Golden Compass close read
May 13, 2013 7:41 PM   Subscribe

Due to persistant recommendations on AskMe, I am finally reading (well, listening to) The Golden Compass. It's amazing. Now I want to read about The Golden Compass.

Can you recommend essays, criticism or close reads of these books? Academic writing is OK but not my first choice. I'm looking for accessible, but not simple. Smart people writing about what these books mean.

Will accept (welcome) general stuff about Pullman too.

Haven't had any luck with google here.
posted by latkes to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
I know this sounds weird, but I just finished the Golden Compass too (book and then movie) and I dove in to the links at the bottom of the Wikipedia page for the book and that got me started.
posted by jessamyn at 7:52 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Follow-up to Jessamyn- Wikipedia has a list of the alternate etymologies of Pullman's world, which I always found fascinating. Some are just made up but many are plausible derivations of real-world words that could have been the word we use had history been only slightly different. Another list is here.

The first one I ever learned was anbaric, which is just from the Arabic for amber, where our "electricity" came from the Greek word for amber. Rub amber with wool and you get static electricity.

The most notable one is probably the play on subtle in the title of the second book.
posted by Wretch729 at 8:12 PM on May 13, 2013

Here is a list of interviews with Pullman from his website. Some good stuff here.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 8:13 PM on May 13, 2013

You might want to read Zoo City by Lauren Beukes, which is fiction, but an intertextual commentary on the Pullman series.
posted by gerryblog at 8:25 PM on May 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

I like this BBC video, which goes into the author's thoughts on religion and how they are portrayed in the book.

I found the whole religious controversy (especially among Catholics) interesting because I didn't even pay that much attention to it while I read the books. It was all too otherworldly for me to tie it to any Earthbound organizations.
posted by eye of newt at 9:07 PM on May 13, 2013

On the Marionette Theatre was mentioned in some interview I read with Pullman a while back, I think. I can't remember which interview it was but reading this piece I think you'll be able to see a lot of parallels with the book.
posted by capnsue at 9:11 PM on May 13, 2013

I enjoyed this dialogue between Pullman and Rowan Williams on the religious aspects of His Dark Materials. (Williams was Archbishop of Canterbury at the time.)

And of course the whole trilogy is shaped by Paradise Lost, which might be considered a bit of a slog in its entirety, but the first two books are spectacular.
posted by pont at 10:21 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Navigating the Golden Compass is a collection of essays about the way religion and science are used in the series and covers the "smart people writing about what these books mean" angle nicely.
posted by mgar at 4:17 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might like Neal Stephenson's Anathem, which like Lyra's universe is set in an alternate reality. In the case of Anathem, it's not a magical world, but a world so like our own, only the scientists can tell the difference. The setting is in a world which sent the scientists into a monastic life (after some near-apocalyptic exuberance thousands of years before), while outside the walls, civilization has risen to, and fallen from, even greater technological heights than our own. The result of the different historical pressures on scientific advancement is that their history of science is rife with familiar concepts in unfamiliar order and nomenclature. That aspect is tantalizing. The rest of it is merely amazing wonderful reading.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:47 AM on May 14, 2013

This might be slightly off your beaten path, but let me throw it out there - do you know about Mark Oshiro of Mark Reads? He does these lovely projects of reading and writing about books a chapter at a time, and writing about his responses to them. He (and his commenters) often have really interesting things to say about the books, in a very informal way.

I actually discovered him after he did the Golden Compass, but I know it was one of his favorite books ever because he still talks about it a lot, and I keep meaning to go read his old reviews. I bet they're fun and will have some good insights. If you want to check them out, looks like he starts here.

He's very vehement about avoiding spoilers, so you should find that his reviews and the comments are all pretty well spoiler-free for future books in the series, if that's a concern.
posted by Stacey at 9:08 AM on May 14, 2013

Not directly relevant, and potential slight spoilers, but

The books (especially later ones) are heavily inspired by Paradise Lost. Reading Paradise Lost might be worthwhile, if daunting (although I did it, and I'm a math/CS type. Once you get used to reading long sentences in blank verse it's amazing and not a drag at all). But also, the history of how people have interpreted it, and what they think of the roles of God and Satan, is relevant. Stanley Fish is a good name: he's a good popular critic generally but started out as a Milton scholar.
posted by vogon_poet at 1:43 PM on May 14, 2013

I made an FPP about the inspirations behind the His Dark Materials trilogy back in 2008. Possible spoiler alert.
posted by rongorongo at 3:12 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

This isn't reading on Pullman, per se, but when I was in high school he actually visited my school (which was the most amazing thing ever) and read to us from The Subtle Knife. He told us that the most difficult question he'd ever been asked about the book was posed by a young boy: if a human in the book eats, is her daemon nourished too?

He'd never considered how daemons were nourished, so you'll have to draw your own conclusions.

Gets you wondering whether daemons poop, doesn't it?
posted by Miss T.Horn at 4:50 PM on May 14, 2013

Response by poster: Hey all, thanks so much for these. A good solid start.

I'll read Paradise Lost - on my list anyway - and Zoo City - which wasn't before but looks excellent. I'll check out Mark Oshiro and the other links, including On the Marionette Theater. rongorongo - your FPP is great, digging into that now. And Jessamyn, thanks for the wikipedia reminder. Found some good explanations about the religion controversy.

I'll try to report back in a few months after I've gotten through my reading list, not to mention after I've read the other books in the series, which may take a while since I'll be reading them out loud with my kiddo.

Thanks again, and do feel free to add more if anyone things of anything else!
posted by latkes at 5:57 PM on May 14, 2013

We bought (and totally have not read yet) The Science of His Dark Materials.
posted by getawaysticks at 6:05 AM on May 16, 2013

Response by poster: Briefly wanted to thank gerryblog for the Zoo City recommendation. Finally read it and loved it.
posted by latkes at 7:14 PM on December 9, 2013

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