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The Golden Compass

Review

The Golden Compass

Warning: Don't start this wholly engrossing fantasy before bed, or you'll be sorry... Set in nineteenth century England and the arctic wastes of the North, THE GOLDEN COMPASS, the first installment in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, is set in a world much like our own, but different in many ways. Here, humans are paired with daemons or animal familiars, which are extensions of the soul, if you will, with personalities of their own. In Pullman's world, no human is ever without his or her daemon, for their lives and destinies are inextricably entwined.

Lyra Belacqua's story begins at Jordan College, Oxford, where she and her daemon Pantailamon are being reared and educated by a group of elderly, bookish, and very formal scholars. Possessed with an inordinate amount of curiosity and an innate sense of adventure, this 11-year-old, apparently orphaned girl literally has the run of Oxford and its surrounding environs. But the night her Uncle Asriel comes to visit, her curiosity and sense of adventure get the better of her. After hiding in a wardrobe in an effort to avoid being caught in a room forbidden to her, she witnesses an attempt on her uncle's life, learns of strange goings-on in the Arctic wastes of the North, of a mysterious substance called Dust, and of an alternate universe suspended within the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights --- events to which she is unknowingly connected.

As the keystone to an ancient prophecy, the very future of the world lies in her inexperienced hands. Propelled on her quest by the disappearance of her friend, Roger, and the imprisonment of her uncle by the Panserbjorne --- a race of walking, talking, armored, mercenary polar bears --- Lyra departs with the golden compass, or alethiometer (a sort of truth-telling device), as her only guide.

On the first leg of her journey, Lyra escapes the beautiful, yet sinister Mrs. Coulter in whose hands she has been placed. She joins the gyptians (gypsies) on their journey North in search of their children, who, like Roger, have been kidnapped by the dastardly Gobblers --- Mrs. Coulter's evil henchmen. In addition to the alethiometer, Lyra is aided on her journey by witch clans, an outcast bear, and a Texan in a hot air balloon, before very nearly being made a victim herself of the Gobbler's horrifying scientific experiments.

With this rousing page-turner, Philip Pullman has outdone himself in creating a totally original fantasy that will leave readers hungry for more of Lyra's exciting adventures.

Reviewed by Tammy L. Currier on July 28, 1998

The Golden Compass
(His Dark Materials #1)
by Philip Pullman

  • Publication Date: September 10, 2002
  • Paperback: 399 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 037582345X
  • ISBN-13: 9780375823459