The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, Stéphane Melchior, and Clément Oubrerie (2015)

L: 6.5/10

M: 6/10

J: 8/10

Analysis from a refrence from a different timeline that nobody will get because I destroyed that universe:

The next supplementary pick was the comic translation of The Golden Compass. This story’s multiple paths in its translated forms are nearly as complex as the initial steps into understanding the story. This graphic novel is adapted from the novel of the same name. The novel is part one of the trilogy titled His Dark Materials, which is currently a television show approaching its third season. This first part of this series is The Golden Compass, which was also a stand-alone (I think?) movie released in 2007 with a massive budget of 180 million. It was also titled initially Northern Lights, and the graphic novel for Compass has the original French title of Les Royaumes du Nord. This mind melt of a scenario is all written by Philip Pullman, who strangely or maybe not so strangely also has a fictionalized biography of Jesus in his bibliography.

TGC starts out as a whirlwind at such a breakneck pace that act two is deep in swing once bearings have been gathered. It’s mostly all explained in due time, but a tad bit curious in how slow the wheel of information spins while pages and pages of confusion fly by. Maybe the translation from novel to illustrated medium is harsher when it comes to such a dense text. I’d love to read it one day and compare, but for now, all I have to go on is what sadly felt like a rushed attempt to condense an epic down into easily digestible pieces.

Act one begins with Lyra Belacqua living at the Jordan College in Oxford. Her uncle Lord Asriel has left her in the school’s care after going off to study the mysterious dust, a cosmic particle with fantastical possibilities. The uncle is an asshole, but most adults who cross young Lrya’s path are similarly intolerable. Each person in this alterative Earth has a dæmon, which exists as a shapeshifting animal that the human is able to communicate through. The rules behind this relationship are just kind of thrown out there as proven fact early on, and it’s not until much later dialog does this get a chance to be explained.

There’s a lot in this world that makes for a wild ride. For one, polar bears wear armor and form their own government. This is when the story really starts to cook, once all the parties are aligned, or at least appear to be so, and the world-ending conflict meter gets cranked up. Lyra is a gifted child, and perhaps the fate of the world lies in her hand with her only weapons being a truth-speaking compass called an alethiometer and a polar bear companion, Lorek, that is by far the best character of the story.

The film adaptation was deemed a flop due to the comparison between its huge budget and the theatrical returns. Part of this has been cited by its author’s harsh treatment of religion, the same guy noted as having written an alternative biography of Jesus Christ. These first three acts of the story only dip their toe in, but when it’s revealed that the fundamentals of this whole war are being fought over the scientifically radical translations of biblical text, its nearly as eye-opening as the way the main character Lyra Belacqua only emotion is drawn on her face. 

The Golden Compass is really good when it’s good but a bit foggy when it’s trying to establish its early footing. I read thirty comics and multiple books at once while juggling dozens of television shows and a movie a day for the last 850 days, and I had trouble gathering what was going on during act one. A few times, I had to go back and check to make sure I didn’t skip a page, and only like one time did I actually do so. I’ve felt the same way with book-to-comic adaptations (Game of Thrones, American Gods), so it’s not a unique feeling and also one that’s understandable. I just wish there were more polar bear riding and bear-on-bear gladiator scenes.

Analysis from a born again melancholy baby:

I have heard about this series for years. The general consensus given to me was basically it is the anti-Narnia series. This is the series that teaches children that God and Christianity are bullshit, whereas Narnia leans heavily on the religious narrative. Perhaps we are not deep enough into the storyline yet, but I didn’t pick up on that at all.

Now I will say the beginning of this felt a bit confusing. You know, when you’re in a group text with two other people, and they start talking to each other about something you clearly were not privy to, and you have to use context clues to figure out what they’re talking about? The beginning of this felt a lot like that. I had to just kind of go with it and figure out what was happening as it went along. This has happened to me from time to time with graphic novels, but mostly because I get caught up and feel claustrophobic in the artwork.

The story was interesting and surprising in some parts. I really did appreciate the role of the dæmons in the story and the concept of adults trying to tear them apart. I just sort of feel like stories like this have a lot of parable applications.

The artwork was lovely, and it helped to bring the story to life for me. When we got to the polar bear kingdom, I felt like a kid watching Saturday morning cartoons. I want a graphic novel just in that world. That might actually exist in this series, so maybe I should do some more research and kick it into gear.

In all, it was a fine read. I’m not dying to continue along with the story, but I’m also not opposed.

Analysis from an arrow pointing toward a symbol that could mean so many things:

I have not read The Golden Compass: The Novel before so this was my first glimpse into this world. Honestly, with the pile of book recommendations I have been piling up, I’m not sure I will ever get to the full novel. Hence my choice to read this version.

Following the spitfire that is Lyra around was a treat from the start. I’ve always had a soft-spot for those who have a strong will and this young one didn’t disappoint. I feel that having read quite a bit of fantasy did help me to spend the entirety of act one being ok with not understanding references or some of the elements of the world. There are books that I found similarly confusing at the start (looking at you, The Book Thief) but became one of my very favorites by the end. As such, I persevered when I didn’t know what a dæmon was or who all these important people were. I did have to do a fair bit of returning to previous pages to make sure the names that were dropped later in the book where the people that I remember taking action earlier. 

My favorite component of this story has to be split between the witches and the bears, two groups that you only get a glimpse into. To some degree I see Lyra has a likeness to both of them, both the aesthetic of Serafina and the will of Iorek. Serafina describes being a witch as something so lovely: protected from cold, feeling tingles from the stars, hearing music from the Aurora… I want to be like that. Small price to pay for an exceedingly long life watching those you care about perish, right? As for Iorek, who wouldn’t love gladiator, armor-wearing polar bears?! I also found it incredibly interesting that the children’s dæmons were variable from one moment to the next whereas the adults’ were static. I’d argue some adults should have some flexibility too but, I guess, overall we do have more rigidity so an unchanging dæmon makes sense.

I’ll likely pick up the second of this trilogy to read as a pick for this group or if I can get through the aforementioned booklist. It was a quick read with enough storytelling to keep me engaged during and wanting more between reading sessions.

Philip Pullman

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