The modern fantasy classic that Entertainment Weekly named an “All-Time Greatest Novel” and Newsweek hailed as a “Top 100 Book of All Time.” Philip Pullman takes readers to a world where humans have animal familiars and where parallel universes are within reach.
Lyra is rushing to the cold, far North, where witch clans and armored bears rule. North, where the Gobblers take the children they steall—including her friend Roger. North, where her fearsome uncle Asriel is trying to build a bridge to a parallel world.
Can one small girl make a difference in such great and terrible endeavors? This is Lyra: a savage, a schemer, a liar, and as fierce and true a champion as Roger or Asriel could want.
But what Lyra doesn't know is that to help one of them will be to betray the other...
A masterwork of storytelling and suspense, Philip Pullman's award-winning The Golden Compass is the first in the His Dark Materials series, which continues with The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.
A #1 New York Times Bestseller
Winner of the Guardian Prize for Children's Fiction
Published in 40 Countries
"Arguably the best juvenile fantasy novel of the past twenty years." —The Washington Post
"Very grand indeed." —The New York Times
"Pullman is quite possibly a genius." —Newsweek
Don't miss Philip Pullman's epic new trilogy set in the world of His Dark Materials!
** THE BOOK OF DUST **
La Belle Sauvage
The Secret Commonwealth
About the Author
The Book of Dust, Pullman’s eagerly anticipated return to the world of His Dark Materials, will also be a book in three parts. It began with La Belle Sauvage and continues with The Secret Commonwealth.
Philip Pullman is the author of many other beloved novels. For younger readers: I Was a Rat!, Count Karlstein, Two Crafty Criminals!, Spring-Heeled Jack, and The Scarecrow and His Servant. For older readers: the Sally Lockhart quartet (The Ruby in the Smoke, The Shadow in the North, The Tiger in the Well, and The Tin Princess), The White Mercedes, and The Broken Bridge. He has written a magnificent collection, Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, and his essays and lectures on writing and storytelling have been gathered in a volume called Dæmon Voices: On Stories and Storytelling.
Philip Pullman lives in Oxford, England.
Date of Birth:October 19, 1946
Place of Birth:Norwich, England
Education:Exeter College, Oxford University
Read an Excerpt
THE DECANTER OF TOKAY
Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen. The three great tables that ran the length of the hall were laid already, the silver and the glass catching what little light there was, and the long benches were pulled out ready for the guests. Portraits of former Masters hung high up in the gloom along the walls. Lyra reached the dais and looked back at the open kitchen door, and, seeing no one, stepped up beside the high table. The places here were laid with gold, not silver, and the fourteen seats were not oak benches but mahogany chairs with velvet cushions.
Lyra stopped beside the Master's chair and flicked the biggest glass gently with a fingernail. The sound rang clearly through the hall.
"You're not taking this seriously," whispered her daemon. "Behave yourself."
Her daemon's name was Pantalaimon, and he was currently in the form of a moth, a dark brown one so as not to show up in the darkness of the hall.
"They're making too much noise to hear from the kitchen," Lyra whispered back. "And the Steward doesn't come in till the first bell. Stop fussing."
But she put her palm over the ringing crystal anyway, and Pantalaimon fluttered ahead and through the slightly open door of the Retiring Room at the other end of the dais. After a moment he appeared again.
"There's no one there," he whispered. "But we must be quick."
Crouching behind the high table, Lyra darted along and through the door into the Retiring Room, where she stood up and looked around. The only light in here came from the fireplace, where a bright blaze of logs settled slightly as she looked, sending a fountain of sparks up into the chimney. She had lived most of her life in the College, but had never seen the Retiring Room before: only Scholars and their guests were allowed in here, and never females. Even the maid-servants didn't clean in here. That was the Butler's job alone.
Pantalaimon settled on her shoulder.
"Happy now? Can we go?" he whispered.
"Don't be silly! I want to look around!"
It was a large room, with an oval table of polished rosewood on which stood various decanters and glasses, and a silver smoking stand with a rack of pipes. On a sideboard nearby there was a little chafing dish and a basket of poppy heads.
"They do themselves well, don't they, Pan?" she said under her breath.
She sat in one of the green leather armchairs. It was so deep she found herself nearly lying down, but she sat up again and tucked her legs under her to look at the portraits on the walls. More old Scholars, probably; robed, bearded, and gloomy, they stared out of their frames in solemn disapproval.
"What d'you think they talk about?" Lyra said, or began to say, because before she'd finished the question she heard voices outside the door.
"Behind the chair—quick!" whispered Pantalaimon, and in a flash Lyra was out of the armchair and crouching behind it. It wasn't the best one for hiding behind: she'd chosen one in the very center of the room, and unless she kept very quiet...
The door opened, and the light changed in the room; one of the incomers was carrying a lamp, which he put down on the sideboard. Lyra could see his legs, in their dark green trousers and shiny black shoes. It was a servant.
Then a deep voice said, "Has Lord Asriel arrived yet?"
It was the Master. As Lyra held her breath, she saw the servant's daemon (a dog, like all servants' daemons) trot in and sit quietly at his feet, and then the Master's feet became visible too, in the shabby black shoes he always wore.
"No, Master," said the Butler. "No word from the aerodock, either."
"I expect he'll be hungry when he arrives. Show him straight into Hall, will you?"
"Very good, Master."
"And you've decanted some of the special Tokay for him?"
"Yes, Master. The 1898, as you ordered. His Lordship is very partial to that, I remember."
"Good. Now leave me, please."
"Do you need the lamp, Master?"
"Yes, leave that too. Look in during dinner to trim it, will you?"
