November 2007 Discussion: The Golden Compass
Join LibraryThing to post.
This topic is currently marked as "dormant"—the last message is more than 90 days old. You can revive it by posting a reply.
Let's start our new discussion of The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman...
I haven't bought the book yet, but no one has started a discussion. So, I can say I saw the movie advertised. Is this the first Philip Pullman book to be turned into a movie?
His Sally Lockhart books (the first one is The Ruby in the Smoke) had a television series adaptation I hear, although not a movie. That should have been interesting since I really liked those books more than The Golden Compass.
I read The Golden Compass when I was younger, and eventually will reread it for this discussion. But since I don't have it my possession right now I don't have much current to say. However I recently realized this book was originally titled Northern Lights in the UK and I wonder whether people think that title is better than The Golden Compass. Personally, I like The Golden Compass better, but that may be because I am more accustomed to it. Normally I would side with the original title, but in this case it just doesn't seem as unique or descriptive.
Northern Light, huh? I hate when they do that and I think it happens alot when books get translated or to be sold in other countries. I've even read books where the first edition had one title and the second another. Frustrating, but I found that more in older books from the last century.
The Ruby in the Smoke was a whole different series , right?
I prefer Northern Lights as a title, but that is because it is marketed here under that name (the UK). I really love Northern Lights and the rest of the series. It is my second favourite of the three (I love The Amber Spyglass best). Lyra is a great central character, very clever and able to figure her way out of difficult situations (like the way she tricks the armoured bears). I am a bit worried that the film will be rubbish as they have removed all the religious ideas which was such an essential part of the series...
I still haven't read the Sally Lockheart books but I will get around to them someday.
I prefer Northern Lights as well, even though I'm in the US so it's marketed as The Golden Compass.
I'm planning to re-read the whole series over Thanksgiving break in a few weeks, so they'll be fresh in my mind so I can see just how much the movie gets wrong. :)
I am smack in the middle of the Shadow in the North, the second Sally Lockheart book. Thus far, HDM is definitely the better series... The first Sally Lockheart book had a really good set-up, and really interesting characters, but the resolution was too sudden and too quick for my tastes.
I adore The Golden Compass. I think I've read it three times or so; not sure if I'll manage it again for this discussion (but I remember it well anyway) or before the movie. I can't wait for the movie, and I think Nicole Kidman is perfectly cast. So glad they got an unknown for Lyra.
Now to the book: what struck me about it is how perfectly Pullman graaaaddduaaalllyyy, and seamlessly, releases the information to the reader.
Spoilers, if you haven't yet read/finished
We find out very quickly that Lyra has this little companion, Pan. We then find out, over pages and pages and pages (I may not have this in perfect order), that 1) Pan changes shape; 2) Pan and Lyra can't be separated -- well, except forcibly and horribly; 3) everyone has such a companion; 4) hey! the shape becomes permanent with adolescence; 5) it's much more common to have an opposite gender daemon than a same-gender daemon, although there are some who do.....
Many writers would clumsily dump this all out in one lump paragraph of explanation. With Pullman, each bit is mentioned so casually and so naturally over many pages that the reader almost thinks, "well, of COURSE that's the way it is! Anyone can see that!"
And don't even get me started on the armored polar bears!
As to title, I like both "Northern Lights" and "The Golden Compass." Someone pointed out once that the other two books mention an artifact (The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass), so it makes sense that The Golden Compass does too. But I'm partial to "Northern Lights" also because I used to live in North Dakota, where the Northern Lights were sometimes spectacular.
I have recently finished 'Northern Lights' and 'The Subtle Knife' and wasn't overly impressed with either. I found myself not really caring about any of the characters or what happened to them in the end. I felt 'The Subtle Knife' was better than 'Northern Lights', it kept me slightly more interested. I will read the third in the trilogy, 'The Amber Spyglass', but only because I feel I should. I won't be bothering to see the film either.
I prefer the title Golden Compass, but many people don't realize that it has nothing to do with Lyra's aleithometer. I'm sure I misspelled that, but I don't have the books handy (I'm typing this in my history class). The golden compass refers to a work of art, of a man using a compass (the kind you use in geometry) to create a world, or something like that. I'll look it up when I get home later, if you have the Magical Worlds of Philip Pullman it's in there, along with the explanation of how it happened. Great companion book too, if you're interested.
I agree, #7, and at the end of the Golden Compass, there is much that still has not been revealed.
What are the daemons, really? Are they truly souls? Why, then, are they called daemons, which seems to come from the word demon?
#10 dsalerni: I don't think daemons have anything to do with the word demon. I think it's an allusion to a philosophical concept. I think it was Socrates who first used the term daemon to refer to a guardian spirit, though I'm sure he wasn't referring to little pet creatures that exist outside of man. The Greek word eudaimonia also means a sort of happiness that may be miserable, but is ultimately good. The guiding spirit is supposed to help orient man towards that sort of happiness.
One of the things I really like about this trilogy is how well Pullman integrates physics, religion, and philosophy into the story. I've just begun the third book, The Amber Spyglass, and so far I have absolutely loved the clever little parallels between creation, the fall, god, original sin, and his fictional story. His books may be technically YA, but a lot of the elements in it would go unnoticed and unappreciated by younger readers.
I also love the twist on the 'child of the prophecy' theme. I love that Lyra may be important and powerful and dangerous, but that she is almost entirely unaware of it. I love that she is meant to stumble into her destiny blindly, without guidance, without intention, even-- the perfect incarnation of The Fool (the archetype, not an ordinary fool). She isn't particularly beautiful or clever or noble-minded. In fact, she is an uneducated, selfish little street urchin who just happens to be important. She's much more realistic than other protagonists.
Aha! Well, that makes sense now. And when I google the word, I see that it is also a computer term for "a process that runs in the background and performs a specified operation at predefined times or in response to certain events." Actually, I knew that one once, but I forgot about it!
So, that is the origin of the word, but in Pullman's story, are we meant to think the daemon is synonymous with the soul? I'm not trying to be dense -- just wanting to know if anyone had a different interpretation.
I am still waiting for this book. I'm on a list in the local library, but have no idea when it's my turn.
I've loved these books for years. I re-read The Golden Compass for this discussion, but had read it twice previously (once when I was about 12, once when I was 18). The trilogy's easily some of my favorite books. I love reading books at different times in my life, I always perceive them a little bit differently. I'm eager to re-read the other two books, though I'm not reading them all in succession as other books need read.
Anyway, that said, I'm really nervous about the movie. They're obviously going to change the story. They obviously have to take much of the religious stuff out in order to make the movie marketable. (Which could cause problems if they try and make the other two books into movies.) I think Nicole Kidman as Mrs. Coulter and Sam Elliot as Lee Scoresby are excellent casting, but...I guess I just feel that there's a lot they can do to screw up the story. I'll probably see it, but I definitely have reservations, especially considering how near and dear I hold the books. What does everyone else think about how well it will translate to film? Any thoughts?
The movie.... well, I'm optimistically and hopefully trying to assume that they WON'T screw it up. But at the same time, if it's terrible, I'll recognize and admit it.
I was definitely nervous when I heard (probably a year ago now) that references to "the Church" were going to become more generic refrences to "an institution." And then I was shocked when Pullman stated publicly that he was OK with that change, because the trilogy is about "controlling institutions", not necessary religious ones. I'm not very comfortable with that, because to me, the trilogy is not about generic, Big Brother control, but about religious control.
But I still want to be cautiously optimistic. I mean, look at how well (in my opinion) the Harry Potter books have been translated to the screen. Look at how well (again, IMO) the Lord of the Rings trilogy was translated to the screen. They can do it -- they just have to CARE about it. And this is New Line Cinema, right? Didn't they do LOTR?
(I hope I didn't just jinx the whole thing....)
Yeah, I'd like to be optimistic, I've just seen many horrible film adaptations, HP and LOTR aside. There are exceptions to every rule though.
But I agree, changing it from religious control to institution control does seem to take away from the story. Especially if they do other movies, it seems that they'll sort of shoot themselves in the foot. It just seems that the religious stuff will be hard to get around if they choose to adapt the other two books to film. I could be wrong.
