Review: The Golden Compass (novel)

by MW Cook

Initial thought: He should have stuck with the original title: The Northern Lights.

Do you remember the movie? Probably not. There was nothing really memorable about it. It’s just as well, though. The book was everything the film was not.
C.S. Lewis suggested that if a children’s book is only good or useful in childhood, it’s not useful even then. I wish more children’s authors thought about that before they wrote. We’d have less Spongebob and Capt. Underpants stories, and I think the world would be a better place.
But The Golden Compass (like other great children’s books like Narina and The Hobbit) is great when you’re 13 or 30.
I know what a lot of you are thinking right now: Hold on, the book is anti-God. It can’t be good.
Admittedly, I’ve only read the first book in the series of three. And I know about the interview where the author claims he wanted write an atheistic version of Narnia. But The Golden Compass is no more anti-God than any other secular novel. Maybe that will play out later in the series. If it does, I’ll judge it then. But as a stand-alone novel, The Golden Compass is great.
Most children’s books have boring characters, despite their many eccentricities. I get the impression that authors think if a character is odd, he must be good. That’s just dumb, though. Spongebob is both the oddest and the most boring character I’ve ever had the misfortune of meeting.
The characters in The Golden Compass are real. The adults are fully adults – interesting and adult-like. The children are fully children – equally interesting and child-like. And that is what makes the story great. Even if most of the story was drab (which is isn’t) and if the world it was set in was shallow (it isn’t) the characters and their depth would be able to carry the book on their own. I especially loved a deeply complicated character interaction at the end of the novel, which I won’t get into because I don’t want to spoil it. I’ll just say this: my jaw literally dropped. Yay for deep characters.

I’ve been told to boycott this series because of its anti-religious message. I wish Christians wouldn’t boycott the things that seem to attack it. That’s not the way Jesus did things. When the rulers of the Temple attacked Jesus did he boycott the Temple? Naw, he stormed it! He engaged it! He wrestled and turned it upside-down. Because that was the only way to prove that he himself was greater than it. So don’t listen to people who tell you to boycott. Engage the series that Christians are afraid to engage. Because if you don’t, not only are you missing out of a quality piece of work, but you’re also letting anti-Jesus messages (if there really are these things in this series) go unchallenged.