The Golden Compass

by Philip Pullman

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How does The Golden Compass compare to a fairy tale and how is Lyra different from Cinderella?

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The Golden Compass is a fairy tale in that it is set in a parallel universe to our own, outside of human history, an alternative world that allows for fantastic creatures such as intelligent bears, daemon companions to humans, and witches that can shape-shift into birds and fly.

Lyra, however, is no Cinderella, if we understand Cinderella as a passive, obedient figure who waits for a fairy godmother to save her and a prince to sweep her off her feet. In contrast, Lyra is a tomboy rebel who thinks for herself, makes transgressive decisions, and continually defies authority in pursuit of her own agenda. Pullman explicitly likens her to the biblical Eve, retelling the Genesis story to form Eve/Lyra into a positive figure because she thinks for herself and questions authority. Key to Lyra as heroine is that she follows her own moral compass (as well as the direction of the golden compass).

Lyra shows her autonomy and ability to think for herself when she tells Lord Asriel that the Master of the college is trying to poison him. However, the real catalyst to her rebellion is the kidnapping of her close friend Roger. Children have been disappearing to the Gobblers, and Lyra decides she will not sit back and wait for a fairy godmother to help her but to find out for herself what is happening.

Later, when Lyra is taken under the wing of Mrs. Coulter, she is at first excited, then tells lies, keeps her own counsel, and rebels as it becomes evident that Mrs. Coulter wants to crush her into good-girl obedience. Rather than being passive like a Cinderella, Lyra escapes Mrs. Coulter's clutches at her first opportunity, joining forces with the gyptians to fight the Oblation Board, kidnappers of the children. As Lyra travels north, she will continue to display agency, nerve, and courage.

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