I finally started one of the most popular children’s series of all time and I have to admit that I was a little disappointed. Pullman puts a lot of emphasis on world-building in this first book of His Dark Materials and I just never really enjoyed the characters. Lyra is a young girl whose uncle is an explorer and a scholar. She gets enmeshed in a conflict involving missing children, witches, and armored polar bears. In this world everyone has a familiar like creature that is called a “daemon,” that really shares a part of the spirit or soul with the human. To not have a daemon is to be inhuman. This part of the story and the spiritual and physics difference to our world are very interesting. There is a mystical-like power that is used by metaphysical energy called dust, that allows Lyra to ask a special device questions about her world. The world is a slight variation to our own world and it is interesting to learn the differences between the two.
So, my main issue with The Golden Compass, is that through the vast majority of the book Lyra is surrounded by adults. This causes Lyra to be a much more grown up child than what her age really is. One of the main reasons I read middle grade or young adult books is to see how the younger characters react to the world differently than adults and also how they navigate normal child conflicts. Unfortunately, if Lyra was replaced with a middle aged man or woman, her personality would have been eerie similar. This works when the child has another child to contrast with but The Golden Compass has a shockingly small amount of the book with Lyra interacting with other children.
Having Lyra be as a grown-up is the main reason why this book just didn’t have any charm or life in it. Yes, her interactions with her daemon Pantalaimon were cute and a highlight of the book but it couldn’t take the place of her with another child. It wasn’t until about 100 pages left in the book when I felt that I wasn’t forcing myself to get through it. Luckily the last 100 pages were fantastic and brought up some interesting world-building facts.
Because of the reputation and the recommendations of friends to continue with this series I am going to give the sequel a shot. I’m imagining that Pullman will add more additional children in the story and it will become less about Lyra being alone. This book ended on an interesting point and he can take it in many different directions and I’ll be curious to see which way he goes.
10/25 Possible Score
Plot – 2
Characters – 2
World-Building – 3
Writing Style – 2
Heart & Mind Aspect – 1