Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials, Book I

1995, 2007 Random House edition
Philip Pullman
The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials, Book I
Original price $7.50, purchase price $2.80
Slightly worn paperback

Had I graded this book when I first read it a dozen or so years ago, I might've given it a B or B+.  This time though I realized that, except for some nice touches here and there, Pullman doesn't have much style.  To take the most glaring example, the witches are invariably described as having "ragged elegance."  Also the plot depends a great deal on shock value, and that's gone on the third or fourth reading.  

What I'm left with is some interesting world-building, not just the witches and of course the armored bears, but also the morally ambiguous world of adults.  Enemies, as young Lyra learns, can both be wrong, even in the case of her charming but ruthless parents.  Lyra herself is disobedient and dishonest, but brave and good-hearted.

This reading, I had some questions about the daemons, the familiars/souls that all humans have.  Why, other than Jungian psychology, is a daemon usually the opposite sex of its human?  And why do the personalities sometimes coincide and sometimes not?  Lyra's daemon Pan is much more of a worrier than she is.  Does this represent the self-doubt that she seldom shows?

I won't address the "anti-Christian elements" till we get further into the trilogy, since they're minor until the last few chapters of this book.  (The Church is presented more as a political than a religious body.)  I will say though that oddly enough the book most reminded me of A Wrinkle in Time (1962), as children struggle with good and evil, and-- more so in Subtle Knife (1997) of course-- travel between worlds.

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