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This book takes place in a universe where "daemons" are real; they are entities that are bound to specific people and represent parts of their personality. The main character, Lyra, and her daemon, Pantalaimon (Pan) save the life of her uncle, Lord Asriel. Later, they hear talk of a mysterious "Dust," which Asriel is being paid to look for.
As time goes, by, the story establishes a friendship between Lyra and Roger. Even their daemons are friends. Roger is eventually abducted by evil "Gobblers," who are referenced several times in the story and are apparently synonymous with the boogeyman.
Then, the seemingly nice Mrs. Coulter, who comes to "save" Lyra from the house that she lived in sort of adopts her. However, before she leaves she is gifted with the titular golden compass, but she has no idea how to wield it. It does not take long for Lyra to realize that Mrs. Coulter is evil, and her monkey daemon's attacks on Pan cement this. Lyra runs away, inspired by Lord Asriel, to seek out the aforementioned "Dust". Unfortunately, she doesn't realize that she's running away from her mother.
Soon enough, while trying to reach Lord Asriel, she meets a group of people called the Gyptians who also had a child taken by the Gobblers (because they apparently only take children). She eventually meets this guy named John Faa. He tells her that Ma Costa (one of the Gyptians) was actually her protector as a child. She then learns how to read her golden compass (referred to as an Alethiometer) and has a run in with some benign witches.
The Gyptians endorse Lyra's plan to travel with them to rescue the other kidnapped kids. She then acquires two partners- a disgraced armored bear (who can also talk) and a man named Lee Scoresby who has a hot air balloon. Then, a group of Gobblers called the Tartars steal Lyra. But by doing so, she finds out why Gobblers steal children-they surgically separate children from their daemons. She then finds out that her mother is the one directing these activities. In rebellion, she rescues some of the children, with help from the witches.
Then she makes her way to find her father, but first crosses paths with the armored bears that Iorek was exiled from. Irorek, in an epic battle with the leader of the bears, wins and then goes to save Lord Asriel. He then accidentally kills Roger and creates an alternate dimension in which he and Lyra enter into.
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The $180 million film The Golden Compass will be released in American theaters on December 7, the day I am posting this page. Emails have circulating about its atheistic origins, cautioning Christian parents not to let their children see the movie. I’ve posted several articles on this issue, listed below. From now and for a while after my book discussions next week (click on the image) I will keep the article aggregation in this prominent location.
The movie is based on the first book in Phillip Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials, which has been a bestseller over several years and has won numerous awards. The Scholastic publishing house co-produced the film and is now heavily promoting the books for use as teaching materials in public schools.
What’s the truth about this film? How anti-God or anti-church is it? None of us have seen the film yet. Rumors suggest that the anti-religious elements have been toned down in the film version. Nevertheless the movie is an advertisement for the books, so it matters what is in them.
From one perspective the trilogy is very well written. It’s incredibly colorful and imaginative. I’m especially impressed with the pacing of the books, the way Pullman keeps creating new problems as he solves old ones, so that the reader feels a continuous alternating sense of relief and suspense, always carrying him or her forward toward the end.
On another level, the books really are strongly and clearly opposed to church and God. How does this play out? What images carry these themes? Is Pullman really writing about our churches and our God, or has he just created an alternate, fantasy universe, irrelevant to our own? What is Scholastic doing with these books in schools? What should we do about it?
Here you see my progress through learning about this issue, following it through the reading of the books, and continuing with responses to the public “buzz.” Most of these links will open pages in my older blogging system, used until 12/4/07. First listed, though, is a very useful set of condensed introductions to the books:
Plot Synopses and Analyses from SparkNotes:
The Golden Compass and “Killing God”–Not An Urban Legend
My first encounter with the issue.
Coming Soon To Your Child’s School: Hostility Toward God and Church, Heavily Promoted
This link includes shortcuts to SparkNotes plot summaries–a great way for you to get your own quick overview of the books. The main subject, though, is Scholastic’s promotion of the movie and books for use as teaching materials in public schools.
Once Again, How Can This Be Legal?
Is Scholastic on the verge of violating the First Amendment by making curriculum resources out of these books? No answers here, just questions, and a comparison to a parallel case.
On Christianity, the Arts, and How To Have a Disagreement
How we can respond in a Biblical manner to all this.
Original Sin Is the Source of Truth? (The Golden Compass)
One of the astonishing themes of the first book in the trilogy.
Death of Divine Authority—Pullman’s Agenda
Based just on the content of the first two books, this appears to be the underlying purpose of Pullman’s fiction.
BreakPoint.org on The Golden Compass
This link exists primarily for discussion on my BreakPoint article published November 16.
“I’m Trying to Undermine the Basis of Christian Belief”
That’s what Phillip Pullman told the Washington Post in an interview. Note also the link there to an excellent Mars Hill Audio discussion on the book.
“Democracy of Reading” or a Hidden Agenda?
Phillip Pullman says he doesn’t have an agenda, and every reader should be able to draw their own conclusions? How believable is this? And even if it were true, does he really expect this of third-graders?
Strongly Recommended: Jeffrey Overstreet on The Golden Compass
Well balanced and knowledgeable, a great, thorough analysis
A New Bearing On the Golden Compass
Phillip Pullman’s values, and God’s; and how they may have gotten confused.
Rehabilitating The Golden Compass’s Religion
Donna Freitas wrote in the Boston Globe that Pullman has only killed an impostor God, and the real one is strongly supported by his books. Is she right?
Are Christians over-reacting to The Golden Compass? Some perspective helps us answer that question.
Preacher-Man Phillip Pullman
Phillip Pullman claims he has no message to deliver, just a story to tell. An insightful storyteller’s analysis by John C. Wright reveals this to be a hollow claim from within the story–no reference to Pullman’s prior atheistic assertions required.
Golden Compass Radio Interview
On December 3, with PraiseFM of Minnesota.
The Most Ironic Thing Said So Far About The Golden Compass
“Only a miracle…”
The Other Side of Christianity
The Church and the God Pullman doesn’t tell you about.
Just some parting thoughts.