The Golden Compass

Pullman, Phillip (1995). New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN: 0-679-87924-2

In a world similar to our own, 11 year-old Lyra Belaqua runs wild all over Jordan College, part of this world’s Oxford University.She is friends with a raggedy group of unsupervised children, offspring of college servants, townspeople, and of the Gyptians, traveling people whose bats are moored in the nearby canal. Lyra has a daemon—a familiar, a soulmate which usually takes the form of a small animal—everyone in this world has one. Lord Asriel, her uncle, who eventually is revealed to be her father, has an important meeting scheduled in a special chamber at the college—while hiding there with Pantalaimon, her daemon, Lyra sees the Master of Jordan dropping poison into Asriel’s drink. She tells Ariel, who has her stay in the closet and keep an eye on the proceedings. Lord Asriel’s lecture is about ‘dust’, cosmic particles full of power and significance. He then heads north on a scientific exploration. Meanwhile, Lyra worries about the Gobblers, who seem to be stealing children, especially the children of the less powerful, such as her friend Roger, a servant boy, and also the children of the Gyptians. Two things then happen—the Master of the college gives Lyra the alethiometer, similar in shape to a golden compass or pockrtwatch. It has special symbols on its faces, and is supposed to be able to answer questions for the skilled user. At the same time, the terrifying Mrs. Coulter appears in town. Sweet, beautiful, and obviously extremely dangerous, she is soon revealed to be connected to the Gobblers and on the prowl with her horrid golden monkey daemon for the alethiometer. Lyra flees north in connection with the Gyptians. She meets Iorek Byrnison, fighter stripped of his powerful armor, and former king of the bears. Lyra’s journey eventually takes her to a place where she discovers the horrible truth—through a process called ‘intercision’, the stolen children are being separated from their daemons—a fate worse than amputation, worse than death, which follows soon after. The Gyptians and Lyra must try to rescue the children and make their way to the imprisoned Lord Asriel, who holds the key to the myseries of dust and intercision.

Reader’s Annotation
Every person in this parallel world has a daemon, a familiar who is tied to the individual’s soul. When the evil Mrs. Coulter comes to Jordan College and children start to disappear, Lyra Belaqua must use the mysterious alethiometer to aid Lord Asriel against this threat to the order of the universe.

Having read these 3 books in early September but not written about them till early December, this writing was instructive. I was extremely enthusiastic and impressed by the books upon reading. I still am, but looking at what I still retain and what has drifted away forms a ready-made critique of the elements of the book. I now find that many of the details of the convoluted plot did not stick with me, but all the major characters are vivid in my mind—the unreadable Asriel, the sublimely alarming Mrs. Coulter, and the Nordic warrior polar bear. The amazing visual of the book—the amalgamation of medieval scholarship, Victorian technology, and the powerful images of frozen northern geography—prove indelible. The strongest impression by far which lingers is of the humans and their daemons—the unspeakable pain at the thought of losing them, and the realization that everyone in our world had endured some sort of intercision.

About the author
Phillip Pullman is a graduate of Oxford College, although he always mentions that he received a poor degree. Now he has an honorary PHD from there, and lectures in Exeter College. As a young boy Pullman was fascinated by American comics.

Fantasy YA

Curriculum Ties

Booktalking Ideas
Where’s my daemon?
Nicole Kidman in the film: why she IS Mrs. Coulter
Victorian Technology/ Fantasy World

Reading Level/Interest Age
Grades 7 and up (SLJ, Booklist)

Challenge Issues
I’d say not till Books 2 and 3.

Why Included?
My youngest son who is now away at college picked this book up on a bookstore shelf, attracted by the beautiful cover of the young girl and the polar bear in front of a wintry sky. We didn’t know anything about it. For all these years my son has been telling me to READ THESE BOOKS, but I never made time. So now I have!

Selection Tools
ALA Best Books for Young Adults 1997

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