I’ve been told that Twilight gets worse as the series progresses. I’ll read the rest of the series as I have time. Anyway, after reading the first book in that series I turned to Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass.
There were several waves made in 2007 from conservative reviewers when this book was turned into a movie. The production attracted several very big-name actors and actresses. The movie itself has been changed to make it more marketable and those reviewers worried about the effect that the book would have on young minds.
Philip Pullman wrote The Golden Compass as the first book in a series called His Dark Materials. It was intended to be a reply to C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia from an atheist’s perspective. Pardon the lack of references for right now, but a couple of the interviews that I read with Pullman at the time seemed to indicate he was more of an agnostic.
Another thing stated by the reviewers I read was that the books were more harsh on the Catholic church than on the Protestants. Well… I can say that isn’t exactly true. Philip Pullman apparently knows church history better than they did. In the second chapter he speaks about how “Pope John Calvin” moved “the seat of the papacy” to Geneva. The book goes on to talk about how this move simply changed one superpower into a bunch of conflicting minipowers.
While this could be irony that was poked, because the world is supposed to be an alternate to our own, it is strangely similar to how some have described the Protestant Reformation. It has been said that the Reformation would have (and has) created thousands of mini-popes. I think the comparison was intentional.
Before going any further, it is probably a good idea to describe the book’s main character. The story revolves around a girl named Lyra. She is the daughter of a scientist/explorer named Lord Asriel and a woman named Mrs. Coulter. Lyra has been made to believe that Lord Asriel is her uncle and she is cared for by the staff of a college.
To make a long story short, she was an illegitimate child. Lord Asriel killed her mother’s husband when the man found out. It was viewed as self-defense by the courts but they were in a quandary over what was to be done because the parents had had an unlawful relationship. That was ultimately why Lyra was in the care of the school. As I said, it is a long story.
Each person in the book has an animal associated with them. The animal is limited in how far it can travel from its owner and is called their “daemon.” The daemon is a visual representation of that person’s soul. Until adolescence, the soul can change animal forms.
Through the course of the story, Lord Asriel has everyone’s respect and admiration. You learn that Mrs. Coulter plays political games and is part of an attempt by the Magisterium (the church) to experiment on children. Toward the end of the book, it turns out that the experimentation involves severing the child’s soul from their bodies. This severing is done to prevent inter-world transfers of Original Sin in the form of “Dust.”
Lyra, with the help of numerous other individuals, puts a stop to these practices by Mrs. Coulter and the evil church. From there she races off to rescue her dad who has been imprisoned by pay-offs from the church to halt his research into finding the source of the mysterious Dust.
This is where things become particularly troublesome. Lord Asriel kills one of Lyra’s friends to harness the energy that bonded the boy’s daemon to him. Right after the energy is harnessed to create a bridge between worlds, Mrs. Coulter appears over the hill top. She and Lord Asriel have a lover’s reunion before she decides that she cannot follow him to the other world.
The book ends with Lyra’s decision that Dust (Original Sin) must be good since everybody thought it was bad. She follows her father over the bridge, vowing to put a stop to things by herself.
If you’ve seen the movie, you know that the producers kept her friend alive.
There was one other strange philosophical conundrum in the book. As heavily as the Magisterium (church) is condemned, and sin seems to be embraced at the end of the book, there are several statements made by those around Lyra that they cannot coach her about her actions. Her destiny is to resolve this feud, but she has to resolve it on her own terms. They tell each other that all they can do is hope she makes the right choices.
High Calvinism teaches that God chooses people for purposes that he alone decides. They live their lives as though they are making the decisions but it was really He who chose the course. That is essentially what is taught about Lyra’s destiny. But then the book is a slam against Calvin. So if God doesn’t destine, who does? And what sets the parameters on that destiny?
It doesn’t make much sense right now, but I am pretty sure that the series will become darker before it ends. What else can happen when the good and bad guys who are seen by the main character both turn out to be equally evil?
I’ll read the next two when I find them in used bookstores and will report on them then. I won’t be supporting this series by purchasing it new.