The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials, Book 1 Book Poster Image

The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials, Book 1

Nail-biting, violent fantasy has elements of mystery.
Popular with kids

What parents need to know

Educational value

Fans of the series can follow the adventure through several volumes. Even reluctant readers may get hooked if you begin by reading it aloud.

Positive messages

Classic good versus evil stuff, plus the heroine discovers her inner power.

Positive role models

Forget about sweet, honest girls -- this scrappy street fighter uses all her wits to outfox the villains, and discovers mystical talents that she never knew she had.


Some vivid descriptions of battle scenes. High suspense and escapes from evildoers, two of whom are the heroine's parents. Two kids are killed. Experiments are performed on children.

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Drinking, drugs, & smoking
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Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this fantasy book contains some vivid descriptions of battle scenes. There are also some tense escapes from evildoers, two of whom are the heroine's parents, and two kids are killed. One of Lyra's virtues is her ability to lie convincingly, but she prizes friendship and loyalty: Indeed, readers will root for this scrappy street fighter as she uses all her wits to outfox the villains, and discovers mystical talents that she never knew she had. The British dialogue and clever twists on common words may confuse some Americans, but the fantasy will make readers' imaginations soar. Good choice for fantasy lovers who've outgrown the kid stuff -- and enough adventure for reluctant readers (especially if you start by reading aloud). Read by the author in the audiobook version.

What's the story?

Enter a parallel world, dark and cold, with daemons, boat-dwelling gypsies, armored bears, and a street child with a strange destiny. Children, even Lyra's best friend Roger, start disappearing, victims of mysterious kidnappers called Gobblers. Lyra is given a magical instrument that tells the future and is sent off with the glamorous Mrs. Coulter. When she learns that Mrs. Coulter runs the Gobblers, she escapes, touching off a race to save the kidnapped children. With the help of the Gyptians, a boat-dwelling people, and Iorek Byrnison, a talking, warrior polar bear, she travels to the Arctic, where she finds that the children are being subjected to ghastly experiments that separate them from their souls. Meanwhile Iorek battles for control of the warrior bears, and Lyra's uncle, Lord Asriel, prepares to blast a hole between worlds.

Is it any good?


Nail-biting suspense grabs readers until they can't shake themselves loose from this strange world -- familiar, but definitely not the Earth we know. The magical quality of Lyra's world sets readers' imaginations soaring. This place is so convincingly portrayed that the experiments performed on the children seem as gruesome to the reader as to Lyra. Readers soon accept her world, and they especially love this smart, rowdy heroine. Forget about sweet, honest girls -- this scrappy street fighter uses all her wits to outfox the villains, and discovers mystical talents that she never knew she had.

For avid readers, fantasy buffs, and kids who are outgrowing children's fantasies, this is a great treasure. As this feisty little heroine battles the Gobblers, and follows a mystical device to a universe-altering confrontation in the Arctic, your tweens and teens will be gripping this book with white knuckles long past lights-out. Even reluctant readers may get hooked if you begin by reading it aloud. Since it ends in a true cliff-hanger, the next stop is The Subtle Knife.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the violence here. Some pretty tough stuff happens in this book -- like kids are experimented on and killed. Is it overwhelming, or does the fantasy setting make it easier to handle?

  • This book has now been made into a movie. Families who watch it may want to contrast the film with the book. Which do you prefer? What would you have done differently if you were the director?

Book details

Author:Philip Pullman
Topics:Magic and fantasy
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Del Rey
Publication date:October 5, 1998
Number of pages:368

This review of The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials, Book 1 was written by

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Adult Written byLauraHopalong April 21, 2009

This book touched me deeply.

Even though I am older than 17, I really loved this series. At one point, I got so emotional over a section of the book that I began to cry and had to shut it for a breather. Many people claim that the book is anti-Christian, but personally I do not feel that is the case at all. It is intended to make children consider the ramifications of following anything blindly, whether it is a religion or a government. I would like to remind others that just because the author is atheist does not mean he hates Christianity. Atheism is simply not believing that there is a god. Also, the "god" killed in the series is not really a god, but rather a being falsely impersonating a god. That single point is critical to understand. I find it appalling that the majority of the people decrying the book have not even read it. If you have qualms over the book, read it before you give it to a child. The story is just as captivating for adults as it is for children.
Parent Written byCBK1 June 20, 2011

Great book

This is a good book for children who enjoy fantasy like Harry Potter. I did not find an anti-religious tone to the book -- it is a fantasy after all. I would say that any religious overtones are similar to those in the CS Lewis series of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. You have to have a good sense of the history of religion to pick it up. The whole series is extremely entertaining and well written, and it hangs together well in that it is consistent. The girl is a great role model for pre-teen girls -- she is strong, self-confident and self-reliant.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Kid, 9 years old April 9, 2008

A great book

OK, maybe it seems to be justifying umm... being an atheist but they call god "the authority" not god and people, its a book anyway and my favorite book ever.