The Golden Compass Questions and Answers
by Philip Pullman

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Philip Pullman’s novel Northern Lights. ‘What is lurking behind the apparently innocent children’s book is in fact something very intrusive, controlling, and often downright sinister.’   Discuss this statement from Peter Hunt’s article ‘Instruction and Delight’ with reference to Philip Pullman’s novel Northern Lights.

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I think that this could be referring to the more sophisticated concepts that are hidden in fantasy....

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chicagonarwhal | Student

Many fantasy stories, especially children's fantasy, involve young heroes encountering and overcoming great evil. But there are a number of story elements in "Northern Lights" (or "The Golden Compass", its American title) that make it a particularly dark and unsettling variant in the genre.

Part of that is the way Pullman characterizes the adults in the story as dangerous and untrustworthy. Both Lyra and the other children are surrounded by those who intend to harm them on a personal level. Unlike many stories in which the protagonist is fighting to complete some heroic aim or quest, Lyra and her party are mostly just fighting for their survival and to reach a state of relative safety-something Lyra tragically realizes by the end of the novel is no longer possible.

The main antagonist, Miss Coulter, is not only Lyra's mother (and at various points in the story, her guardian), but is presented as a very seductive and deceptive persona, someone who can be outwardly comforting and matronly, and unlike the evil Queen in the "Narnia" books, doesn't drop the facade. The antagonists aren't after some broader goal such as world conquest--they already have oppressive power. The conflict at the heart of the novel, the mystery that drives the story, is far more intimate and sinister: the cutting away of a child's soul for abstracted scientific knowledge. What could be more controlling and intrusive?

The safe, wise mentor figure from many fantasy novels is largely missing (the closest we get in "Northern Lights" may be a polar bear). In fact, possibly the MOST sinister aspect of the novel is the ending, where Lyra's sense of her father as a distant but trustworthy figure is upended and he ends up murdering her best friend, who she just rescued, for his own ends. The dichotomy of good/evil that Lyra thought she understood is shattered and she ends the story having to find the resolve to continue her journey alone. Few stories, especially for children, are willing to put their main character in such an uncomfortably dark place from which they must find the way out.

kandysandy | Student

. Does Northern Lights give the appearance of being innocent children’s book? What evidence can you point to, if any, of intrusion or control? Who is controlling and for what purpose? Is there evidence of intrusion and, if so, who or what is intruded upon? Are there any elements that could be considered sinister?

kandysandy | Student

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