Review: The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials #1) by Philip Pullman

Title:  The Golden Compass
Author:  Philip Pullman
Series:  His Dark Materials #1
Publisher:  Ballantine Books
Publication Date:  October 2, 1999 (Originally published 1995)
Pages:  351
Format/Source:  Paperback/Purchased

Age Group/Genre:  Middle Grade/Fantasy

It was no ordinary life for a young girl: living among scholars in the hallowed halls of Jordan College and tearing unsupervised through Oxford’s motley streets on mad quests for adventure.  But Lyra’s greatest adventure would begin closer to home, the day she heard hushed talk of an extraordinary particle.  Microscopic in size, the magical dust–found only in the vast Arctic expanse of the North–was rumored to possess profound properties that could unite whole universes.  But there were those who feared the particle and would stop at nothing to destroy it.

Catapulted into the heart of a terrible struggle, Lyra was forced to seek aid from clans, gyptians, and formidable armored bears.  And as she journeyed into unbelievable danger, she had not the faintest clue that she alone was destined to win, or to lose, this more-than-mortal battle… (Cover image from Goodreads, synopsis from back of book)

Almost a Blind Read…

When The Golden Compass first came out, I was in my “Dark Days” of reading, where I didn’t actually read.  At all.  Well, maybe a book here and there, but that was it.  Anyway, I had gone all these years without reading it, and I never saw the movie, so the only thing I really knew about it was that it was about a girl and a polar bear.  And magic or something, since it was a fantasy book.  So when I read it this month, I really didn’t know much more than that, except for the fact that there were three books, and that they were pretty controversial.  So since I didn’t get the chance to do a Blind Read this month, The Golden Compass is my Unofficial Almost-Blind Read for September.  I make the rules, I can do what I want.  ;)

Wonderful Writing, Plot, and Characters, Oh My!

I really enjoyed The Golden Compass, although the ending was what really made the book for me.  I loved the twists and turns that I totally didn’t see coming, and even the ones that I did predict!  I think the plot itself was really original and interesting, and quite intricate.  And I think the writing was really fantastic, and much more sophisticated than I expected, since it was a Middle Grade book.  Of course, I should know not to assume anything when it comes to the quality of Children’s books, since I myself am constantly touting how well-written YA books are these days.

I also really enjoyed many of the characters, especially the armored bear, Iorek Byrnison.  He was definitely my favorite.  And for some reason, I just love the name Lyra Belacqua.  Such a cool name!  And I love how Pullman made all these characters so different, not only in their personalities but in their forms as well.  We have humans, dæmons, armored bears, witches, gyptians, etc.  It’s a very thorough and inventive world, and I really fell in love with Lyra’s alternate universe.  Although I do have one complaint–I was really confused as to the time period.  It seemed as though a lot of things were similar to events and circumstances that happened during the early 20th century in our world.  So I kind of thought that this story took place then, too, but I really have no idea.  I’m hoping that maybe I’ll find out more as I read the rest of the series.  

Also, since I still have two more books to read, I don’t think I’ve fully grasped the controversy that surrounds this series.  I mean, I caught a few things in The Golden Compass that I could see as sparking a controversy, but to me, it really was kind of grasping at straws.  But of course there could be more in the next books.

Great Quotes…

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from The Golden Compass:

“The powers of this world are very strong. Men and women are moved by tides much fiercer than you can imagine, and they sweep us all up into the current.”

“The two old men couldn’t help smiling, but whereas Farder Coram’s smile was a hesitant, rich, complicated expression that trembled across his face like sunlight chasing shadows on a windy March day, John Faa’s smile was slow, warm, plain, and kindly.”

“‘And where did they get the symbols from?’
‘Oh, this was in the seventeenth century.  Symbols and emblems were everywhere.  Buildings and pictures were designed to be read like books.  Everything stood for something else; if you had the right dictionary, you could read Nature itself.'”

“When a little boy is growing, he thinks he is immortal.  His mother knows he isn’t.”

“The flies left his mouth like tiny words.”

“In the gloom, though, Lyra sensed the presence of the Dust, for the air seemed to be full of dark intentions, like the forms of thoughts not yet born.”

My rating for The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman:

4 huge stars.  Maybe more like 4 1/2.  I definitely didn’t love this story as much as, say, Harry Potter, but I did really enjoy it a lot, and I’m excited to read the other books in the series!

Find it:  Goodreads │ Amazon │ Random House, Inc.
Disclaimer:  I purchased this book myself.  I was not compensated in any way for this review.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the His Dark Materials Readalong, hosted by myself and Jessie from The Daily Bookmark, going on now!  Click the image below for more info!


  1. fakesteph

    September 27, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    Wait til book 3… you will definitely see the controversy then. Still… I LOVE these books. So so so so much. And I think the controversy comes from Christians being unable to stand anything that has a basis in a different worldview. I'm a Christian, so I don't mean that badly, we're just, as a group, pretty intolerant and uncreative when it comes to thinking about other ways to live life.

  2. Kimberly @ On the Wings of Books

    September 28, 2012 at 2:38 am

    I'm glad you really liked it! I love the quotes (especially the one about little boys thinking they are immortal). Great review, as always!

  3. pagesunbound

    September 28, 2012 at 4:13 am

    I actually find it interesting how there are in the MG, YA, and adult sections of bookstores. So I guess it's generally agreed that they're universal–although I find reasons to argue they're adult books.

    And, agreed, Book 3 basically smacks religion in the face. I think that may be part of the controversy. Obviously there are Christians who don't like anything that disagrees with their worldview, but I think it's legitimate to say that Pullman deliberately stomps Christianity into the ground, and it's his attitude that's insulting for many people. There's a difference between just presenting a world without a God because you're atheist and making of point of saying the concept of God is a bane to society that needs to die. (That said, I've read them more than once, so….)

  4. Brandileigh2003 (Blkosiners Book Blog)

    September 28, 2012 at 8:02 pm

    Ioreck sounds great.
    I haven't read this series either, but might have to give it a try.
    Brandi from Blkosiner’s Book Blog

  5. Bittner

    October 15, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    I'm glad that you liked this one so much. Since you were already committed to reading all three books it would have really sucked if you had hated it. I didn't pick up on a lot of the controversial stuff either, except until the end. But to be honest the ending kind of went over my head.
    I liked the name Lyra too but to me it also sounded very similar to "liar" and so I kept waiting for that to be a plot twist. Like "Haha, Lyra turns out to be the bad guy!!!"

Leave a Reply

Want to include a link to one of your blog posts below your comment? Enter your URL in the website field, then click the button below to get started.