The Golden Compass

by Philip Pullman

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Topics for Discussion

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1. This novel describes many kinds of courage. Lyra leaves her safe and luxurious home with her newfound mother to save her friends. Gyptian men and women risk their lives for her and to save or rescue other children. How does Pullman define courage? Do you agree with him?

2. Lyra is an example of someone who is loyal to her friends, but has to make many choices between different loyalties. She must choose between The Master of Jordan College and her uncle, between her mother and her young friends and between the gyptians and the non-gyptians who were her "family." How did she make these choices? On what basis did she make them? Do you agree with her?

3. Morality is a basic concern in these novels. Lyra is a young woman who constantly disobeys her elders, and gets into trouble for testing limits and exploring forbidden places in Oxford, as well as for asking forbidden questions. She acts against authority, and yet seems to act out of some sense of morality. How would you explain her morality? Do you agree with it?

4. Religion is at the heart of problems Lyra encounters. How would you describe the religion of her world?

5. Through Lyra, Pullman is exploring basic questions about our acceptance of authority in our personal and public lives. Does Lyra accept the authority of her elders always, sometimes or never? How does she make these decisions?

6. Pullman's novel asks many basic questions concerning religion itself. For example, it is clear that Lyra must oppose human religious authorities in order to rescue her young friends. Do you think Pullman distrusts all established religions or is he giving us ideas about how people practice their religion morally or immorally?

7. Pullman also refers to the Christian religion and its doctrines. In interviews about the novel and its two sequels, he tells us that he is rewriting Milton's Paradise Lost. Do you think he agrees with the established religious doctrine that "the fall" of the angels and the fall of Eve are terrible events in human history? Does he give them another interpretation? What is that interpretation? Do you agree or disagree with him?

8. In Lyra's world, each person's soul is in the form of some kind of animal and lives outside his or her body. What are some characteristics he thinks we will know about a person by looking at their soul-animal? What are some of the ways that Pullman uses daemons to show the similarities and differences between characters such as social station, intelligence, age, and trustworthiness? Can you compare some daemons from the story?

9. This story makes use of many different kinds of intelligent beings, some human and some not. How would you describe Scholars, Lords and ladies, gyptians, witches, skraelings, tartars, and bears? How does Pullman give us some idea of their lives while still moving the story forward?

10. A stereotypical character is one who is supposed to represent general characteristics of a type of person and usually has no individualized characteristics. Are there any stereotypical characters in this novel? Who are they and what do you think they represent? Are they major or minor characters?

11. A person's daemon, like Lyra's Pantalaimon, changes shape until the human reaches the age of puberty. What do you think of this idea as a literary device? Pullman talks about the use of the daemon in this story? Why is the daemon usually of the opposite sex to their human? What do you think about this idea in his story? How are daemons an...

(This entire section contains 912 words.)

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advantage for telling the story? How are they a disadvantage?

12. A daemon seems to be very close to his or her human. Yet it Pantalaimon often disagrees with Lyra. How realistic is this? Do you ever ague with yourself when facing major decisions in your life? How does Lyra decide what to do? How do you?

13. The Daemon is one of the many "literary devices" that Pullman uses to make his story more immediate and effective for his reader. The daemon has a metaphorical and an allegorical role in this story. What is metaphor? What are some examples of the daemon as a metaphor? What is allegory? How does the daemon function to create allegorical meanings in the story?

14. We all know that mind-affecting substances like alcohol and drugs are dangerous for both children and adults. While we have decided in the United States to make alcohol legal and drugs illegal, they seem to both be tolerated in Lyra's world. What are some examples of how they are used in casual and formal settings in this story? How do you feel about this use in Pullman's novels?

15. What do you think of Lyra's world? What kind of society is it? What are its different social classes? Are there social classes in other Western cultures? How do we define them? What is their relationship to a person's wealth? To their ancestors?

16. Technology on Lyra's world is different from our current technology. Some phenomena which we would call magic are represented as a regular part of everyone's life. Some technologies, such as the automobile and the telephone, which we take for granted, are not present in Lyra's world. Why do you think Pullman has created these differences? How would it change Lyra's story if she had telephones, cars and airplanes to help her? What if she did not have "magic" such as the Alethiometer and the Witches and Bears? How would this change the story?


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