books and reading

The Golden Compass

I’m just going to tell you this in advance. This is my all-time favorite trilogy. I would name my daughter Lyra, if I had the chance. Back when I taught middle school, my students raved about this series. I was quite skeptical because I just don’t enjoy much fantasy, and make no bones about it, this is quite fantastical. But the series has so much heart, that it was impossible for me to forget. And I ended up with a son who could be Lyra’s male counterpart. As much as I wanted to see this book on the big screen, I was completely disappointed with the end result. I have high hopes for the BBC series, though. Last I heard there will be 40 episodes (8 each season for 5 seasons) to cover the entire trilogy.

The basic story isn’t unique: the chosen child goes on a quest, however, the fantastic elements make the story memorable. First the humans have daemons who are essentially their souls who live outside their bodies as animals. Children’s daemons shift shapes until puberty, then the daemons fix. Some daemons take on the human’s future career, dogs are servants, water animals are fishermen, etc. Daemons and humans can only be separated by a few yards and are connected by an invisible thread. Lyra accidentally hears about Dust and ends up traveling north to the Arctic on a mission. She has one tool with her: The Golden Compass, also known as an alethiometer. This device, which is one of 6 in the world, can only be read by a few people, Lyra being one of them, of course, being the chosen one. The alethiometer can give her answers to questions. It’s a truth telling machine.

Along the way she makes friends with gyptians, talking Arctic bears, witches, and a man with a balloon. To get deep into the plot is to give many spoilers, but what is happening in the north involves Dust and is horrifying. Keep in mind this book is for young adults, so it’s not graphically horrifying, but more symbolically horrifying. And in the center of it all is Lyra, brave, clever, kind, selfless Lyra. She is impossible to tame, but would do anything for her those she loves. She hates formal education, but is very wise. She is a truly perfect character. I cannot recommend these books highly enough.


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