The Golden Compass

Philip Pullman
The Golden Compass Cover

The Golden Compass


Before reading His Dark Materials, Book 1: The Golden Compass I had read that the book was denounced as being anti-Catholic. I was curious about this and kept it in mind while reading the book.

The Golden Compass could be placed in the sub-genre of steampunk fantasy. In the fantasy world of The Golden Compass, things are different than in our world in that part of the definition of being human is having a daemon, a magical animal companion. Everybody, adults and children alike, has one.

The Oblation Board is a sinister body sanctioned by the Church that kidnaps children for the purpose of experimenting with severing them from their daemons, a horrific, dastardly, unthinkable thing to do.. (In the real world oblation is a form of offering, perhaps in the form of a sacrifice.) Upon the objection that the church would never do such a terrible thing to children, it was pointed out that the Church condoned the castration of children to maintain their high singing voices.

Those working to rescue the kidnapped children call on a clan of witches to help them overcome the forces of evil represented by the Church. Witches are portrayed as good and the Church is portrayed a sinister. Of course, in our own history, the Church (good) protected us from witches (evil) by torturing and killing people.

Lord Asrael goes into exile under a suspended sentence of death for heresy. He continues his heretical investigations and so the Vatican council meets to consider having his death sentence carried out. Asrael's heresy has to do with differing with the Church on the issue of original sin.

In The Golden Compass the Church is portrayed negatively, but of course it is not the Church of our world but the Church of a fantasy world. I don't know if it was the Church itself which spoke out against The Golden Compass or people who took it upon themselves to denounce the book in the name of the Church. I suspect the latter. I can't imaging that the real Church would officially involve itself in such trivial things. The Catholic Church is portrayed in Dan Simmons' great Hyperion tetralogy as less than admirable, but I have heard of no denunciations.