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For Young Readers
A novel for thinkers, dreamers
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Censorship by religious authority, parallel universes, and the kidnapping of children for experiments are not familiar themes in children’s literature. However, these topics and others like them become commonplace in the brilliant science fiction series by Philip Pullman. Dark yet humorous, action-packed yet intelligent, “The Golden Compass,” the first book in the series, is a book for children, teens, and their parents alike.
Philip Pullman was a name widely unknown in the United States until The Golden Compass was published by Scholastic in 1995. It and the other volumes in the His Dark Materials series rebuked the opinion that children’s novels could not be longer than two hundred pages. The books, spanning many more than four hundred pages each, are a work of ingenuity rarely seen in children’s fiction. This series is no Harry Potter knockoff; it is clear from the first page of the first book that His Dark Materials is a completely original and fascinating adventure.
The Golden Compass begins on a note of mystery, introducing the spitfire protagonist Lyra and her companion Pantalaimon. The two live in “a universe like ours, but different in many ways”, an almost Victorian-style England. The most obvious difference between Lyra’s world and ours is that in Lyra’s world, people’s souls (or daemons, as they are known) exist outside their bodies, in the form of animals. Pantalaimon, Lyra’s soul, is her constant companion, and the two have maintained a satisfactory existence terrorizing professors at Jordan College, their place of residence. However, when Lord Asriel, Lyra’s uncle and guardian, returns from an expedition in the arctic with news of a mysterious substance called “dust”, Lyra is pulled into a conspiracy that involves more than their own world.
Henceforth, Lyra and Pantalaimon are thrust into a whirlwind expedition. With the oppressive Church in hot pursuit, a clan of witches out to help Lyra but at the same time keep her ignorant of the role she must play in determining the fate of worlds, and a talking bear that is anything but cute, The Golden Compass is not lacking in action of any sort. And while the book may outwardly seem like a stereotypical “save the world” epic, it is actually nothing of the sort. This is a novel for thinkers and dreamers, for those willing to question the world and themselves. With a movie slated to be released in theaters late this year, the His Dark Materials series, beginning with The Golden Compass, is a must-read this season.
Lindsey and Paige Oliver are ninth graders at Bulloch Academy. Their book review of a work aimed at readers ages 9-14 appears monthly in the Herald.
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