The Golden Compass: A Review

The Golden Compass of the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman was recommended to me by a friend after I finished the Harry Potter series. She said she liked it better than Harry Potter and since the movie is coming out in December I thought I'd check it out, being a kids fantasy book junky and all.

I wasn't really sure what to expect with this novel. When I was purchasing it the cashier lady confided in me that this was her favorite fantasy series, even more so than Harry Potter. So my intrigue was peeked and I dove in as soon as possible. Having just finished the last HP book, I found it hard to not compare the two as I began to read. The first thing I noticed was that TGC was slower at the beginning while the first HP book started out very quickly and dove into the magical world and excitement right away. Rather, TGC took its time, slowly and unobtrusively introducing this different world with its daemons and talking polar bears. The way Pullman presents the story, these odd things intrigue you but you don't completely feel like you're in a completely different world like you do in HP when you enter Hogwarts. So many things are very much the same as in our world and many of the things that aren't the same are just as unexplained to the characters in the book as they are to us, so our confusion and intrigue are a part of the experience of following young Lyra around in her adventures.

It's because of this that the story feels more realistic than the HP books did, even though it is just as unrealistic. Pullman has a way of tricking you by his realistic writing style and by his manner of just letting the little fantasy elements of the novel unfold naturally without over-describing it. With HP, Harry himself was seeing much of the magic world for the first time, so it was displayed to us with extreme wonder and descriptive writing, in TGC, Lyra has grown up in the world that we are introduced to and so things are shown to us in a more subdued, matter-of-fact manner.

Lyra, the young heroine, is head strong, mischievous, completely likable and true hearted. She loves easily and goes about her adventures with a spirit that was made for it. As a girl raised mostly by male scholars, she is definitely a tomboy at heart. She leads us through a plot that is both intricate and intriguing. At the end of Book I there are still many questions left unanswered in the ingenious and complex plot. The evil feels more real and cruel in this book because of who is doing the evil and how it's connected to our heroine. The characters are memorable and moving and by the end of the book I was flipping rapidly through the pages to find out what happens.

And don't worry, although it may not be filled with as many fantastical scenes as Harry Potter, The Golden Compass holds its own with some great fantasy places and scenes that reverberate through your head and heart even after they are through. To imagine a great polar bear duel or the delightful little daemons at their person's side is thrilling to say the least.

I can't say whether TGC beats out my love of HP yet since I've only read the first book of the three book series, and they have very different tones, moods and worlds. I find them hard to compare as a whole. Harry Potter is most pointedly written for children, although adults have enjoyed it greatly, probably feeling child-like as I did while reading the series. His Dark Materials although was seemingly written for children, the smartness and complexity of the ideas makes me feel as if adults will get more out of the books than children. While children could enjoy the story and perhaps grasp the basic ideas, the ideas are so complex and original that I think only an adult could truly appreciate all Pullman put in the books. The books are mature and the ideas thrilling.
The His Dark Materials trilogy has already captured me. Can't wait for that movie, it should be a fun one! But for now, onto The Subtle Knife.


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