What To Read Next? The Golden Compass (Northern Lights): Book #1 Of His Dark Materials Trilogy -- A Review

Note: During Nicole and I's year long travels around the globe, we've read. A lot. We plan to start sharing some of these books here. Stay tuned for more reviews to come!

Also note this review is written so as not to give away any important plot information so as not to ruin the read for others.

The Golden Compass: Book #1 Of His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman (Note: In the U.K., Australia and other countries outside of North America, this book is titled Northern Lights)

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Men and women are moved by tides much fiercer than you can imagine, and they sweep us all up into the current.
— The Golden Compass

This young adult novel had been on my list for quite a while. Maybe ever since I fell asleep during the 2007 movie adaptation starring Nicole Kidman and thought afterwards, what is all the hype about?

I love a book that tackles big themes. Human nature, drive, religion, ego. Bring it on. 

And a book that does so with nuance and subtlety? Even better.

But think of Adam and Eve like an imaginary number, like the square root of minus one: you can never see any concrete proof that it exists, but if you include it in your equations, you can calculate all manner of things that couldn’t be imagined without it.
— The Golden Compass

I knew The Golden Compass series as supposedly an epic, humanist counterpoint to the Christian themes found in C.S. Lewis' classic Chronicles of Narnia. Indeed, the Catholic Church protested the release of the movie a decade ago.

And despite the movie flopping in grand fashion, the books continue to build a fan base. During a recent podcast, Tim Ferriss and Gretchen Rubin almost couldn't stop gushing about their mutual love for The Golden Compass. This was the straw that finally broke the camel's back and I dove in.

All good things pass away.
— The Golden Compass

What I found, at least in the first book of the series, surprised me. The reader isn't clubbed over the head with anit-religion rhetoric as I'd expected. Instead, the story follows the adventures of a young girl, Lyra, and her literal spirit animal as they step out into a dangerous world in search of answers only they can find. Lyra encounters many adults standing in her path, some clearly good, some clearly bad, and many in between. She meets bears. She soars in a hot air balloon. The final result confused as much as satisfied me, but clearly set up the later books in the series. 

When you choose one way out of many, all the ways you don’t take are snuffed out like candles, as if they’d never existed. .... But to keep them all in existence meant doing nothing. He had to choose....
— The Golden Compass

Searching online for answers to some of the questions that left me wondering, I came across this article which theorizes that, when Phillip Pullman wrote the series, the Catholic Church's child molestation scandal had began to emerge but wasn't yet fully in the open, nor openly discussed by most media. Against this backdrop, some of Pullman's themes became clearer, at least to me. Nonetheless, this is not a preachy novel. 

I can't say The Golden Compass entirely lived up to what I had been expecting. At least after the first book, comparing the series to The Chronicles of Narnia seems a stretch. But I will admit I'm excited to read the second book.   

You cannot change what you are, only what you do.
— The Golden Compass

Like this post? Want to read more about Travis and Nicole's travel adventures? Check out The Meserve Reserve Favorite Books Of 2017.

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