Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"The Golden Compass" by Philip Pullman

I just had to see what the fuss was all about. Was this book really such a horrible anti-God diatribe that would subtly (or even overtly) brainwash my children, or was it as harmless as Harry Potter? As I first started reading, I was uncomfortable about the idea of every human in this alternate universe having their own personal "daemon," which sure sounded a whole lot like a "demon" to me, but it quickly became clear that a "daemon" is like an external soul with nothing evil about it, so I could accept "daemons" as no big deal.

Surprisingly, for most of the book it was slow going. In the first two sections I didn't find myself caring about any of the characters or even compelled to pick the book up beyond trying to get it over with so I could move on to something else. I didn't really become interested until page 337 (painfully close to the book's conclusion on page 399) when Lyra cleverly tricked Iofur in a way that hadn't even crossed my mind. From there until the end there was plenty of suspense to sustain my interest.

Because of the way most of the story dragged for me, I can't imagine a child sticking with this book (although I am sure there are many that must have). Not only that, but even I didn't see that anyone was trying to "kill God" like I'd heard. (Or will that come in one of the other two books of the trilogy?) One of the main characters was trying to destroy death, but no one said anything about killing God. Even if the author intended this story to be about killing God and somehow masked that idea with some sort of symbolism, I didn't pick up on it, and surely a child wouldn't either. For those two reasons, I have no fear of allowing my own children to read the story, although I won't push it on them any more than I would suggest any other book I didn't especially enjoy. My opinion is that this book is indeed as harmless as Harry Potter. (And, in case you were wondering, my opinion is that reading Harry Potter books won't make your child interested in practicing witchcraft any more than playing cops and robbers will make him grow up to be a burglar).

I haven't seen the movie (although I plan to), but I can totally picture Nicole Kidman in the role of the kidnapping lady, Mrs. Coulter. (Is this her role? It must be, as there is really no other significant adult female role.) Yet again, I can imagine the movie might be better than this book, but I guess I will have to watch it and see.


J. Anne Hamner said...

I had never heard of this one, not even the movie. Wonder how the anti-god notion developed. Interesting.

Kathy said...

Thanks for your comment! You spurred me to refresh my memory on the things I had heard about the book before reading it. The book isn't as recent as I thought (first published in 1995) but the movie is from 2007. I don't believe the book ever crossed my radar until after the movie was scheduled for release, and then it was only because I received an email like one of those you can read here:

From the information in this link, apparently in the third book of the trilogy the main characters do kill a God-like figure (although I don't believe he's actually referred to as "God") but I won't bother to comment on that since I've only read the first of the three books. I just remember when I got this email I took it with a grain of salt (as usual) and figured someday I'd make up my own mind about it.

I will say that The Golden Compass did cast religion and church in a negative light, but this didn't bother me for several reasons: #1, the book takes place in an alternate universe, so even though the author very well may have anti-religion and anti-church feelings, the book itself referred to religion and churches that don't even exist. I don't feel the need to get irate over fantasy. #2, neither every religion nor every church is above reproach. There can be (and have been) many negative aspects to each. And #3, (which can apply to much more than this book), just because I read a book that differs from my own way of thinking doesn't mean I should, must, or will change my beliefs. A child may be more impressionable and less set in their beliefs, but (with the first book of the trilogy, anyway) I really couldn't see anything that would sway even an impressionable child in an undesirable direction.

So, judging by the link above, when the trilogy is taken as a whole perhaps there is a basis for the anti-god notion, but in this book alone it doesn't go any farther than anti-religion and anti-church. (Some might see these as equivalent to anti-God; I don't).