Tuesday, October 30, 2007

THE GOLDEN COMPASS by Philip Pullman

I had heard nothing but good things about The Golden Compass, so I was disappointed when it started off slow and got progressively worse.

Lyra is not a sympathetic character. She gets by lying to and manipulating anyone she can. Conveniently, many characters in the book are one-dimensional enough that she never has any real difficulty, despite the narrator's efforts to convince us otherwise. Can't a kid ever be a main character and be the hero by doing the right thing and not breaking the rules?

Philip Pullman is a more than competent writer, but the story fails to grab. Lyra has the Midas touch – whatever she decides to do in a given situation always works. There's no real suspense. Plus we get arbitrary, unfounded declarations like "Oh, what if, for no real reason whatsoever besides the fact that the bad guys think the Dust is bad, the Dust is really good after all?" No doubt she'll turn out to be right.

The Golden Compass has intense action and complex, adult themes. So what, exactly, makes it a children's book? Because the main character is a child? Or because children are less likely to pick up on all the book's contrived and unlikely happenings?

The combination of magic and theology has great potential, and is underused in fantasy literature in general, but it doesn't work here. This book is a theological train wreck. The neo-Catholic Church is bad. God is bad. The Church manufactures doctrine based on the latest scientific discoveries. Original sin is to be eliminated by human works (which would have to involve killing God).

Christian conservatives rant and rave about Harry Potter and its allegedly insidious messages, there's been little fuss from any Christian group besides the Catholics on Pullman's overt anti-Christianity. Why?

The Golden Compass came highly recommended, but I wasn't impressed with its story or its message. The other books in the series, with their homosexual angels and decrepit god, I will not be reading.