The Golden Compass

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the upcoming film adaptation The Golden Compass (or Northern Lights, to Brits), part one of Philip Pullman’s three-part, religion-laced, epic fantasy series, His Dark Materials. The series has already been turned into a successful play at London’s National Theatre, and the author has won numerous awards for his work.

For those who don’t know, here is some of what The Golden Compass is all about:

Main characters: Lyra (newcomer Dakota Blue Richards – no, not that Dakota) and her daemon Pantalaimon, her uncle Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig), the mysterious Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman), Lyra’s friend Roger (Ben Walker), the witch Serafina Pekkala (Eva Green – the Bond girl herself), the talking polar bear, Iorek Byrnison (voiced by Nonso Anozie), and the Gyptians (played by various actors).

And, of course, the infamous Dust – but you’ll have to wait to see the movie (or read the books) to learn more about that.

Plot: Lyra is an orphan living at Jordan College in Oxford. When her friend Roger is kidnapped by the evil Gobblers, she agrees to leave Jordan College with the powerful but enigmatic Mrs. Coulter. However, when she becomes suspicious of Mrs. Coulter and her involvement in a church group known as the “General Oblation Board” (referred to as the Magisterium in the movie, according to Entertainment Weekly) Lyra escapes and heads north to find her friend Roger, aided at various points by the Gyptian nomads and Iorek Byrnison.

What are daemons? Every human in Lyra’s world has one. They are animal creatures that are constant companions and can usually never be more than a short distance away from their human partner. Children have shape-shifting daemons (like Lyra’s Pantalaimon), while adults’ daemons have settled into one constant shape that cannot change.

Of course, there is more, but I don’t want to ruin the story. If you’d like to learn more (and remember, I warned you, this contains major spoilers), Wikipedia has an entry on Pullman’s daemons.

What is the Golden Compass? (This is NOT a plot spoiler, I promise) Also known as an alethiometer, it is a very important item given to Lyra by the Master of the College before she leaves with Mrs. Coulter. It can supposedly answer any question set to it by the owner.

Why is the series called His Dark Materials? The title comes from a line in Paradise Lost by John Milton, a major influence on the series:

…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 mixt
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… (more)

In fact, according to The Daily Telegraph (spoiler alert: this article reveals important plot points about the series), the whole series is itself a reimagining of Paradise Lost.

In recent news reports, Nicole Kidman has claimed that the movie is not “anti-church” and that:

…some of the religious elements were removed from the movie script. “It has been watered down a little,” she told Entertainment Weekly.

Great. “Watered down” is always a major incentive for me to see a movie (see Cinematical’s thoughts on this). I have to say, though, I’m not too worried… yet. Religious commentary is a bit more peripheral in the first book than it is in the later ones, which are heavy with discussions of Adam and Eve, God and the devil, faith, and organized religion. Whether or not any of the series is anti-church, if the first movie is successful, it’s hard for me to imagine how all of those “religious elements” could be left out of sequels 2 and 3, as they form the core of the story.

If you want to hear more from the man behind the controversy, Philip Pullman will be in New York discussing his series October 30th with former New York Times book review editor, Charles McGrath. For more info, click here.

The movie itself is being released December 7. To see the cool trailer, go here.


10 Responses to The Golden Compass

  1. Cliff Burns says:

    My two sons, very discerning readers, both loved the Pullman series and are looking forward to the film adaptation. They were greatly disappointed by the film version of “Eragon” and are worried that the people making “Golden Compass” will ruin it just as badly.

    My lads are also big fans of the “Darren Shan” series of book and I think, given the choice, would read a Shan book before an offering by Rowling or Pullman. Honest!

  2. danielleeyre says:

    Can’t say that I’ve always gone in for the horror stuff myself (beyond the occasional R.L. Stine when I was younger) – too many nightmares!

    Have they read Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series, Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy or Philip Reeve’s Larklight? I’m also a fan of Dianna Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett. They’re maybe not as “intellectual” as Pullman, but they’re lots of fun, although you have to like Pratchett’s brand of humor.

  3. […] The movie she’s referring to featured a “watered down” version of the story, in particular in regards to its religious elements (sound familiar?). […]

  4. […] supernatural in film: they walk among us With the release of the famously controversial The Golden Compass (the least religiously-oriented of any of the books in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials […]

  5. […] and will want to soon set-jet off to see the locations prominently displayed in new films like The Golden Compass and upcomers like the new James Bond and The Dark […]

  6. […] Peter Jackson to make ‘The Hobbit’ I’m sure this has absolutely nothing to do with the low grosses of New Line’s other film, The Golden Compass… […]

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