THE GOLDEN COMPASS by Philip Pullman

Compass

The universe is full of intentions, you know.  Everything    happens for a purpose.

This is the first book in the highly acclaimed fantasy series His Dark Materials.  It is a YA fantasy tale which won the 1995 Carnegie Medal of the Library Association of Great Britain.

Yeah, I know.  I don’t usually read fantasy, nor YA, but I didn’t realize it was either of those; I thought it was sci fi.   But what a fantastic book.  (And I am halfway through the second book in the series, The Subtle Knife as we speak.)

The overview is:  the first volume is set in an alternate universe quite similar to our own, the second is set primarily in current times in our own world, and the third moves among them.

It has a broad cast of characters, some evil, some crazy, some just plain strange and odd. There are the river dwelling gyptians, witches, a balloon-flying aeronaut, and armor-clad polar bears. It is a complex tale, heroic in scope, and although ostensibly a YA novel, perhaps better appreciated by adults.

It stars young Lyra Belacqua, an orphan growing up in an Oxford that is a rather steampunk world, in which science, theology, and magic are closely interwoven.  She is the darling of the Scholars there in her college, and her best friend is a kitchen boy, Roger.  Together they are ragamuffin street urchins scrambling about the rooftops of Oxford, and the streets below.

In this odd world, every human has a daemon, an animal creature which is the embodiment of a person’s soul, which can change shapes at will until the child reaches adulthood, at which time their daemon chooses a final manifestation for the remainder of their human’s life. The daemon can not stray very far from their human or else both feel terrible pain.

She and of course her daemon Pantalaimon, overhear a discussion about a mysterious substance called Dust, and which we might think of an an elemental particle.  This ensnares them into a dangerous situation where a beautiful woman has something to do with mysteriously disappearing children, and when Roger disappears, Lyra is determined to find him.  Before she goes off with the mysterious beautiful woman, the college Master gives her a strange device, which looks like a compass, but which is a Truthteller,  an aletheiometer.

I have found this to be such a compelling story, one which you want never to end.  It is what fantasy is meant to be, an elaborate story, almost an allegory, in which strange devices, armored polar bears and witches seem actually real, and if not, making you wish they were.

The title of the series, His Dark Materials, is from a poem by Milton:

Into this wild Abyss,
The womb of Nature, and perhaps her grave,
Of neither Sea, nor Shore, nor Air, nor Fire,
But all these in their pregnant causes mixed
Confusedly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless the Almighty Maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more worlds—
Into this wild Abyss the wary Fiend
Stood on the brink of Hell and looked a while,
Pondering his voyage;

 

 

 

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