The Golden Compass
(movie information below)
The Golden Compass is part one of a young adult trilogy (The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass are the titles of the other two installments). I first began my journey with this story in middle school, when my best friend, also an avid reader, suggested I read an old scruffy paperback copy of hers.
The story gripped me immediately: a young tomboy orphan girl, Lyra, who resides in a renowned college in Oxford but runs the streets as a gypsy, is longing to go on an adventure to the North, a land of ice bears and mystery. She gets a chance when a beautiful and sophisticated woman comes to visit the college, Mrs. Coulter. Coulter recruits the young girl to be her assistant, reasoning with the master of the college that a young girl simply cannot be raised by a bunch of old men. Meanwhile, children all over Lyra’s world have been disappearing unexpectedly, never to be seen again. Before Lyra departs with Mrs. Coulter, the master of Jordan College gives her a valuable relic, the Golden Compass (also referred to as an Aletheometer), with instructions never to tell anyone she has it – he also mentioned that it had belonged to Lyra’s uncle, Lord Asriel, who was absent, exploring in the North. After a whirlwind of makeovers and shopping, Lyra’s sense of adventure rears it's head, and she decides to sneak away from Mrs. Coulter and take the Golden Compass to Lord Asriel.
In between the lines of this simple seeming adventure are heavy themes that can either be taken at face value as part of the story, or as a sort of commentary on humanity, religion, and science in our own world. The plot is riddled with interesting characters that keeps excitement up, and keeps kids interested. Things like Armored Bears, Gyptians who reside on longboats, Witches who age very slowly and do not feel the cold (well, they feel it, but can ignore it), and a feisty aeronaut (what we would call a Hot Air Balloon man) fill the pages with endearing and sometimes freighting eccentricities. I highly recommend this series to anyone middle school level and older. I'm talking full grown men could enjoy this series, because as I said, the themes resonate throughout humanity.
A movie was made of The Golden Compass in 2007 based on the novel, directed by Chris Weitz and starring Nicole Kidman (Mrs. Coulter), Daniel Craig (Lord Asriel), and Dakota Blue Richards (who plays Lyra).
I was excited to see the movie as soon as I heard it was coming out (I think I first saw the preview in the theater when I went to see the remake of The Poseidon Adventure, called simply Poseidon), since I cherished the books so much growing up. On the part of Hollywood, I think it was a good idea to make the first installment of this adventure into a movie; not only is this book a great foundation for a larger adventure spanning the universe and many creatures, but it is well rounded enough to be able to stand alone and still make a great movie. There were many changes, and a lot cut out, but the movie, in my opinion, doesn't suffer much from it.
The biggest sort of difference I felt between the two, is the demographic they were made for. The movie felt like a kids/family movie, while I never really got that impression by the books. Obviously they were not written for adult readers, but the books didn't necessarily read as children's, or even young adult. When I first read them in middle school, it was a challenge to adjust to the type of words Pullman used. For example, he used a special character 'æ' in a word that appeared very often throughout all three books. If I decided to read them again tomorrow or even five years from now, I wouldn't feel like I was reading a children's book, but I will always feel that The Golden Compass movie is geared towards younger kids, even though (while played down) there re some scary occurrences.
I think one thing the movie sacrificed is a lot of the prominent themes that make this series (especially this first book) enjoyable for adults. The story is jam packed with commentary about the treatment of children, the over protectiveness of establishments of power over citizens, religious commentary, and the metaphysical. The movie barely scratches the surface of half of these, and doesn't convey the urgency of understanding the concepts. What does shine through from the book are the themes of loyalty, friendship, and the warning of having blind faith/trust in something/someone (I am using a lot of slashes in this review!), which are more childish. I can understand why the movie makers had to choose which themes to include, and which to enhance further...it's just simply something you have to do when adapting novel to screenplay.
One thing the movie did very well was the steampunk aspect. Gyrocopters, Zeppelins, clockwork spies...it gives you the impression of the differences between our world and Lyra's. With a movie you get a lot of chances to get more creative and literally show the audience they're in another world. I thought it was very well done, and not over the top, which could be tricky. Also I'd like to say that I LOVE the steampunk concept and I'm very excited that it's becoming bigger and more popular in today's market (though not too popular I hope, vampire romance fiction anyone??).
Of course, if you are reading this trying to decipher whether or not it will be worth your time to read the book(s), or if the movie will suffice, I beg you to do the reading. I think I like the second two books better than the first, which doesn't always happen with a trilogy. I don't think they are planning on making The Subtle Knife or The Amber Spyglass into movies, in fact, they changed the ending of the first book in the movie, and I'm not sure how they'd recover that for a sequel...but never mind that! It doesn't matter because you are all going to go read the books instead!
Until next time,
Happy Reading Everyone!