The Golden Compass, the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy, is a very well thought out children’s adventure. Philip Pullman pulled in a plethora of esoteric concepts and wove them together into a thought-provoking escapade. Lyra is our heroine – having a pound too much of lip, and a quart too much courage. All humans are born with a daemon companion, a soul. Until the child hits puberty and heads into adulthood, their daemon can assume many animal shapes. Lyra’s daemon, Pantalaimon, takes on numerous shapes throughout the story in his attempts to protect, comfort, and advise his mistress.
Lyra and the reader are quickly drawn into a mystery while she hides during a presentation to a bunch of stodgy Oxford professors. I especially enjoyed how Pullman captured the dismissal of the intelligence and abilities of the female sex (story is set in very early 1900s) while at the same time providing strong, substantative female characters throughout the book. Pullman doesn’t stop there – he also uses this same method to illustrate the falsities of class and race prejudices.
Lyra is soon swept up in a story filled with zeppelins, the Arctic, scientific experiments, polar bears, witches, and the alethiometer – the truth measure. It is a rare device that looks something like a cross between a compass and a time peice, but much more complicated. If one understands how to interpret the symbols, it is a truth teller. Lyra must become a master at reading it in order to save her friends and herself.
The audiobook version I listened to was performed by a variety of artists, including the author. It was richly done and had me engaged the entire time, including when I should have been paying attention to a complicated intersection.