Monday, March 12, 2012

The Golden Disappointment

Sometimes, you just cannot wait to read a book. It seizes you by the wrist and yanks you in one direction or another and you are just so overtaken with zeal at the thought of reading it that you inhale it instantly, like an asthmatic given an inhaler after a 5K marathon, sucking it down greedily.

The Golden Compass was not one of those books.

Sorry, Lyra.

I wanted to like it, I really did. I went into it with grandiose expectations and all of that ilk. I read this book once, as a high school student and I remember just soaking the entire trilogy up and wanting more. I figured that surely, if I loved it at 15, I'd love it at 22.


I made it approximately 35 pages and I just couldn't. I had too many questions, and the problem was, in my eyes, that for a young adult book, it sure has a lot of lofty vocabulary and expects you to know a lot about, well, everything.

The first sentence of the book is: "Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen." All right, she's going through the hall to- wait, what the hell is a daemon? Let's go down the page a paragraph or two. Oh, here he is mentioned again: "Her daemon's name was Pantalaimon, and he was currently in the form of a moth[...]" Superb, we know it's a moth, but what is going on? Why is it in the form of a moth? What is it when it's not in the form of anything? Why can it talk?

Other words that are mentioned but never really given a definition include:
- Tokay (we infer that it is a beverage and can be old. probably a wine, but I don't know - and if I don't know at age 22, the target audience sure isn't).
- Aerodock (what the heck is this? All the book says is, "No word from the aerodock" (p. 5). It must be where something docks, but what? The ... aero? This bothered me so much I had to put it down and complain inwardly for a bit.
- The book mentions several times in this first portion that the scholars come into a particular room to partake in "poppy and wine" (p. 7). However, they never outright say what poppy is. Of course, as an adult I know they must be smoking opium, but what 14 year old is going to know what that means? To them, a poppy is a flower, and who eats flowers? I can't imagine this is anything less than confusing.
- "It was said that the Tartars had invaded Muscovy, and were surging north to St. Petersburg, from where they would be able to dominate the Baltic Sea and eventually overcome the entire west of Europe" (p. 10). Okay. I am a graduate student. I have a Bachelor's Degree and consider myself fairly educated. I have no idea where Muscovy is, and the only reason I assume it is a real place is because I know St. Petersburg and the Baltic Sea are real. Audience ignorance galore, here.
- A man works at the college and his position - and name - is "the Sub-Rector" (p. 17). I know that this is a ruler of some kind, but what ninth grader can guess that?

These are questions that had still not been answered by page 35. The issue I take with this is that I, as a teenager myself, had known what a daemon was when I first read this book, but the average young adult probably has no clue what a daemon is. I understand that what Pullman is attempting to do is to pull (pun intentional) you into the story and slowly start to give you details about what exactly the history of this civilization is, what a daemon is, etc. But honestly, if I were 14 or so and an average American student picking this up at the suggestion of my media specialist, I would be bored so fast it would make your head spin, as evidenced by the fact that I began this book February 5th and did not give up until March 12th - it took me 36 days to read 35 pages. I just couldn't get into it.

So, with a heavy heart, I am shelving (pun intentional part 2) my copy of Pullman's classic young adult religious commentary, and picking up a different book to fulfill the Fantasy Fiction requirement of this course. I'm sorry, Mr. Pullman. Maybe when I have more time and a very available dictionary.