"His Dark Materials, Book I: The Golden Compass"
Written by Philip Pullman
Read by Philip Pullman and Full Cast
Produced by Listening Library 2004
Back in 2007 I was intrigued by the Movie based on this book "The Golden Compass," and had to go see it. What intrigued me most was that churches were protesting this fantasy story. Anytime organized religion says a movie is dangerous or in any way harmful, I have to go see it. I'm one of those folks that cannot fathom that arts and entertainment can warp a mind so badly that it will cause one to harm oneself or others. Art may reflect life but I don't think that art can bend life to its will. So began my journey into the worlds created by Philip Pullman.
After watching this wonderfully imaginative movie I couldn't figure why all the fuss. After discussing it with some folks I heard that the producers of the movie cut out much of the obvious anti-religion material discussed in the book. Well....that meant I now had to read the books. I got the books and was prepared to read them, I'm talking about the actual physical books here, with pages and all, but I ran across these audio books being narrated by the author and a full cast of performers and had to give that a listen. After all who better to read a book than the author. His voice could add emphasis to areas he wrote where he felt it was more important. Thus giving his intentions rather than something that could be misunderstood. I'm glad I did. The production was very well done with a cast of voices that fit into the characters voices perfectly. There are no sound effects or incidental music like some full cast production audio books, but that's what made this a better experience.
To answer the question about what has this book got to do with religion, well the book does not say at any point that religion is bad, merely that organized religion is power hungry and that could be a bad thing. Two simple examples as to how religion could be too powerful are "The Inquisition" and Reverend Jim Jones. Without getting into a debate about religion let's just say that religion CAN be used for bad as well as good.
In this book the religious negativity comes in the form of the church wanting to reclaim original sin and harnessing the potential power held within. After all without original sin we could all live in the Garden. However the evil way the church tries to harness that power is to create zombies out of children so they may never be touched by original sin. In this book original sin is represented by Dust. The Dust seems to settle on adults but not children, at least not until the child reaches puberty and their daemon settles on a permanent form.
In the world created by Pullman all humans have a daemon. The daemon is best described as the human soul taking and animal companion form. For children the daemon can shift it's shape into any animal form but once the child has hit puberty the daemon settles on one shape for the rest of the human and daemon's life. The daemon's form seems to reflect somewhat the soul of the person but that would require more research on my part to fully explain, in fact any aspiring students looking to write a thesis on these books could look into that aspect. For right now just understand the daemon's are best explained as being an outward expression of the soul. They can comfort the person during times of stress and can help with many tasks. The daemons also have the ability of speech.
"The Golden Compass" (originally titled "The Northern Lights") introduces us to the main character of Lyra Belacqua, supposedly orphaned and left in the care of the academic staff of Jordan College, Oxford. Lyra's "uncle" Lord Asriel is researching Dust in the north and finding the link between Dust, the soul, multiple universes, particle physics and the Northern Lights. The church does not want Asriel to continue his experiments and investigations. When Lyra discovers a plot to kill her uncle she warns him and saves his life. She then finds out, by hiding in a wardrobe, about Dust through a lecture given to the academ by Lord Asriel.
Lyra's journey begins when children start to go missing. These children vanish without a trace and when one of Lyra's good friends, Roger, disappears she feels the need to find him. The children all tell stories of the disappearances but most stories circle around the "Gobblers" who take the children and do all manner of unspeakable things to the children including eat them. The truth is actually more sinister.
Before Lyra can begin her search she is taken in by Mrs. Coulter. But before she leaves Jordan College the headmaster gives Lyra an alethiometer. Resembling a golden, many-handed pocket-watch, it can answer any question asked by the user. Although initially unable to read or understand its complex symbols, Lyra takes it with her to Mrs. Coulter's. Lyra learns that Mrs. Coulter is the head of the General Oblation Board, a.k.a. the Gobblers, and that she is the one abducting the children. Lyra is to be used to abduct more children. Upon finding this information Lyra runs away. She is then rescued by a group of Gyptians, a nomadic folk who live on boats. The Gyptians take Lyra to meed the King of the Gyptians and discover that Lyra has more to her life's mission, but cannot be told of her mission. Leaving the outcome to freewill.
In an adventure that leads Lyra to meet with Witches, Armored (intelligent) Bears, and seeking to rescue her uncle, Lord Asriel, from his imprisonment by the church, Phillip Pullman creates a novel of epic proportion that in this audio book form is an exhilarating listen.