The other dilemma is the movie's definitely geared toward kids (I saw Golden Compass pez dispensers recently). While the books are YA, I'm kind of bummed they'll take away some of the more hard hitting aspects. Based on the trailer I saw, I don't know what they're doing with the Oblation Board or if it's been completely omitted. Also, I doubt (spoiler) Iorek will eat Iofer's heart at the end of their battle. While it's a minor detail, I just wonder how much overall watering-down the movie will do.
Guess we'll just have to wait and see...
^ I do agree with you that movie adaptions of the second two books without religious reference will be difficult if not impossible, and quite possibly pointless.
didn't read any of your comments, as I'm only on p. 31, but I'm lost already! alethiometers? oblation board?
this better make sense soon, or at least have some man-eating polar bears...
RE: movies of the next two books -- I don't think they'll ever make them. Frankly, I don't think the story is strong enough, or stands on its own enough, to make them into movies once you get past the first book. Of course, I'm not a big fan of the series, so take my opinion for what it's worth.
I'll come back with my comments on the book soon, once I've finished my reread.
I Just finished the book this morning. Personally I think the movie could be quite promising depending on how much they take ore leave. I knew when I started reading that the movie was going to cut out the references to the Church and to be quite honest I don't see an issue with that up until the end when they start talking about original sin. As far as them making adaption of the next two books IMDB already shows The subtle knife as in early stages of development with a target of 2009, but at the same time that doesn't always mean they follow through with the film. My guess is that it will depend on how the first one fairs.
I've been waiting for someone to mention Pullman's atheism and how people are dealing with the controversy.
Has anyone seen this link:
Actually there is a magazine article that I just read today in the Atlantic Monthly. And I haven't bought the book yet.
So this is the anti-religion book? Pullman was quoted saying some disturbing things IMO. I hope he is happy with the film. In the article he trashed LOTR and Narnia. I really think he misunderstood CS Lewis, but I see where he got it from. Pullman labels Lewis with some accurate theories, but NArnia is not a "life-hating ideology." IMO
The movie will be a succes if the central theme of individual freedom over blind obedience comes through. We will see.
Now, back to the book.
I hope no one minds me jumping in here--I love YA fiction, especially sff, and I'm delighted to see a very timely conversation on The Golden Compass. I've read the trilogy before and loved it and am intending to reread at least #1 before I see the film.
I also read the Snopes article (#21)--I was prompted to by an email that was forwarded to me. The email warned that Pullman was trying to "lure" children into his "God-hating conspiracies" with these books.
I believe that Pullman has said that his books are about killing God, but I think a healthy dose of perspective is fitting for those who are fueling this "controversy" (too bad that they aren't likely to be LTers). Pullman is an atheist, which he has every right to be. Like many atheists, he is also passionate and, if you will forgive the impertinence, angry about religion. Are his books promoting that viewpoint? Of course, just the same way that Lewis was promoting a Christian view of the world with Narnia (those parallels are present and deliberate too).
As a product of human expression, every book carries the worldview of its author (human objectivity is, IMHO, the world's greatest fallacy). The Golden Compass and its sequels cannot be expected to do anything else.
Any controversy stirred up (and notice that it is rising dramatically at the opening of the film--it was much quieter when the books were popular--because people who perpetuate controversy and send these sorts of paranoid emails don't really read, they just repeat what other people tell them) is simply a result of people disliking the perspective represented. But since when does an author have to write something that everyone agrees with? We read books in order to expand our horizons, and part of that is discovering attitudes we may not already share, specifically so that we can decide, as thinking beings, whether to incorporate said attitudes into our own worldviews. That's called growth. I wish the people sending that email would think about that.
Oops. I really didn't intend to rant in my first ever post to this group. Let me finish by saying that I think these books are astounding, especially when one considers the taut prose--the way that the text rarely stumbles, even in its cross-volume complexities, which is increasingly rare (even our beloved HP author was frequently guilty of sloppy phrases, especially in her earliest installments)--and the beautiful images--that's where I think the film might have a chance, in the visioning of that extraordinary world.
I look forward to further discussion.
Oh, rant away, Beserene!
I enjoyed your post and you make excellent points. It is interesting to consider that Pullman created a story in which "The Church" rules by trying to control what people believe and think -- and then the real life churches warn people not to read the books or watch the movie! Gee, do you think they get the irony of that? Probably not.
Posts 23 and 24 -- well said, both!
