On Christmas Eve, in the cozy living room of my friends Patti and Michael, snuggled on the sofa, basking in the warmth of the fireplace and dear friendship, I found myself immersed in a story that had me trekking across Northern Tundra, sailing on tumultuous seas and through darkened skies. The Golden Compass is based on the fantasy/adventure novel written by Philip Pullman.
I was fascinated with this ‘Hero’s Journey’ as Joseph Campbell would have described it, of the female protagonist, named Lyra Belacqua. A bit of a wild child who resists ‘being a lady’ early on in the movie, she runs the streets with a bevy of boys and clambers on roof tops: a skill that serves her well later in the film.
In this ‘alternate universe’, each person has a daemon which is more than merely a companion animal, but rather an extension of themselves, their soul that exists outside their bodies. Those of the children are shape-shifters and Lyra’s daemon at turns is an ermine, mouse, cat and bird. The daemons communicate with their hosts and each has a symbiotic relationship with the other.
Allegedly orphaned and raised by her uncle who is a college scholar, she discovers that children are disappearing and goes on a quest to find and rescue them. What she uncovers is that there is a plot afoot to separate the children from their daemons for an insidious purpose, a portion of which is to prevent people from learning about ‘the dust’ which links together various realms and universes.
On her journey, Lyra encounters all manner of powerful beings of darkness and light, including an armored bear who becomes a guardian and protector, a aero-cowboy, as well as a beautiful, but wicked woman who turns out to be someone other than Lyra originally thought she was (not wanting to spoil the plot here).
I enjoyed deciphering the symbolism in the movie, even as I was carried away by the story. The heroine’s name is from Greek meaning ‘lyre’ (a small harp used by the ancient Greeks). The character seemed to be an instrument for good in the midst of evil intention even as her demeanor and actions flew in the face of the traditional church and political hierarchy. The idea of being interlinked with the natural world as were the humans and their daemons (not to be confused with demons; although in the movie, the term was prounced that way) appeals to my sensibilities that we are not separate from any part of creation. Lyra’s ability to ‘read’ The Golden Compass, a cosmic ‘truth-teller’, also referred to as an alethiometer, points again to her ability to tap into the Universal grid. As she gazes into it, she holds a question in her mind and the images come to her. She uses this tool for good purposes and to assist her in locating and rescuing the missing children. I felt a kinship with this burgeoning young woman who allowed her inner compass to be her guide as well.
Like many films of a metaphysical bent, it had become a lightning rod for religious discussion. I invite your conversation here.