Lyra Belacqua is a rough and tumble girl of about 10 or 11 years of age and the central character of Philip Pullman's YA-fantasy novel, The Golden Compass. Her home is with the scholars of Jordan College in Oxford, but she finds her greatest pleasures among the Gyptian children who inhabit Oxford's streets and canals. Whether she's making mischief by the river or chasing her best friend, Roger, along the city's roofs, Lyra is content - until Uncle Asriel arrives with photograms of the Northern Lights, the head of Stanislaus Grumman, and talk of Dust.
Lyra's world, crafted masterfully by Philip Pullman, very much resembles our world with some subtle differences and a splash or two of magic. The pervasive Dust, elementary particles which not only make up the fabric of Lyra's physical universe but contain all the knowledge therein is one key distinction as is the externalizing of a person's soul in the form of a daemon.
One's daemon is the animal that reflects the innermost self. Are you a snake? Are you a puppy dog? Look at the daemon by your side, and that will tell you. One's daemon is one's soul. Pantalaimon, Lyra's daemon, often assumes the form of a mouse, a moth, or an ermine. A child's daemon has the ability to change forms until the child reaches adolescence.
Lyra is a compelling if not endearing central character. Obstinate, rash, stubborn - and these are her finest qualities, in addition to the unflinching loyalty which takes her off into dangers unknown to rescue her friend Roger from a shadowy band of kidnappers known among the local children as "The Gobblers." Moved along by forces beyond her control, Lyra finds herself teamed up with the Gyptian folk, a river-dwelling people with an Irish air about them, who set a course for lands North to rescue and return their stolen children. The other players on Lyra's team include a hot-air balloon pilot from New Denmark (the United States of Pullman's world) and the stoic Iorek Byrnison, an armored polar bear outcast from his Nordic home.
The Golden Compass
, originally published in England as Northern Lights
, falls easily into the YA-fantasy bucket. Like Cornelia Funke's The Thief Lord
and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter
series, it was written for young adults but enjoys a large crossover adult following. In fact, Philip Pullman was writing this, the first volume of the His Dark Materials trilogy at about the same time J.K. Rowling was writing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Philip Pullman is a graduate of Oxford University and a master-storyteller. He makes his home in Oxford, England where he writes "in a shed at the bottom of the garden." The Golden Compass is the stuff of myth and legend - artic explorers, magic devices, and warrior-bears - infused with color and rhythm by the author's narrative artistry.