Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Golden Compass: The Graphic Novel (Volume #!) adapated by Stéphane Melchior, art by Clément Oubrerie

**Contains Spoilers**

By now, most of us know the story of Lyra Belacqua, the young girl raised by the scholars of Jordan College, Oxford, and her daemon Pan, full name Pantalaimon. living in an alternate world very much like this one.  But Lyra's world is ruled by the Magisterium, a theocratic organization that wants to control its subjects by taking away their free.

When she learns that her uncle, Lord Asriel, is coming to give a lecture to the scholars, Lyra hides in a cupboard to spy on them, but instead she witnesses one of the scholars poisoning his drink.  Luckily, she is able to warn Lord Asriel about it just in the nick of time.

During Lord Asriel's lecture, Lyra learns about Dust, cosmic particles that form when matter becomes consciousness, thereby making it the physical form of consciousness.  Dust accumulates on adults, but not children, who are thought to be innocent and who don't have the kind of developed consciousness that an adult has.  Dust also binds daemons to humans.  Daemons are not little devils, as the name might imply, but are the physical manifestations of the human soul.  Because a child's consciousness isn't formed yet, their daemons can change form at will, eventually taking on a permanent form that will be reflection of their human's soul.

Lord Asriel also shows the scholars pictures of a parallel universe that can only be seen through the Northern Lights, and he finally convinces the scholars to fund his research on Dust up near the Arctic.  Lyra is curious about the information Lord Asriel shares, and wants to go North with him, but he refuses to let her and leaves.

Later, while out with her friend Roger, he suddenly disappears.  Back at college, Lyra next meets Mrs. Coulter, a charismatic women and a friend of the scholars.  Mrs. Coulter volunteers to care for Lyra, but before she leaves Jordan College, Lyra is given an Alethiometer, a device that tells the truth to the questioner, and told to never let Mrs. Coulter know she has it.  At first, Lyra enjoys her new circumstance, but when a servant tries to steal the Alethiometer, she runs away and ends up in the hands of the Gyptians, canal-boat dwellers, and learns that they also have children who have disappeared suddenly, just like Roger.

The head Gyptian, John Faa, tells Lyra the truth about her parents - that they didn't die in an accident, but are Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter, and one of the elder Gyptians helps her understand how the Alethiometer works.  When they learn that Lord Asriel is being held prisoner in an ice fortress by enemies, they decide they must help him,   Meanwhile, Lyra is hiding from Mrs. Coulter, but when she discovers where Lyra is, they  the Gyptians decide to head North fast.

Yes, I know that there is more to The Golden Compass, but this is where volume 1 of the graphic novel ends (does this mean that the possibility of 9 graphic novels will be required to cover Philip Pullman's excellent His Dark Materials trilogy?  It would appear to be so.)

I loved comic books as a kid, and now, I love a good graphic novel, but this isn't one of them.  I found the story lackluster, and was annoyed that it left out a lot of important information for understanding what Pullman was trying to say in his original novel (which is why I went into so much detail above).  Lyra often comes across rather like a brat, and I found I didn't much like her.  Textwise, this just didn't work for me.

Nor can I say I liked the art very much.  The cover held so much promise, but most of the illustrations were not great.  Everyone looks mean a lot of the time, not just the "bad guys." Sometimes, as I was reading one section of the story, I found that there was a sudden jump into a different part of the story without warning or explanation why and that felt very disjointed.  One of the good things about comic books was that a text explanation always accompanied a change scene, so that what was going on in the following frames was comprehensible.  The same would have been nice here.

I loved reading The Golden Compass with my Kiddo when she was in middle school, and we had the pleasure of meeting Philip Pullman at the time, who was here getting an award at Queens College, Queens, NY.  So I was really looking forward to reading this graphic novel - but alas, it wasn't even good enough to entice me into any kind of excited anticipation of the next two installments, but it has made me want to re-read the novel.

This book is recommended for kids age 12+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

We're celebrating Graphic books every Thursday thanks to Franki Sibberson and Mary Lee Hahn of A Year of Reading, Alyson Beecher of KidLit Frenzy and Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan of Assessment in Perspective


  1. So sorry this book was a disappointment to you. The Golden Compass is such a powerful story. Hopefully, these graphic novels will inspire students to read the novel too.

  2. I guess I'll stick to reading the novel then. Graphic novels need to be very strong in conveying emotions, pace and artistic intimacy.

  3. Such a shame! I really enjoyed the novel but will avoid picking this up.

  4. I just don't know how Clément Oubrerie was a good pick for this, even though I loved his art in Aya! So disappointing.


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