Teaching The Golden Compass: Worth the Hassle?

Philip Pullman. The Golden Compass. New York: Random House, 1995.
external image 51ii8-oIlHL.jpgPhilip Pullman's The Golden Compass is the first book in a fantasy trilogy for young adults called His Dark Materials that was written in the mid to late nineties. The book follows the journey of Lyra Belacqua and her daemon Pantalaimon in a parallel world similar to our own. In this world, every human being has a daemon, which is a companion that is a physical manifestation of the person's soul in an animal form. The book begins with Lyra and her daemon sneaking around Jordan College in Oxford University and ending up in the retiring room, a reserved only for scholars of the college and important guests. Lyra is almost caught in the room, and hides in a wardrobe where she oversees the Master's attempt to poison her powerful and mysterious uncle, Lord Asriel. She warns Lord Asriel of the poison, and watches as he presents some interesting information about the going ons of the North.

Later in the book, a group referred to as the gobblers by people starts stealing children. They steal Lyra's best friend, Roger, and she decides to go looking for him, though is instead picked up by the mysterious Ms. Coulter. She eventually learns some dark truths about Ms. Coulter and escapes where she begins a journey to rescue her friend Roger and defeat the gobblers.

It is also worth noting that Philip Pullman has said several times that the trilogy (The Golden Compass being the first book in the trilogy) is a recasting of John Milton's Paradise Lost.

Recommendations for Teachers

The Golden Compass may be a difficult book to teach due to it being a fantasy and that it is frowned upon by many religious people due to some of the questions it brings up. However, the book is rich with characters, allegories, metaphors, symbolism, and positive moral lessons. Also, while the book is a work for young adults and the reading level is probably around the ninth grade, some of the previously mentioned literary aspects could be discussed in a college course. There is also a lot of literature on the series and Penguin has also published a "Rough Guide" to the trilogy by author Paul Simpson.

About Name of Author
Philip Pullman
Philip Pullman
Image from Google.com

Philil Pullman is an English writer who was born October of 1946 in Norfolk, England. Along with His Dark Materials, Pullman is the author of many other books. He was born the son of a Royal Air Force pilot who died in a plane crash in 1953 when Pullman was only seven. It was after his father's death that his mother remarried and moved to Australia, where Pullman become fascinated with comics. In 1957, he went to Harlech, Gwynedd to attend school at Ysgol Ardudwy. At the same time, Pullman would spend time with his grandfather, a clergyman who lived in Norfolk.

In 1970, Pullam married Judith Speller and and also began a career in teaching young children and writing school plays. The Haunted Storm was his first published work which he received recognition for at the New English Library's Young Writer's Award in 1972. Pullman remained in this teaching job until 1986 around the time The Ruby in the Smoke was published, a children's book in the Victorian setting. Pullman began His Dark Materials in 1993, and has considered himself a full-time writer since 1996. He has also received recognition for lecturing and teaching as a professor at Westminster College and more recently at Exeter College in Oxford in 2004. In 2007, Pullman received the honor of being named an honorary professor at Bangor university.


In 2007, New Line Cinema released a movie of The Golden Compass. While the movie was a more or less a bomb, and does more to hurt the book than help it, there are some scenes that may be beneficial to show students. One of these scenes is a fight between the armored bears Iorek Byrnison and Ragnar Sturlusson. This scene is particularly challenging to visualize, as the idea of of two giant armored polar bears fighting is greatly fantastical, but the movie protrays the scene quite well. The movie is also quite visually stunning and for the most part is very well casted, however as a whole the movie butchers the storyline, which is why it would seem to make more sense to only use scenes from the movie in a classroom. The movie may also be more well known conservative Christians than the book, so showing the movie runs the risk of meeting more opposition to the text.

Additional Resources:\
  • Daemon Quiz - This in-depth quiz is supposed to tell you what kind of personality your daemon would have if you were to have one, and it also suggests some forms your daemon may end up taking.
  • IMDb.com: The Golden Compass - This is an in-depth page on New Line Cinema's movie version of The Golden Compass.
  • Scholastic - This branch of Scholastic's website features information on how to teach the book and movie The Golden Compass.
  • Random House - Similar to the previous page by Scholastic, this is Random House's take on teaching Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy.
  • Literature Plans for His Dark Materials

--Dustin Morley, Scott Spitters,