.

    Having said this, I still do not believe I will see the movie. I just cannot bring myself to line the pockets of a man whom I morally disagree. I have to do this more often than wanted already everytime I fill my truck up.

    This whole ordeal makes me think of C.S. Lewis' quote, "A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word 'darkness' on the walls of his cell."

    True dat and amen!

    Brett said...
    I have a problem with supporting his agenda as well. I checked the book out from the library, and won't see the movie.
    Interestingly, the movie is leaving out the last few chapters (the parts dealing with sin) and all references to church. They are trying to make the first movie as non offensive as possible.
    The second movie will start with the last 3 chapters of the first one. That is the one that is going to raise controversy.
    This doesn't mean I will see the first one, but many people will see it and wonder why in the world such a big stink was raised. It could lead to a credibility issue with the church.
    When the church raises a stink about the next one, who will listen?

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