The Golden Compass: A Step Into Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy
Philip Pullman’s series, His Dark Materials -- comprised of The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass -- is already hailed as a young adult classic, a mere fourteen years after the first book was published, and with good reason. For those who love fantasy and sci-fi, this trilogy is a must, whether you are young or adult or a mix of both. Pullman creates not just one fantastical world, but many, and weaves in realistic pointed commentary on the Church and the history of Christianity.
His Dark Materials follows Lyra, a spirited orphan who lives at Oxford College, under the care of her uncle, Lord Asriel. Lyra is not alone in the world, however. She is friends with all of the neighborhood ragamuffins, serving boys, and gypsy kids. Most of all, she has her daemon, Pantalaimon, who is the closest any friend can be — he is a part of her. In Lyra’s world, everyone has a daemon, or external soul, who guides and loves her for the rest of her life. This is only one of the ways Pullman turns the traditional Christian narrative on its head: Daemons are not synonymous with Evil, just as later in the story, angels are not synonymous with Good.
If you are interested in myth, folklore, and Judeo-Christian traditional narrative, His Dark Materials will suck you in as it turns the paradigm of Eve’s fall on its head. If you’re just looking for a good fantasy story, however, this series is also for you. Lyra encounters wonderful and strange creatures on her journey, like the armored bear Iorek Byrnison and Serafina Pekkala, the wise and beautiful witch. She also travels through many worlds with the help of her alethiometer, a curious device that uses symbols to reveal any question, and which only Lyra seems to be able to read without formal training.
But even if you’re not interested in the overarching motifs and conceits of His Dark Materials, or the surreal and fantastical setting and plot, Pullman still has something for you in his books: strong, relatable characters and relationships that engross you from the get-go. If nothing else, you’ll be struck by the honest and fierce love between Lyra and her bear, Iorek, or the loyalty and teamwork between Lyra and Will Parry, whom we encounter in The Subtle Knife, but who becomes as integral to the story as Lyra herself. In the end, Pullman has much to say about the innocence of youth, the joy of experience, and the pleasures of the physical world. The brilliance of His Dark Materials comes from Pullman’s ability to take these major concepts and weave together a story about love and friendship that all ages can enjoy.