The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (Book Review) ~ BitterSweetLife

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (Book Review)

So I finished Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass last week, and rather than rushing to write a review, I walked over to the high school library on my lunch break and picked up a random fiction title to tide me over for the rest of the day.

This is not the act of someone who has just been regaled and thrilled by a newly-discovered King of Children's Stories.

Maybe it was the movie hype, maybe it was the fact that Pullman himself thinks he's an improvement on C.S. Lewis, maybe it was wishful thinking--since I really wanted Pullman to be a great "discovery"--but The Golden Compass underwhelmed me. Therefore, this review may come off as scathing. This is what happens when a reader's expectations are let down like a slow leak in a hot air balloon...

I don't deny that Pullman is a good writer, maybe even a great writer. Some of his imagery is deeply compelling. He excels at conveying a sense of "place," whether the place is a thriving, spy-riddled university town, or a lovely northern wilderness. But what I kept expecting to find, and never did, was a warmth in his writing, a sense of tenderness or good humor--this was completely absent.

I'm not talking about sentimental prose. What I wanted was to identify in some way with his characters, to root for them, to be forced to grin and buy in. I wanted to like them as people, not merely as pawns on a board. Never happened. While I am willing to forgive this in a spy novel or a Camus, it's a gaping hole in a children's book.

Lyra is a tough little girl, smart, tricky, and she cusses. So what? "Roger the kitchen boy" is her sidekick, and all he does is look anxiously to Lyra for direction. Best character in the book? A polar bear. Some of the additional cast occasionally intrigues, but I find very little that makes me want to care for them like I cared about the people in Narnia, Harry Potter, and other top-notch stories. All told, The Golden Compass was a good book, but not a great one. Yes, I'll finish the trilogy (what happens to the polar bear?). But I'll do it at my leisure...maybe after I reread the Chronicles of Narnia.


Yes, The Golden Compass appears on the Master Book List along with other, better titles.

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Tom said...

It's on my list to read for the new year... thanks for lowering my expectations so that I won't be as disappointed. :) I hear the next two in the series are much better.

Just dropping in... cheers.

Ariel said...

Hey Tom, who knows? - maybe you'll love the book. I've read some glowing reviews. If you blog about it, I'll be interested in what you think. Thanks for the note.

Anonymous said...

I love the book! Maybe you have no depth? Look for the metaphors and symbolism.


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife