My interest in The Golden Compass, by Phillip Pullman by was peaked when I heard that there was a lot of controversy surrounding the His Dark Materials series. I ended up getting the series for Christmas one year and was actually quite surprised by the sophistication of the novels.
While touted as Young Adult fiction, the series actually goes quite deep into religious philosophy and theories of the soul. This is where the controversy comes from, as the books discuss the roll of the church in the salvation of the soul. Each novel of this series goes deeper, becomes more sophisticated, and handles the issue on a more mature level. This is why there was more controversy surrounding the movie, because it only covers the first novel, which does nothing more than question the motives of the church. I can also see how this could scare people off from finishing the series, if they didn’t like what they read in the first novel.
It’s not just controversy that might keep people away, however . As I said, this is supposed to be a YA series, and the first novel definitely reads that way. The characters are children, the writing and imagery is simple, even the subject matter, while philosophical is also fantastical and isn’t too deep for the reader to have problems comprehend or imagining.
The Golden Compass is a story of a young girl, an orphan, and her daemon (an animal companion that we later learn is the physical representation of the soul) who goes on a quest to discover why children are going missing. She does this with the use of a magical golden compass which can answer questions, and which only she can interpret. The novel is about her adventures in freeing the children and stopping the bad people, Gobbers.
It’s very unfortunate that, like the first book, the first movie didn’t grab people enough to want to see more. A lot of money was put into making this movie; It had star power, great marketing and a huge production budget. At the time it was to come out, I remember it was supposed to be the next ‘big thing’ in movies, and everyone was so excited to see it. Except, of course, those from the religious right who were boycotting it because of it’s supposed anti-church stance.
The movie fell flat however. It just didn’t have the magic that the book had, even though it tried really hard. It’s kind of like how, in the novel, the king of the Polar Bears wants to have a Daemon, more than anything, so he pretends that he has one. This is almost how it seemed with the actors to me – they tried to pretend they had their souls out in the open, but it was obviously just pretend. While the movie was fairly loyal to the plot, the childlike excitement was missing, and it was difficult to care about the characters. So, what audiences were left with was a movie that wanted to be good, that no one cared about and so the entire idea was lost. Without sequels we don’t get to get to the good parts, where we learn about the goodness of the human soul and the dangers of power corrupting, and we don’t get to see a little girl save the universes. It’s all so disappointing that appreciation of the series has been lost, (and it has such potential!) because the movie had no soul. How ironic.
You can’t just read one novel and appreciate it, so you can find the series here: His Dark Materials Trilogy
And the movie, here: The Golden Compass (2007)