Saturday, July 9, 2011

Read (or see) The Golden Compass: A review of the book trilogy (Dec. 6, 2007)

Current mood: impressed

Book review: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman (series name: His Dark Materials).

Here is a message for those people who object to this trilogy, or the movie based on it, because someone in your church, or through the religious media, told you it was evil. I will politely but strongly suggest that you actually read it before you solidify an opinion.

I have read the books. More accurately, I have listened to the entire series in book-on-tape format. The full-cast productions of the complete, unabridged text require 10 or more hours apiece listening time for each of the three books. Even so, the stories are so compelling, I might listen to or at least read them again.

While they categorize as children's literature, the target audience is the older child, probably 10 or older, as the main character, Lyra, is a girl in the neighborhood of 11. As the trilogy progresses, she ages to about 13, as do Roger and Will, the boys who accompany her.

Here is why these books make such wonderful reads and are so highly recommended:
  • It is a story about pluck and courage, of stick-to-it-iveness.
  • It is a story about honor, and why that is so important.
  • It is a story about trust – and what can happen when someone breaks that trust.
  • It is a story about believing in the rightness of a cause, of using that vision to light your way in the deepest, darkest moments, of fighting to the death when necessary to defend that cause.
  • It is a story about learning when to speak up, when to hold your tongue, how to develop strategy, and when to act decisively.
  • It is a story about building alliances that will help you overcome the toughest adversary.
  • And finally, it is a story which tramples self-serving authoritarianism, and replaces it with a rugged individualism armed with the courage, honor, trust, vision, wisdom, planning, and alliances, that will conquer any barrier, defeat any foe.

Do we not want our young people to grow up with these attributes? What would we have them grow up to be, if not that?

Perhaps it is the last item that causes the most concern among those who take issue with the book. Faith is a wonderful thing, but so often it is handed to us from on high, with strict orders to believe this or else, replete with innumerable verses from Scripture to remind us. Perhaps it is the idea that there might be something better that scares off the holy minded.

But don't stop there! Get beyond all that and look at any of the three books, and the series, for what they really are: Love stories. Lustful love is almost absent (where it does appear, bad things occur), but in its place there are hundreds of cases of brotherly love and admiration, of self-respect, of respect towards others. Towards the end of the trilogy, we learn how to use this to build the foundations for choosing a life's mate, and knowing how to walk away from a doomed relationship before it's too late. Again, what would we have our kids learn, if not that?

Still not convinced? Let's tackle the "killing God" bit, which does not happen in the first book, nor even the second book, The Subtle Knife, but well into the third book, The Amber Spyglass. It is not God that Will and Lyra conquer, but death itself, on their way to creating a new world, free of the corrupt and all-powerful religious authority she fights from the first pages of Book One. How they pull this off is what makes this a story for the ages.

What makes the story so compelling for me are the multiple parallel universes, which the second and third books explore in depth, and the idea of a daemon which accompanies every person through life. Those two concepts alone make the trilogy a "must read" for the youngster learning how the current world really works.

Really, though. Read one book, at least. You will never see the world quite the same way ever again – unless, of course, some authority tells you you are not allowed.


bus15237 said...

What we become as adults depends on what we learned as children. What would we have them learn, if not honor, courage, brotherly love, and how to earn trust? Oh, right, blind faith and allegiance to authority. That's what got this book series banned.

bus15237 said...

Original comments from the 2007 blog post:
(and btw, I really like these two comments! still!)

Michele James-Parham
Of course 'we' don't want our children to learn these lessons, that's why 'we' send them to public schools. As a Socialist-Anarchist, these are exactly the kind of books I want my children reading...the authority that one should answer to is themselves and they need to have the knowledge, self-discipline and compassion to be able to only answer to themselves.

Natasha Rene'e
i can't wait to see this. I'm not one to over analyze entertainment or literature. I just look for a good movie with a thrilling plot. My mom was saying "We can't go see that movie cause it's written by an atheist and it's about kids going to kill God"
I was like, looks like a good movie. And I'm a Mormon. lol.

I fail to see the difference between this movie, Narnia, Harry Potter, or any other "Good vs Evil" film. I guess when the lines of traditional "good vs evil" are blurred people go insane. To imply that the religious authority was the evil and killing that authority the good....I'm sure that throws some people for a loop.

But leave it to the zealots to try to ruin it for everyone else. I guess everyone has to have a cause....the trouble is: no one knows what their cause should be anymore, so they jump onto what ever shiny sound-bite someone throws at them.