The Butler bowed slightly and turned to leave, his daemon trotting obediently after him. From her not-much-of-a-hiding place Lyra watched as the Master went to a large oak wardrobe in the corner of the room, took his gown from a hanger, and pulled it laboriously on. The Master had been a powerful man, but he was well over seventy now, and his movements were stiff and slow. The Master's daemon had the form of a raven, and as soon as his robe was on, she jumped down from the wardrobe and settled in her accustomed place on his right shoulder.
Lyra could feel Pantalaimon bristling with anxiety, though he made no sound. For herself, she was pleasantly excited. The visitor mentioned by the Master, Lord Asriel, was her uncle, a man whom she admired and feared greatly. He was said to be involved in high politics, in secret exploration, in distant warfare, and she never knew when he was going to appear. He was fierce: if he caught her in here she'd be severely punished, but she could put up with that.
What she saw next, however, changed things completely.
The Master took from his pocket a folded paper and laid it on the table beside the wine. He took the stopper out of the mouth of a decanter containing a rich golden wine, unfolded the paper, and poured a thin stream of white powder into the decanter before crumpling the paper and throwing it into the fire. Then he took a pencil from his pocket, stirred the wine until the powder had dissolved, and replaced the stopper.
Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and author information that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of The Golden Compass. We hope that this guide will help you to navigate - alongside the story's young protagonist, Lyra Belacqua - Philip Pullman's richly imagined universe, populated by armored bears, gyptians, witches, and human beings, whose dæmons are never far from their side.
Dæmons are one of the most striking, charming, and powerful images in The Golden Compass. These spirit-creatures, which seem like physical representations of the human soul, can change form to reflect the myriad of emotional states their humans go through as children. But in adulthood, each dæmon settles into the animal form that best reflects the inner nature of its human counterpart. It is in this unusual and imaginative creation that Pullman turns his sharpest mirror back onto his readers, helping us to imagine our own souls as precious, living extensions of ourselves that we can love, challenge, or even betray.
The Golden Compass is a complex story that turns on a simple word: "Dust." This Dust does not gather in the unswept corners of Jordan College, Lyra's Oxford home. Rather, this Dust seems to reveal - or perhaps contain - the thing that makes each human being a unique creature. The concept of Dust provokes fear in some; others realize that mastery over Dust could be the source of great power. Although she does not quite realize it, Lyra - along with her dæmon Pantalaimon - finds her life inextricably entangled with the exploration of Dust. And as her understanding of Dust and her mastery over a mysterious tool called the alethiometer increases, the dangerous journey that she seems destined to make takes some astounding twists and turns.
1. The author tells us that The Golden Compass takes place "in a universe like ours, but different in many ways." How do you think Lyra's universe relates to ours?
2. What is a dæmon? How do they make humans different from other creatures? Why do you think servants' dæmons are always dogs? What sort of dæmons might your friends, relatives, classmates, or coworkers have? Describe your own dæmon.
3. The world of The Golden Compass is ruled by the Church. However, the nature of its power is unclear. What power do you think the Church holds over its people?
4. On pages 89-90, the General Oblation Board is explained in reference to the historical sacrifice of children to cloistered life. "Oblation" refers to the act of making a religious offering. What offering does the General Oblation Board make and to whom?
5. Human knowledge and experience are made physical in Dust. What other psychological, intellectual, or spiritual activities does the author physicalize?
6. What is the relationship between "severing" and death? Is the author using this fantasy to explore the notion of psychic or moral death?
7. Why do you think the author stresses that Lyra is not an imaginative child? Why would "imagination" be dangerous to her? How would it affect her understanding of the alethiometer? Is Lyra a truth-seeker? Who is Lyra Belacqua and/or what does she symbolize?
8. In what ways is gender a significant or stratifying element in the novel? Why do you think all witches are female? Why are dæmons usually the opposite gender of their human counterparts? Is the fact that Lyra is a girl-child relevant to the themes of the story?
9. Alongside human society in The Golden Compass, there exists the community of the armored bears, who have their own hierarchical structure and moral code. In one way Svalbard seems little more than an interesting foil to the human condition, yet the bear kingdom is also a final destination, the site of the story's climactic conclusion. What do you think is the author's purpose in inventing - and exploring - the world of the armored bear?
10. The author has filled this novel with binary imagery: person-dæmon; mother-father; Iorek-Iofur; Lyra's universe-the universe in the Aurora. What other binarisms can you find in the structure, landscape imagery, and vocabulary of this fantasy? How do these dualistic elements affect the novel's larger themes?
11. Discuss Lyra's "betrayal" of Roger in relation to other betrayals that occur in the novel. Has reading The Golden Compass altered your understanding of the act of betrayal?
12. Are Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter in collusion or are they fighting each other? How and in what way?
13. Curiously absent from The Golden Compass are four words that are prevalent in most fantasy adventures: right, wrong, good, and evil. Can these terms be applied to this story? How and why, or why not?
14. On the last page of the book, Lyra and Pantalaimon recognize that they are still "one being; both of us are one." The expression resonates with a phrase from marriage ceremonies. Contrast this moment in the story with the preceding interplay between Lyra's parents.
15. The Golden Compass is the first book in the trilogy His Dark Materials, which gets its name from a passage in John Milton's Paradise Lost, quoted at the beginning of the novel. Philip Pullman has said, "Milton's angels are not seriously meant to be believed - beings with wings and halos and white robes. They are psychological qualities, conceived and pictured as personalities. With them, Milton tells one of the central tales of our world: the story of the temptation and fall of humankind." Discuss the passage from Paradise Lost and this statement from the author in relation to The Golden Compass.
16. When Lyra walks "into the sky" at the end of Book One, we can presume that she is walking into the world of Book Two of His Dark Materials - "the universe that we know." What do you think will happen to her and Pantalaimon when they cross the bridge?