I know, I know—everyone has read this book already. Everyone loves this book already. But I hadn’t, and when faced with a trip to Guatemala involving seven planes and lots of sun, I needed a good travel book. So I scoured Powell’s for a read that would engage me while I was alternately trapped in the iron maiden that is an airplane and lounging by the Lago Atitlán, known as the belly button of the world.
And I found The Golden Compass. As soon as I saw it, displayed proudly on a stack of copies of itself, I knew it was my choice. It’s so endorsed that I was guaranteed not to regret having the extra 1.3 pounds of luggage. For many readers, if His Dark Materials isn't their favorite series, it’s a close runner-up after Harry Potter (which, to my mind, is perfect).
It wasn't until after I finished the book that I learned BBC is going to create a TV series. I love BBC for always doing it up right. I can't help but think the Dust was guiding my decision.
The Golden Compass is an enjoyable romp through another world. I haven’t romped in far too long. There is nothing like a solid YA/children’s fantasy to get my mind off the mechanics of life and go to a magical place. And how else would I want to live my life?
I loved the concept of the dæmons—the animal companion to every human, their soul made physical, and furry, and cuddly. I would almost venture to say that the desire to have a constant animal friend, especially one that you can communicate with telepathically, is universal. We would never be lonely!
I cheered on the friendship between Lyra and Roger. Boys and girls being friends at that age is uncommon, and I appreciate Pullman’s rebuke of such an unecessary segregation. Why shouldn’t boys and girls of any age be friends? We’re all just people, after all. Lyra’s total disregard for societal expectations is refreshing, inspiring, and increasingly relevant. Characters like her help us to see what can be imagined, which is the first step to making it possible.
I will say I think I missed the boat on this book. It's meant for a younger audience, and this jaded reader struggled with a few aspects. Spoilers below.
For example, our young protagonist Lyra finds out who her parents are halfway through the book—one of them kidnapped her and the other pretended to be a distant uncle her entire life. Lyra seems pretty cool with it, considering. She doesn’t take any time to absorb the shock and betrayal. She isn’t distracted at all from her mission to save Roger. Heroic of her, yes, but also not very human. But these humans are in a parallel universe, so maybe family ties work a little differently there.
Things just work out. Obstacle: solution. Obstacle: solution. I was never worried when Lyra got into a scrape because she always gets into scrapes and either 1) a magical friend comes along to help or 2) the other character she’s up against isn’t very bright and is easily manipulated by a not quite twelve-year-old kid. I wasn’t even worried about her finding Roger—who is supposedly awesome, although I can’t confirm that, having spent only a couple pages with him at the very beginning—which was the whole point of the book.
But these are my problems, not the book’s. If only I could have read it when I was eleven, I’m sure I would have felt differently. I’m looking forward to reading the next two books, particularly the final installment of the trilogy, The Amber Spyglass, which won heaps of awards. After that, I believe I’ll more fully understand why His Dark Materials is such a beloved series. And I can't wait to find out what the heck Dust is!