The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman is not a new book. It was released in 1995, but I am finally finding time to read it. Perhaps you remember the controversy surrounding the 2007 film release. You can read about it here and also here if you are interested. It seems many folks were offended by the use of "The Church" as the antagonist in this and the other two books in the trilogy. While Pullman doesn't specifically name the Catholic church, he does make use of terms common in Catholicism. Pullman, according to ABC News, is a self-proclaimed atheist and so it may well be that he has a beef with organized religion. Or it could also be that he is using the church as a powerful entity in his story. It is no secret that for centuries the Catholic church played a significant role in government and the sciences and Pullman is using that as a plot point.
In The Golden Compass, a young girl named Lyra is living in Oxford, England, at Jordan College, "the grandest and richest of all the colleges in Oxford." Being an orphan, she is in the care of the school's master. She runs wild most days and receives a scattered education from whichever scholar is currently charged with teaching her. A great crisis begins to trouble the city and the country. Children are beginning to go missing. "Gobblers" are taking the children and they are never seen again. Lyra is determined to find out if this is true and it leads her down a path she could never have foreseen. Lyra has a destiny of which she must remain unaware though she has been spoken of for centuries - a twelve-year-old little girl at the center of one of the most mysterious "theological riddles" known.
This book speaks of "experimental theology" and Consistorial Courts charged with overseeing any and all theories. Lyra knows very little about it, only "that it was concerned with magic, with the movements of the starts and planets, with tiny particles of matter." Each of the humans in the book is also accompanied by "daemons" which represent the soul of the human. I loved the way Pullman delays giving specific information regarding this and other secrets in the book. I appreciate a writer that lets the story unfold as opposed to laying everything out at the beginning. Witches, talking polar bears, and of course a golden compass that can tell the truth in any situation all add to the fantasy of this novel.
This story played on every emotion: several times I laughed out loud (I get funny looks, but when the book is good enough I don't really care), I sobbed at one part (you know I'm a cryer), and I was often on the edge of my seat. If I were a nail biter, I would be typing this with nubs for fingers. The characters are cleverly written and the dialogue is excellent. Twists and turns in the plot abound and I can't even begin to tell you about them because it would be a crime to spoil such enjoyment. I wish I could quote to you all the wonderful tidbits I marked with all my little sticky notes, but I fear it would take all day for you to read and it would ruin the story. Instead, I will just encourage you to pick up your own copy and read it for yourself.
I am now off to read book two in the series, The Subtle Knife. I hope that I will enjoy it as much as I have this one.