A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Golden Compass is the first book in the highly acclaimed His Dark Materials series. A mediocre movie was made of the book in 2007, and a better HBO miniseries began airing in 2019. This book is often banned because of author Philip Pullman's take on religion, though it's quite specific to more dogmatic religious thought, and this plays much more of a role in the third book in the series, The Amber Spyglass, and the companion Book of Dust series. Most readers, young adult and adult, will be more focused on this stunning world where humans each have a daemon (animal companion that's part of their soul). Expect some scary and gory scenes. Many children are kidnapped and experimented on, and some die after the experiments. Two of those deaths are very sad for the main character, Lyra, who fears that she will also be experimented on. Gory moments in skirmishes and battles include a heart ripped out and eaten, a jaw torn off, an arrow through the neck, gushing blood, and more. There's also underage drinking and smoking, and a bear drinks to drunkenness. Lyra finds trouble easily and lies often, but much of it is to protect herself and others. In the course of The Golden Compass, Lyra discovers her powerful intuition and her own bravery.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In THE GOLDEN COMPASS, readers 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 hero. 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, The Golden Compass is a great treasure. As this fierce hero battles the Gobblers, and follows a mystical device to a universe-altering confrontation in the Arctic, 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 cliffhanger, the next stop is The Subtle Knife.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in The Golden Compass. Some pretty tough stuff happens in this book -- for example, 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 and an HBO miniseries. If you've seen the film and TV versions, how do they compare with the book? Which do you prefer? What would you have done differently if you were the director?
Will you read more in the series? What do you think happens after the huge cliffhanger?
- Author: Philip Pullman
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Cats, Dogs, and Mice, Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires, Science and Nature, Wild Animals
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Del Rey
- Publication date: October 5, 1998
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 17
- Number of pages: 368
- Available on: Paperback, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: February 20, 2021
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