The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass

Reading three books at once right now. Multi-tasking in a sense. But concentrating mostly on just one: Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass. Still reading Doctor Zhivago, and Zamyatin’s We, but am having a great time with Pullman’s book. Enjoyed the movie as well.

Outside of the Potter books, I’ve read no other kids’ books since I was a kid. This current reading is a serious departure for me. But I think I’ve discovered something very interesting in the process. Something about the way books are written in general, and for their respective audiences in particular.

Books for kids are more visual, descriptive, and are driven more by the visual and the descriptive. As in, the plot is moved by those descriptions. There is also greater control over time and space. Meaning, they don’t waste much time trying to create gaps and irony and meta-commentary, nor do they circle back on themselves very often. They don’t talk about the act of writing. They don’t ponder the act itself. They stick with the plot and let the action and descriptions move the book forward, ever forward.

It’s not about vocabulary, either. That’s not really a dividing line. Philip Pullman employs a wide range of words to create his alternative world. Everybit as wide as Hemingway or Fitzgerald. If there is some sort of scoring for “grade level”, I doubt The Golden Compass would fall below A Farewell to Arms or Tender is the Night. At least when it comes to the difficulty of word choice.

I think the difference is in description and the lack of gaps. Clear, concise descriptions, with little wasted space, and very little irony. Meaning and symbolism and allegory tend not to fall between the cracks, lie underneath the sentences, or exist in the silence between them. Books for kids are more WYSIWYG. Wiziwigish. What you see is what you get. This is possibly why they are such naturals for conversion to movies. As I read The Golden Compass, I can see the movie. I want to read the next two books in the trilogy before the movies come out, and reverse the process . . . Pullman’s answer, perhaps, to C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series.

Lewis died in 1963. The Golden Compass (AKA: Northern Lights) came out in 1995. Would have been a tremendous thing to see both writers face off.


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