The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials) | An Avid Book Review

It’s winter, we’re indoors, and reading is how I survive my cabin fever symptoms. So here’s my geeky review of a book you may have picked up middle school – but whatev, it’s never too late to read – Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass from His Dark Materials (HDM) series.


So I finally revisited this series after years. I started reading it as a child but never got into some of the more abstract concepts mentioned (daemons, dust, parallel universes, etc.). But now I’m HOOKED. Honestly, I’m surprised this series doesn’t get as much cred as Harry Potter: the writing is swift and clear and vivid; there is a clear plot buildup and a sense of mystery that keeps the momentum going; and the lead character is this roughhousing prideful stubborn badass little kid. All the alchemical ingredients are THERE for a great page turner. Here’s my review of the first book of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials (HDM) series, The Golden Compass:

Like HP, this book is also marketed to young adults, but honestly, the topics explored are adult-level intriguing AF: the close connections between humans and animals; the political tensions between science and religion; and the curiosity behind original sin.

After reading more about the author, Philip Pullman, I discovered more about the original thrust behind the series: Pullman seems to be giving an agnostic critique on organized, and more so, politicized religious structures – like the Catholic Church. Running antithetical to popular pro-Christian classics like C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe series, this story proposes an alternate reality – one in which the power shifts from those who revere an omnipresent, judging God to those who question whether such a creator is actually, really good for humankind (ah, the scandal!). The reason for such epic critique? Well, mainly the centuries of judgement, shaming, discriminating, pillaging, conquering, and then some that humans have undertaken in the name of said ‘Authority.’

Do I agree completely with the absolutist way in which all the characters in this book are so gung-ho in killing God (or so they say)? Umm, not entirely. But, as someone who falls into many of the categories that get the short end of the theocratical stick, so to speak (melanated, female, queer/questioning), I can appreciate a story that essentially says: “Fuck all that Biblical shit for a second – what if salvation can be found in the very fact that we are, by nature, sinful? The idea that existential growth and insight can be found alongside our demons (pun intended) rather than suppressing or avoiding them?” I dunno, it’s kind of like a cool, revolutionary, and just fucking refreshing way of re-crafting the world we (could potentially) live in. So, thanks for that, Philip.

At the end of the day, I know this book (and subsequent film) sparked a lot of controversy due to the thoughts laid out above. But again, this is part of the reason why I like it even more. It’s rare to find a book that builds a world in such a detailed manner while also challenging the reader to think outside the box; a book that says: “Re-imagine what you’ve been taught as ‘right’ vs. ‘wrong.’ Question what the ‘leaders’ or adults in your world are doing and saying. Trust intrinsic truths and values like Lyra does her alethiometer.” It’s just kind of inspiring.

Final thoughts are these: While reading, I also started thinking that this series would make a BOMB ASS movie trilogy comparable to The Lord of the Rings, if directed by the same people of course (for those who have seen the 2007 movie attempt of The Golden Compass, we know it didn’t do it justice). While you can never fit all the detail and nuance and character-development of this book into a film, this one certainly deserves the same level of pacing and cherishing that was allocated to LOTR.  Then, lo and behold, I discovered that New Line Cinema is working on a fantasy adventure series of HDM for BBC One with HBO as a co-producer. My first thought: “Yay! Can’t WAIT to binge! …But please, please HBO don’t get too heavy-handed like you did with Game of Thrones and add all this unnecessary, disturbing rape-y shit that you threw in there when it wasn’t even in the books. Smh.” But anyway, I digress.

In sum, I liked this book, as well as its sequel, The Subtle Knife, which I just finished. Excited to read the culminating title The Amber Spyglass soon and maybe tack on some final thoughts after that 🙂

Happy reading and happy new year everyone!


P.S. If your eyeballs like what they are reading, please keep up with new posts via my Twitter page @ClaimingMyColor !

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