Post 21 -- I guess I don't really have to "deal" too much with Pullman's atheism. I'm dealing with being an atheist in Texas as it is! ;-)
Post 22 -- I don't know that I would consider Narnia a "life-hating ideology" either. On the other hand, the most blunt comment I've seen Pullman make is that Lewis thought it was better to die before adolescence (the train accident) than to lose innocence (which because of Susan some believe Lewis equates with interest in boys and nylons), whereas Pullman believes that the loss of innocence is necessary and good, because only then can one do good consciously. Before that, any good that is done is unthinking and hence has less value. Have others here interpreted Pullman's "view" in that way?
Someone, perhaps Neil Gaiman (?), wrote a story called "The Problem with Susan". I believe it appears in an anthology called Flights: Extreme Visions of Fantasy. It's rather interesting.
Thanks for reminding me, amy! "The Problem with Susan" is by Neil Gaiman and it is in Flights" Extreme Visions of Fantasy and I'd forgotten all about it. I think I'll reread it tonight.
I very much like your thoughts on Pullman's loss of innocence theme--it's a little bit Miltonian (John Milton, author of Paradise Lost is who I mean). Milton presents the idea that we cannot be moral beings without first facing temptation. Though he was talking about publishing rights at the time, Milton's phrase "I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue" applies here--a sheltered, controlled soul cannot make moral choices. Perhaps Pullman is connecting with similar ideas?
I agree to disagree. Wht I thought was odd is that any author would say such negative things about another author. They are in the same position to be misinterpreted. And I wonder how much I can believe from magazine articles.
I read this series when I was younger (and just reread the Golden Compass), but have never been a great fan... The Golden Compass is pretty good, but I really didn't care for the Amber Spyglass. I couldn't say I particularly care which title the Colden Compass/Northern Lights has; I just wish it had the same title instead of two different ones.
I also never really cared for any of the characters, many of whom somehow don't feel realistic. I also though sometimes Pullman was telling what characters were like instead of describing, which made the character developement feel more jerky.
Probably won't be seeing the movie.
I enjoyed The Golden Compass more than I expected.
*** spoilers ***
Finding out who Lyra's parents were was a big surprise for me. I would not have thought that Mrs. Coulter and Lord Asriel were her parents - they were such self centered people searching for power....but then again, that would probably explain how Lyra became such a wild child at Jordan College.
I loved the idea of a daemon. To always have a companion with you, a best friend. I would have loved that as a kid.
Iorek was probably my favorite character. He was loyal, kind, wise and strong. A good leader.
To be true, I enjoyed The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass more. I felt the rest of the series had more action and movement than The Golden Compass did.
My younger cousin (12) and I (31) read them at the same time and would call each other to discuss what was going on - so that made reading these books so much more fun.
When I read this book I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I had not really heard a lot about it and didn't know what to expect. I loved the fact that Lara had an animal companion and I think that helped me connect with her and care about her. From then on I was very in to finding out her fate. I have since read the second book and I enjoyed that just as much. I have not finished the third one and not yet found the fate of Lyra, but I am working on it. As of right now I have enjoyed the 1st and 2nd books more than the 3rd.
As for the movie I think that the people who made it were concentrating on making it fun for children. I think that the movie could be fun and entertaining without the religious connotations to it. I think it will be lacking in content because of it, but not a bad movie.
As far as the religious aspects I enjoyed the complex ideas of religion within the story. I don't think it matters if you agree or disagree with the ideas, but that it makes you think about your views because of the story that is told.
I've been rereading the Golden Compass the past few days, and I just passed the part where Tony dies. I was wondering how they'll handle this in the movie? They probably won't have time to introduce the catacombs of Jordan College, or explain how the scholars have gold coins with their daemon's names carved into them placed in their mouths, so are they going to edit out how Lyra carves "Ratter" into a coin for Tony? I would be very disappointed if they did, that part of the book made Lyra seem a little more...feeling? I'm not sure what the word is I'm looking for, up until then she always seemed tough and street-wise, but the way she treated Tony gave her another side.
I started Compass last week, and finished the Amber Spyglass over the weekend (and have to say, immediate gratification-wise, it was a treat to have the whole series available to read at once rather than having to wait until the next volume was published), but digressions aside, I just didn't find the pacing of the story engaging. I liked the plot, and stayed the course to find out how everything would finish out. It was certainly thought-provoking, but I think maybe this is one of those books/series that are more fun to read when you're young and grow up with.
