My rating: ****
I enjoyed this book a great deal. Well-written and well-plotted with interesting characters. It also created a most convincing alternative world.
Of particular interest is the idea that humans have souls which manifest themselves in physical animal form and never leave people’s side. One can also engage in conversations with this ‘soul’. Quite an attractive idea, although my last housesit with a really clingy dog did take a bit of a shine off the notion (!)
Also interesting is the Nietzschean character of Lord Asriel. The philosophical discussions about free will and destiny, the nature of the Fall and original sin are quite readable even if I didn’t necessarily agree with the positions being argued.
I had a few quibbles about the familiar ‘special individual with great destiny who alone can save the world’ trope. I am really not a fan of that idea – but I think it is fairly popular as a way of getting the engine of a plot moving along.
I saw the film adaptation The Golden Compass when it came out and rewatched it again after having read the book. I thought the film was pretty colourless when I originally saw it and watching it again confirmed this perception. It does nothing more than provide a rather dreary plot summary of the book.
I have no idea why so many claims were made that elements which were critical of institutionalised religion in the book were toned down for the film. In my view, the film is far more blatant and one-sided in its demonisation of institutional religion than the book is. Evil popery indeed. The film reduces the ambiguities of the book in this and so many other places to black and white.
The book is never sentimental but sentimental elements are introduced into the film.
Why the film ends somewhere before the end of the book is also somewhat of a mystery, The book presents a well balanced story and to take the end of the story to the next film doesn’t make sense – unless the film makers are just going to skip over the ending as being too difficult.
To tell the truth, the next two books would be an absolute minefield when it comes to mainstream American film. It is difficult to see how they can be transferred to screen without offending just about everybody.