Friday, October 22, 2010

The Golden Compass (Novel)

The Golden Compass (Novel) Release date: 1995. Author: Philip Pullman. Publisher: Ballantine Books. ISBN: 0345413350.

Plot summary: Eleven-year-old orphan, Lyra Belacqua, lives amongst the professors of Jordan College, Oxford. In Lyra’s world, which exists in an alternate dimension, humans are constantly accompanied by their “daemons,” animal shapeshifters that embody their human counterpart’s soul. Lyra’s days consist of adventures with her best friend, Roger, and other children in the town. Her life is forever changed, however, when her uncle, Lord Asriel, visits the college and Lyra overhears a discussion about a mysterious particle called Dust and how it relates to the Aurora Borealis. What follows is an adventure that takes Lyra to the far reaches of the world where she encounters witches, armored polar bears, sinister religious figures, and an aeronaut. As Lyra attempts to uncover the true nature of Dust, she learns to use a strange compass known as an alethiometer. Lyra quickly discovers that her ability to read the alethiometer, as well as the device itself, are highly sought after by both sides of what turns into a war over who will control the future of Dust.

Critical evaluation: The Golden Compass is an original and enthralling tale that can capture the imagination of all ages, from children and teens to adults. Full of rich imagery, unique characters, and exciting action, Pullman sets the stage for the rest of his Dark Materials Trilogy. Lyra, though only eleven-years-old, is a compelling lead character that will appeal to all readers as well. One of the most interesting plot elements in the novel is the concept of Dust. The discussion of Dust is one that can raise a lot of theological as well as scientific questions. While younger readers might not pick up on these larger themes, older teens and adults will appreciate the complexities of Lyra’s world. The development of the characters is also done well. Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter are two of the most interesting. Both charming but clearing concealing ulterior motives, Pullman leaves a lot to be uncovered in the rest of the trilogy about the true nature of these characters. Overall, The Golden Compass is one of the best science-fiction/fantasy novels for not only its age group, but in the genre itself.

Reader's annotation: Lyra Belacqua is a tenacious and adventuresome eleven-year-old orphan who lives among the professors and scholars of Jordan College, Oxford. When her uncle, Lord Asriel, visits the college, however, and Lyra overhears a conversation about a mysterious particle called Dust, she is unprepared for the adventure that she is about to be a part of.

About the author: Born in England in 1946, Philip Pullman spent much of his youth travelling, and was educated in Zimbabwe and Austalia before his family moved to North Wales. Pullman taught at Westminster College for eight years, before focusing on his writing career. Pullman's first novel Count Karlstein was published in 1982 followed by the first book in the Sally Lockhart series The Ruby in the Smoke in 1986. Pullman's novels are written for children and young adults, but are often enjoyed by a wider audience. His most famous works, the His Dark Materials trilogy became very popular after The Golden Compass was published in 1995. The trilogy has received many accolades and awards over the years. In 2001, the third book of the series The Amber Spyglass was the first children's book ever to win the Whitbread Award, putting Pullman in a very special category of authors. Pullman continues to write, and, according to his website, is working on a new book in the His Dark Materials series called The Book of Dust. Due to his many accomplishments, Pullman is one of the foremost authors of young adult literature. (from
Genre: Science-fiction/Fantasy

Curriculum ties:

Booktalking ideas:
Scientific experimentation (human/animal subjects)
The existence of the soul
Alternate dimensions

Reading level/Interest Age:
13 and up

Challenge issues:
Religious themes
Child abuse
Book is routinely challenged by religious groups

Challenge counterpoints:
Recommended for ages 13 and up.
Recommend parent read book before child.
Recommend parent discuss book with child.
Recommend parent and child discuss book with religious leader prior to reading.

Reasons for inclusion:
Well known and renowned title with multiple theater, radio, and film adaptations.
On ALA’s list of most challenged (can be featured in Banned Books Week.)

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