I first read The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman in fifth grade, just over ten years ago (wow, I feel old). In light of The Book of Dust being released, and because I’ve been having a bad reading streak, I decided to go back and give The Golden Compass a reread.
Me as a ten year old: “I wonder why the church would want to ban this.”
Adult me: “HOLY CRAP. HOW DID I MISS THAT.”
…what I love about this book…
I knew that I didn’t understand a lot of this book the first time around. All that stuff about politics and the church, about Dust, about the fact that Lyra lived in a parallel world that was similar to ours but not (“anbaric” instead of “electric” really threw me, because I was little). But I didn’t realize how much of this book had gotten deep in my imagination and ingrained into my childhood reading, regardless of what went over my head.
Daemons. I know I’m not the only kid–or adult–who really wanted a daemon. There is just something so relatably desirable about an animal who is another half of your soul, especially when they have the cool ability to shapeshift as a kid.
The witches (especially Serafina Pekkala). Witches have always been a deep love of mine, but I never realized until now just how deep into my subconscious Pullman’s portrayal of the witches went. Looking back, I can see that Serafina Pekkala had a huge influence on Evendia Drucilla, the character I created as the head of the witches in my own novel. My portrayal of witches in Daughter of a Witch was influenced by the witches of The Golden Compass, although the resemblance has faded with time and subsequent drafts (as it should).
Iorek Byrnison. I LOVED the imagery of the battling polar bears. That just burrowed itself deep into my imagination and never left. Iorek is probably my favorite character. Actually, I might have wanted to have him as a companion more than I wanted a daemon.
…what adult me still doesn’t get…
As much as I do really enjoy this book, there are a few things that I am still not too keen on, even if I understand a lot more than I did as a kid who couldn’t understand that anbaric was really just a parallel for electric.
The Politics. I understand a lot better now the whole positioning of the church and the implications of Dust. Still, it took me a couple times of rereading a few paragraphs to understand the structure of the Church and its position relative to the General Oblation Board and the Consistorial Court of Discipline. I’m still a little confused by it, but maybe that’s just me [see: next point].
The metaphorical beating over the head: I went from a kid who couldn’t understand why the church would ban this book to an adult who says “Whoa, that’s waaay too much for me.” Not that I’m super offended, but the parallels and implications just feel a little too real and a little too much like I’m being beaten over the head with a meaningful metaphor. It’s like being back in high school English classes. (Mr. Ross, if you’re reading this…I promise, I loved those classes! Mostly.)
Facepalm moments while reading: “Gobblers…General Oblation Board…Gobblers…G-O-B…omg I finally get it!”
…what I’m taking with me moving forward from this book…
On the one hand, I understand how this is a children’s book. It’s about Lyra, a girl of ten or so. She definitely acts like a kid, and this book portrays a very specific kind of childhood for the children of Oxford and Jordan College. On the other hand, as a reader, I didn’t understand this book as a child. So much went over my head, and not just because I’m short.
So it makes me wonder about how I’m positioning my books as I write. I tend to write upper end YA, more at the 17-18 age if not creeping into NA. I’m honestly not that far away from that age group myself, so I feel like I have a closer relationship with it. At the same time, I wonder how my perspective differs from that of my intended audience. Am I pandering to them? Am I going too far beyond what they’ve experienced? It’s food for thought as I skim back over my writing.