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review 2020-06-20 00:38
Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
Northern Lights - Philip Pullman


“So Lyra and her daemon turned away from the world they were born in, and looked toward the sun, and walked into the sky.”


Reading this for the first time as an adult this book is wonderful, the lead character Lyra may be a child but the writing is not dumbed down for children. And I love when authors do this, you get enjoyment as a child and when you come back to it years later it doesn't feel like you're reading a childrens book.


Considering this has been around for so long, I actually had zero knowledge what it was about. The story follows parentless Lyra and her daemon who has grown up in an Oxford College, when she's not being tutored she's and playing and fighting in the streets with the local children. Each human has a daemon, which is essentially you're soul and once you become an adult it settles into one form of animal that becomes a representation of of you. 


Lyra craves something more than the stuffy male professors she's been brought up around, and one day, the glamourous and mysterious Mrs Coulter appears offering her all she's dreamed off. Lyra jumps at the chance. However, children are disappearing. Tales of the Gobblers have travelled up and down the country. Soon Lyra finds herself embarking on a huge adventure to save the kidnapped children, and as she travels further North she discovers there is far more too the disappearances.


This book was completely unpredictable, this story was so unexpected and anytime I thought I knew where the story was going it went in the other direction. This book is a fantasy classic, and I wish I has read this when I was younger, a daemon companion, traveling to the North with the gyptians and befriending an armoured polar bear. I would also recommend listening to this as an audiobook, the narrator and author Philp Pullman has a wonderful deep voice, and towards the end he and the cast pull off a wonderful job at building the urgency and tensions between the characters.


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review 2017-12-04 16:40
The Golden Compass Graphic Novel, Complete Edition (His Dark Materials) - Philip Pullman

A great visualization of the novel. It's nice to see the characters as Pullman describes them and the story done in the spirit much closer to the original than the movie.

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review 2016-10-29 00:08
Really enjoyable audiobook version
The Golden Compass - Philip Pullman

I listened to this book as an audiobook. I actually enjoyed it in this format very much. It was mainly read by the author, but it also had a full cast for the characters. Much better than when a male reader tries to imitate female voices. Though sometimes that can be very funny. It reminded me of the fairy tale cassettes I used to fall asleep to as a child.


The story itself is about a girl, Lyra. It's obvious from the first moment that she's one of those destined children so popular in fantasy fiction. She's also 11, which is a common age to start child characters off. Lyra is a smart and cunning child. One of those natural leaders that can be the next Martin Luther King Jr., or the next Stalin. Which one she will become depends entirely on her basic temperament and life experiences. She is also very adaptable, just like her daemon. Whatever environment she finds herself in, she becomes part of it. She does feel like a normal child though. Sometimes children in stories are like mini-adults, but she isn't. I do find it interesting that a man picks a little girl to write about, while a similar destined character, Harry Potter, was written by a woman.


Daemons are the very core of the story. At first, I didn't feel they were properly explained. I got that daemons were the souls of people, but how they could function only became clearer as the story progressed. Daemons were the true forms of souls. They revealed the hidden desires, personalities, thoughts of people. It would be nice to have a daemon in real life. According to a Buzzfeed test, mine would be a cat.


There are some other characters, that were very intriguing, and a joy to read about. My personal favourites were the witches. Interestingly enough, they're the non-Christian characters, though they also seem to have some sort of a religion. I loved how Serafina Pekkala talked about the life of witches, how their longevity was a blessing and a curse.


The armoured bears were also interesting. I was especially intrigued by Iofur Raknison. He is a bear, who wants to be a man to be baptised. In a way, he reminded me of many peoples that decided to convert to Christianity, shunning their own native cultures. It wasn't properly explained though, what his motivations were. Maybe a form of self-hate. Hating being a bear, because he thought being a man would be more. Or he wanted the absolution for the things that he had done that the Catholic Church offers to people. To be free of his sins. Of course, sins can only be forgiven by ourselves if we want to be free of them, and some sins are purely imaginary, like the whole Original Sin idea. Religion tells you, you are sick, and they have the cure. The only trouble is, most people aren't sick at all. If you do have true sins, like Iofur, the forgiveness of others has no real meaning. It can help people to find a way to forgive themselves, which is probably what Iofur is really seeking, but in the end, the matter has to be dealt with on the inside of every person.


The story is about the importance of self, of thinking, free will. The evil people in the story are basically all those religious organisations that try to tell people how and what to think. I'm not completely sure yet what dust is exactly, but I have a few theories. I'm sure the story will be more and more about religion, having listened to Philip Pullman in interviews, but I'm curious as to where he will take the story. I do have the whole series as audiobooks, and lots of time to listen to them as I come and go.