C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien have already been mentioned. Alice in Wonderland or A Wrinkle in Time would be other books along these lines. I enjoyed them highly for the story when I read them as a kid, and re-reading them as an adult with more background in the classics, they were even better. Reading the Golden Compass, I kept thinking about Dante's Divine Comedy and Milton's Paradise Lost, and I kept wondering how much I was missing -- it sort of tainted the books.
I'm just about 1/2 way through. Lyra is an interesting orphan. I like how the author describes the adults as not seeing her ready to hear the truth, but she is trying so hard to figure all this out on her own.
ok, finally finished it...
...and I'm not sure what to think. I liked it, a lot of cool stuff and excitement, loved the witches and the bears and the daemons... but too much was unresolved, too much was left to the next book, or books, or continuing movie franchise...
major issues there with Mom and Dad, but no real confrontation, just a few issues explained with kind of a "by the way"... maybe I'm just reading it too old, or I'm just too tired tonight (finished off the turkey leftovers...)
"Maybe I'm just too old" is a constant refrain I hear with these books. In general, people who first read them as a child love them, and will staunchly defend them. On the other had, those of us who did not read the books until our twenties (or thirties or . . .) tend to be left a little cold by them. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but I've heard the same thing from people both online and in real life often enough to think that I may be on to something here.
I still haven't finished it yet. I am so behind, I should do this club every three months. Having said that and not knowing how it ends, does anyone see a similarity to Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens? I seemed to be able to overlap the characters between the two books. That doesn't mean I won't like it or I think anything bad, it just sprang into my mind while I was becoming aquainted with the characters. Like when you think who would play which parts in the movie version. I do that too. I still want to understand what the authors hang up is with Narnia though.
^ posts 34 and 35
I first read these in my early to mid-30s, and I adore them. Just another data point!
I do have plenty of books that I defend solely for nostalgic reasons, because I read them when I was a child or teen, but they don't hold up for adult reading, such as the Nancy Drew books. In the case of The Golden Compass and the two books following, though, I'm so glad I read them as an adult first. As a teen, I would have missed a lot of important stuff (which admittedly is mostly in the second and third books), which I could have gotten on a later re-reading as an adult, but then I wouldn't have the delight of first discovery at the same time, if that makes any sense.
>>>> 34, 35 and 37
I read this a few months ago and didn't like it at all. I am 40. I just couldn't relate to Lyra and I guess that, more than anything, made the book less than enjoyable. I know that people love it, and I want to love it too. I just didn't.
Now I keep reading on LT that the next book is better. Should I try it? Or just give up?
^Honestly, I thought the first book was the most entertaining. The second and third are more deep, but could also be seen as more "lecture-y", if you know what I mean. If you didn't like the first.... I'm not sure I would go on to the next two, but that's just my opinion.
point 1..Philip Pullman is something of a crank and a pill pot..that shouldn't detract from enjoying his books!
We first discovered him via the Sally Lockhart trilogy and then latched onto the His Dark Materials suite as soon as they came out. Some of my favorite poetry is explicitly Christian, though i'm certainly not...(Donne, Hopkins) and if i can enjoy works grounded in Christianity, I find it offensive that some "Christians" feel that faith is going to be undermined by art.
point 2. New Line was incredibly paranoid about a backlash in the US if the anti-organized CofE/generalized religion theme was explicit in the movie..Of course the backlash is emerging anyways..But, the hopeful bit is that the previews seem awfully well done, so we're definitely hopeful down here in NCarolina. I hope the movie does well in the US and very well elsewhere in the more civilized world (assuming it's well done and deserves wide viewing).
I'm sure the movie will focus more on the adventure, fighting, & special effects angles... I doubt there will be much "religion" involved at all...
I'm waiting for my kids to finish 1st book before moving on to the next ones... if they're not interested, there are many other things to read. Of course if the movie is cool, they have to make the sequel, so I'll have to read book #2, right?
