Review: The Golden Compass
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A few years ago they made a movie out of this book that didn’t seem to go very far. I probably never would have noticed the book or the movie, except that a bunch of over-zealous people online made a stink about it because the series has some atheist themes that they thought were inappropriate. It’s maybe a little ironic that their attempts to ban the movie actually got it more attention than it would have otherwise gathered.
In any case, I remember reading a quote from some religious writer who I didn’t recognize and can’t remember, but I remember the gist of what he/she said. They said that even as a religious person it was a good experience to read the book, and that faith can be strengthened by dialog even with opposing viewpoints. I thought that was a really cool point of view, so I gave the movie a chance. I don’t actually remember much of the movie now (except that I still picture Mrs. Coulter as a black-haired Nicole Kidman), but I do remember thinking that it was a cool fantasy world that it had created.
I never got around to reading the books until recently. I was reminded of them after reading a quote from Philip Pullman praising Terry Brooks for his fantasy writing. I’m a big fan of Brooks’ books, so that got me interested again, so I thought that I’d give this series a try. I wasn’t disappointed.
The fantasy world that Pullman creates is really intriguing and immersive, and his characters are very engaging. Most of all, though, he has a way of writing that really puts the reader into the mind of the character and makes you experience the thoughts and feelings of the character. His writing style is excellent, in my opinion.
As far as the philosophies of the book, it’s really not atheist (at least not in this first volume). The book does paint a Church that is dictatorial, but beyond that there’s nothing to be offended at, and that’s certainly not a new or unique idea.
Not only is it not strictly atheist, but it actually is very spiritual. In fact, the descriptions of Lyra and her alethiometer (which I assume is the basis of the American title of the book, even though it’s never called the “golden compass” in the text) are likely to be familiar to people that have had spiritual experiences. They were familiar to me, and I actually found that reading this book was very uplifting spiritually.