Archive for March 15, 2009
Since I read “The Golden Compass” in a one-volume edition of “His Dark Materials,” writing a review on it is like restricting my comments to merely the first third of a book.
So if you buy “The Golden Compass” in the expectation that here you will find the first book in a SERIES, you might be disappointed. “The Golden Compass” is part of a trilogy much like “The Lord of the Rings”, not a series like Harry Potter, Narnia, Artemis Fowl or Lemony Snicket. In other words: It doesn’t have a proper ending at all.
As for the reading experience of this 1/3 of a book, I was utterly pulled in right from the start (it is much better than the movie, by the way). Inspired somewhat by Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” Pullman wets the metaphysical appetite of the reader by introducing several mysterious concepts (such as “Dust”) without fully lifting the veil on them. This left me eager to turn to Part II and III of the trilogy.
I don’t want to say too much about the actual story, in case you are still unfamiliar with it, because one of the greatest joys in reading “The Golden Compass” is the gradual discovery of Pullman’s fantasy world–which is similar to our world in many respects, and yet very different, too. It is the fantasy world of an alternate reality, not a Middle Earth in the distant past or a classical fairy land.
As such, one institution from our world that you will find in the book is the Church. And of all things, it takes on the role of the villain. This has made “The Golden Compass” similarly controversial as “The DaVinci Code,” which doesn’t exactly rain compliments on the Church either. However, I’d say that Pullman puts forth a better grounded and more profound critique of the Church than Dan Brown–a critique that might not even have sound amiss in the mouth of Christ Himself.
For the Christian reader who is worried about the portrayal of the Church in “The Golden Compass,” it might help to remember that many Christians in the past have likewise been critical of the Church as an institution (and of God as set forth by religious rulers). Read Martin Luther. Then read Pullman. The latter’s critique will seem very restraint in comparison.