Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass

  • Grades: 3–5

On November 2, 2007, Philip Pullman appeared on the Today Show to talk about his book The Golden Compass and answer questions. He responds to the claim that his books are anti-Catholic, and asserts that he is not promoting atheism in The Golden Compass. Read his responses.

Literary debate and analysis of the meaning of Pullman's books has gone on in schools and colleges worldwide since The Golden Compass was first published more than ten years ago. Take, for example, this comment from Father P.S. Naumann, S.J., a lifelong educator from upstate New York who wrote, "Teaching English for thirty odd years in a Jesuit high school, I kept looking for a contemporary novel that could, would, and should provoke questions and discussions. Philip Pullman's book is an eye-opener and window-opener that can bring kids, parents, and teachers together to talk. The windows in our own minds, and in our own Church, open onto a secular society and a multi-cultural world, as Pope John XXIII knew. How to deal with that? Sooner or later students will open windows for themselves; it's part of growing up. If they don't ask any questions in the process, we may have lost our opportunity. The Golden Compass will help in that direction, and if the book brings kids and parents together to discuss important ideas, think of the good it is doing."

The Golden Compass is the first book in Pullman's critically acclaimed epic fantasy trilogy, His Dark Materials. It describes the otherworldly adventures of Lyra and her companions. The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass complete the trilogy.

Lyra Belacqua's carefree life among the scholars at Oxford's Jordan College is shattered by the arrival of two powerful visitors. First, her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, appears with evidence of mystery and danger in the far North, including photographs of a city suspended in the Aurora Borealis that he suspects is part of an alternate universe. He leaves Lyra in the care of Mrs. Coulter, an enigmatic scholar and explorer who offers to give Lyra the attention her uncle has long refused her. In this multilayered narrative, however, nothing is as it seems. Lyra sets out for the top of the world in search of her kidnapped friend, Roger. All around her children are disappearing—victims of so-called "Gobblers"—and being used as subjects in terrible experiments that separate humans from their daemons, creatures that reflect each person's inner being. And somehow, both Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter are involved.

The Golden Compass was originally published as Northern Lights in 1995 when it won the Carnegie Medal for children's fiction published in Britain that year. In 2007, it was named the "Carnegie of Carnegies," voted by readers the best Carnegie winner of the last 70 years. Dubbed by many as the "next Lord of the Rings," The Golden Compass will hit the big screen on December 7, 2007, and has already been heralded by Time Magazine and Entertainment Weekly as one of the next big movie events. The film is set in an alternative world where people's souls manifest themselves as animals, and where armoured polar bears fight over a throne and beautiful but deadly witches must choose sides in a coming war. Starring Daniel Craig, Nicole Kidman and newcomer Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra, it promises lots of action and special effects to bring the world of His Dark Materials stunningly to life.

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