Apologetics Index

The Golden Compass

His Dark Materials

The Golden Compass (published in 1995 as Northern Lights in the UK) is the first book in the trilogy, His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman. The other books are The Subtle Knife (1997) and The Amber Spyglass (2000).

In the epic trilogy His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman unlocks the door to worlds parallel to our own. Dæmons and winged creatures live side by side with humans, and a mysterious entity called Dust just might have the power to unite the universes–if it isn’t destroyed first.
– Source: Amazon.com

The novels also draw heavily on gnostic ideas, and His Dark Materials has been a subject of controversy, especially with Christian groups. The verse from Paradise Lost in which the phrase “his dark materials” is used follows:

…Into this wilde Abyss,
The Womb of nature and perhaps her Grave,
Of neither Sea, nor Shore, nor Air, nor Fire,
But all these in thir pregnant causes mix’t
Confus’dly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless th’ Almighty Maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more Worlds,
Into this wilde Abyss the warie fiend
Stood on the brink of Hell and look’d a while,
Pondering his Voyage…

Pullman has accused C. S. Lewis of being “blatantly racist,” “monumentally disparaging of women,” “immoral,” and “evil” in his novels. Yet Pullman denies that His Dark Materials can be seen as the antithesis of The Chronicles of Narnia, the seven-book fantasy series by Lewis.
– Source: His Dark Materials, Wikipedia, last accessed Dec. 12, 2007. Links included by AI.

The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass is described as follows at Amazon.com:

Some books improve with age–the age of the reader, that is. Such is certainly the case with Philip Pullman’s heroic, at times heart-wrenching novel, The Golden Compass, a story ostensibly for children but one perhaps even better appreciated by adults. The protagonist of this complex fantasy is young Lyra Belacqua, a precocious orphan growing up within the precincts of Oxford University. But it quickly becomes clear that Lyra’s Oxford is not precisely like our own–nor is her world. For one thing, people there each have a personal dæmon, the manifestation of their soul in animal form. For another, hers is a universe in which science, theology, and magic are closely allied:

As for what experimental theology was, Lyra had no more idea than the urchins. She had formed the notion that it was concerned with magic, with the movements of the stars and planets, with tiny particles of matter, but that was guesswork, really. Probably the stars had dæmons just as humans did, and experimental theology involved talking to them.

Not that Lyra spends much time worrying about it; what she likes best is “clambering over the College roofs with Roger the kitchen boy who was her particular friend, to spit plum stones on the heads of passing Scholars or to hoot like owls outside a window where a tutorial was going on, or racing through the narrow streets, or stealing apples from the market, or waging war.” But Lyra’s carefree existence changes forever when she and her dæmon, Pantalaimon, first prevent an assassination attempt against her uncle, the powerful Lord Asriel, and then overhear a secret discussion about a mysterious entity known as Dust. Soon she and Pan are swept up in a dangerous game involving disappearing children, a beautiful woman with a golden monkey dæmon, a trip to the far north, and a set of allies ranging from “gyptians” to witches to an armor-clad polar bear.

In The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman has written a masterpiece that transcends genre. It is a children’s book that will appeal to adults, a fantasy novel that will charm even the most hardened realist. Best of all, the author doesn’t speak down to his audience, nor does he pull his punches; there is genuine terror in this book, and heartbreak, betrayal, and loss. There is also love, loyalty, and an abiding morality that infuses the story but never overwhelms it. This is one of those rare novels that one wishes would never end. Fortunately, its sequel, The Subtle Knife, will help put off that inevitability for a while longer. –Alix Wilber
– Source: Alix Wilber, editorial review of The Golden Compass, Amazon.com

The Golden Compass — The Movie

A movie version of The Golden Compass was released on Dec. 11, 2007, opening to mixed reviews:

Family fantasy movie “The Golden Compass” found its way to top spot at the box office on its opening weekend, Screen International said on Tuesday.

The film, starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, took the direct route going straight in at number one, grossing 5.7 million pounds.

In addition, it took 1.6 million pounds on the preceding Wednesday and Thursday during previews.
– Source: Reuters, Dec. 11, 2007

There is no magic potion for surefire Hollywood success. Not even the magic potions in fantasy films can guarantee a box-office hit anymore.

The latest evidence comes from The Golden Compass, which pulled in roughly $26 million in gross receipts on its opening weekend. That would be a decent take for low-budget movies released into the usual heavy competition, but Compass cost about $180 million to make and was the only major release this weekend.
– Source: “Golden Compass” Tarnished an Entire Genre, The Motley Fool, Dec. 11, 2007

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First published (or major update) on Saturday, December 15, 2007.
Last updated on December 15, 2007.

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