Book Review: The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials, Book 1), by Phillip Pullman


The Golden Compass is actually called Northern Lights in every place except North America. I guess the publishers thought that kids would get confused, because they would not know what lights could possibly be doing in the north. Never mind that the book never refers to the titular object as a compass; that’s not confusing at all, no.

It’s like how the first Harry Potter was renamed “Sorcerer’s Stone” from “Philosopher’s Stone” in the United States (but luckily not here). Because, publishers must think, kids are dumb; they wouldn’t want to read a book about philosophy! Never mind that the idea of a philosopher’s stone has been around for centuries. Just rename it and kids won’t have to learn anything new.

With that out of the way: While I’ve referred to The Golden Compass as a kid’s book, it’s really not. Not any more than Lord of the Rings is a kid’s book. It may have talking animals and magic, but there is also disturbing violence and very adult themes. There are polar bears in this book that will chew your face right off.

It’s also no secret that Pullman is a raging atheist, but while it shows in the novel in subtle ways (incorporation of deep scientific principles, and participation of the Church in certain questionable activities), he never beats the reader over the head with it. It’s more atheistic by omission; there is no fuzzy feel-good God-is-watching-over-us and the-lion-is-Jesus message. Not that there aren’t feel-good moments, because Pullman creates characters that you’ll actually care about, who interact in very human (or human-like) and touching ways.

Overall, The Golden Compass is a dark, touching, epic fantasy novel that is just chock full of giant killer polar bears. I really enjoyed it, and look forward to the forthcoming movie (though it looks to have been pussified quite a bit, leaving out the disturbing parts. boo.), and to the other two books in the trilogy.


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10 responses to “Book Review: The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials, Book 1), by Phillip Pullman”

  1. limpy99 Avatar

    “Overall, The Golden Compass is a dark, touching, epic fantasy novel that is just chock full of giant killer polar bears.”There was really no need to write anything but that sentence. I’m buying that book.

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  2.  Avatar

    “Overall, The Golden Compass is a dark, touching, epic fantasy novel that is just chock full of giant killer polar bears.”There was really no need to write anything but that sentence. I’m buying that book.

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  3. Nölff Avatar

    I just look at the pictures in books. It has a cool polar bear on the cover.

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  4.  Avatar

    I just look at the pictures in books. It has a cool polar bear on the cover.

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  5. sarah Avatar

    haha: “raging athiest” … I have never heard that phrase atheiests like that before because I guess people usually think of them as rational… Interesting turn of phrase. are you a raging athiest?

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  6.  Avatar

    haha: “raging athiest” … I have never heard that phrase atheiests like that before because I guess people usually think of them as rational… Interesting turn of phrase. are you a raging athiest?

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  7. Phronk Avatar

    With people like Dawkins, it seems like atheists are getting more ragey and passionate about their beliefs. I dunno if that’s a good thing or if it makes a lot of sense. I guess it does in some cases (e.g. when someone plonks down a creation museum in order to deliberately lie to your children), but not most. Personally I’m more of an atheist in the sense that a newborn baby is an atheist. My beliefs as they stand just don’t happen to include any gods. I wouldn’t call that very raging. 🙂

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  8.  Avatar

    With people like Dawkins, it seems like atheists are getting more ragey and passionate about their beliefs. I dunno if that’s a good thing or if it makes a lot of sense. I guess it does in some cases (e.g. when someone plonks down a creation museum in order to deliberately lie to your children), but not most. Personally I’m more of an atheist in the sense that a newborn baby is an atheist. My beliefs as they stand just don’t happen to include any gods. I wouldn’t call that very raging. 🙂

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