As far as being too old (did I call myself that?) I just hope people read with different priorities and sensibilities at 30+ or 50+ than they did when 10 - 15... a book may be a great adventure story that appeals to all generations, but there are levels of sophistication (or lack thereof) that make a difference in a child loving a book and an adult knowing how well it is written...
oops, gotta get the boys to skool!
still not finished, but something bothers me about the daemons. I hope I learn more by the end. They are connected by their souls or are they the person's soul? And the bears have their souls in their armour. I want to know if Lyra's mother comes back into the picture. I mean mother against daughter. It is like Dorothy finding out The Wicked Witch of the West was her mother! wow.
I'm ashamed to say that I have not finished yet, but I am moving along. Lyra and Roger have been rescued and are flying in the witch manuevered balloon. I must say I do love his storytelling. The witches are my favorites right now. I love how he made them. I want a witch! And it brings truth behind the saying "It's colder then a witch's XXX!" LOL
I have laughed alot while reading this, Pullman is very good at bringing some leavity into the more serious segments. (Not including the witch quote from above, that is me, sorry and I hope no one is offended)
I really want to know who is good and who is bad. I feel like we have been given enough information about her parents , but there is still some unknown,I feel like I am riding right along side Lyra. She is some character, tough enough for boys to like too.
On to the chilly end.
I just finished reading Golden Compass for the first time and I really enjoyed it (I am in the "over 50" age group. I enjoyed it for the adventure mostly and for the fantasy of it. I had problems getting into it at first because I couldn't understand a lot of it...I felt like I needed a glossary! (daemons, oblation boards, etc.) As the book progressed, I gradually figured out a lot of it.
I knew reading it that there was an anti-religious theme to it...you can't miss it. It was the day AFTER I finished reading it that someone told me about the whole atheist controversy. I have to say, that I didn't feel that Pullman was pushing an atheisitic agenda. To me, this fantasy, like other fantasies, puts force another world-view. There's lots to think about and discuss.
I want to read the next two books in the trilogy, but after reading the comments above, I'm not sure if I should invest the time. It's really the adventure of it that I enjoyed the most.
^ There's definitely still adventure in the next two books. But it did seem of a different flavor than in the first book. I honestly think it's worth it, but everyone's mileage varies....
I'm going to see the movie opening night -- that is, Thursday night/Friday morning at 12:01 a.m.! Yes, you can say I've been looking forward to this movie since I first heard it announced, probably three years ago! Here's hoping for the best.....
I'm not happy at the end. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but he is brutal with the fact that both of her parents are so selfish. I was hoping for one to be good. And she is a "special" child which makes me like her a little less. I prefer the ordinary person handling an extraordinary situation and rising to the occasion.
The religious part at the end was also, not my favorite interpretation and I can see this is where it colides with C.S. Lewis and I'll take Lewis over what Pullman left for a moral to the story.
The best part of the book is the dialogue with the different language dialects and those details between the peoples and the species. And I thought it was clever for her to be raised by the scholars. But she suffered so much loss and it only led her to more unknowns. This ending was not an ending to me. I guess it was written for a trilogy, but I prefer when each book can stand on its own.
I still haven't finished it yet. I am so behind, I should do this club every three months.
I just finished re-reading it yesterday, and I haven't even started the next three months' books! But better late than never....
In general, people who first read them as a child love them, and will staunchly defend them.
I guess I'm unusual, then, in that I read it as a child (about age 11), but didn't really like it then and still didn't really like it now. The ideas are interesting, but something about the book was distancing and made me feel sort of like I was watching the action rather than actually being involved in it.
Reading this thread, there were more things I wanted to say, but I can't remember them now.
I didn't bother to see the movie in the theatre (since it didn't seem to get very good reviews) but I will probably watch it on DVD at some point.
I read all three of he books several years ago (I'm 30 now) and enjoyed them quite a bit. I re-read Golden Compass recently as a refresher.
My opinion (and this is just my opinion!): I was raised Catholic and consider myself a Christian. I am solid enough in my faith so that the anti-religious overtones of the book did not bother me. That said, I think that when I have kids I would not let my children read these books until high school, when I think they would be old enough to grapple with the advanced issues discussed. I think that Book 3 especially would be traumatic for a kid to read. Yikes.
My parents read me the Narnia books when I was a kid and I still re-read them every year or two. My fondness for them is more nostalgia than literary, though.
This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.