This book can be read two ways. As a child, seeing the adventure, the evil characters, and cheering Lyra on. Or as an adult, observing the underlying themes, thinking about how freethinking has been hampered, progress, imagination stiffened by religion. I know, probably lots of religious parents are scared to give the book to their children, because of the very thing that I've written. However, if their religion is true, should it not withstand the test of reading fiction?


I do recommend this book. It's great fun, though brace yourselves for the ending. In a way, on its own, it was a bit like The Hunger Games' brand of dystopia. Also makes you think. Who ever said that books that made you think about religion had to be boring?


Read my review of the movie as well! I do compare it with the book.


Cross-posted at http://unapologetic-reviews.blogspot.com, where you can find more reviews.

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review 2016-02-01 14:15
The Golden Compass
The Golden Compass - Philip Pullman This was a fun YA read, and I probably liked it so much because it was the first fiction book I’ve read in a *long* time. It was also reminiscent of a lot of the fantasy novels I read as a kid. I had a pretty long stint of reading non-fiction, DIY, and self-help books. Happy that my Secret Santa from last year’s SantaThing awarded me this book! Will definitely be reading more from this series.
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review 2015-10-25 15:54
A literary alethiometer
The Golden Compass - Philip Pullman

His Dark Materials is the most recent, and highly successful, OB/MR buddy read. We've now finished the trilogy. I had delayed writing reviews of the books, but after finishing The Amber Spyglass last night, I shall delay no more.


The titular Golden Compass - or alethiometer - is a device which Lyra Belaqua, also known as Lyra Silvertongue, uses to find truth. In the movie, it was rendered thus:



In order to use it, Lyra places three controllable hands on three images to ask a question, using layers of meaning assigned to each symbol, and then the single black hand sweeps from symbol to symbol, answering the question.


When I was getting ready to write my review, it struck me that this book itself is a bit of a literary alethiometer, existing on several levels at once: the first level, in which it is simply a story - gorgeous, richly imagined, with fabulous imagery - to capture the interest of the reader. The second level, deeper, is one in which Pullman retells the Paradise Lost story, and the expulsion of humanity from the Garden of Eden after eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge. And, even, a third level, in which Pullman rejects the idea that Adam and Eve were wrong, and makes an argument that the temptation to eat the fruit is what makes us essentially human - not a sin for which we are being punished, but the act that created a consciousness and the ability to know ourselves.


Like The Lord of the Rings, this is a trilogy in name only and by publishing necessity. Truly, it is one long arc, beginning with The Golden Compass, continuing into The Subtle Knife and ending with The Amber Spyglass, which traces the adventures of Lyra Belaqua as she becomes embroiled in a cosmic battle between the Authority and humanity. The first book is the most accessible, I think, as it is a straight up good versus evil story with a rag tag band of heroes on a quest to save a group of children, led by Lyra.



Along the way, Lyra enlists the help of a band of men and women and bears: Iorek Byrneson, Serafina Pekkala, Lee Scoresby, Father Coram and John Faa. Existing within a parallel universe that looks very like our own, but with some delightful differences (talking armored bears and animal representations of souls for the win), the Magisterium is a stand-in for the Catholic church in all of its not-so-glorious inquisatorial brutality. Pullman does not pull his punches when it comes to the excesses of religions existing primarily for the glorification of men and their thirst for power.


There is so much to talk about here - her parents, the terrible Mrs. Coulter, who works for the Magisterium as an ambitious woman seeking whatever power she can attain in a largely male-dominated religious hierarchy. Her father, Lord Asriel, an apostate and mysterious adventurer building some-kind-of-thing in the North which terrifies the priests of the Magisterium. The Gobblers, child thieves, stealing children away to perform terrible experiments on them in an effort to save their innocent souls from the sinfulness which comes, naturally, with puberty.


And Dust, mysterious particles that no one in Lyra's world has either the tools or the knowledge to fully understand. Perceived as the physical embodiment of sin, it is Dust which the Magisterium is trying to conquer by severing the soul from the body. Even having read the entire trilogy, I still feel that I need an Amber Spyglass to see Dust in order to understand it - I see only through the glass, darkly. 


By the end of the book, there is loss and horror, and the way is opened for Lyra Silvertongue to fulfill the prophesy in which she re-enacts the temptation of Eve and, perhaps, along the way, saves humanity.

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