The Golden Compass begins with Lyra Balacqua sneaking into a room she is never allowed to enter. What she soon discovers is that her uncle is about to be poisoned.
This 1995 fantasy novel (formerly called Northern Lights) by Philip Pullman, is the first of His Dark Materials trilogy.
The Golden Compass takes place in a parallel universe. In this world, every human has a daemon, which is the person's soul embodied in an animal. These daemons are able to change into various animals during childhood, then settle into one form at puberty.
When Lyra tells her daemon, Pantalaimon (nicknamed Pan) that she plans to explore the forbidden Retiring Room, he tries to talk her out of it, but she doesn't listen to him.
Lyra lives at Jordan College, the "grandest and richest" of all the colleges in Oxford. She has been told that her parents are dead. Her uncle, Lord Asriel, had left her in the care of the school Master.
It was on the evening of one of Lord Asriel's rare visits that Lyra and Pan were in the Retiring Room. When they hear someone about to enter the room, they hide in a wardrobe.
It was the Master and the butler. Lyra and Pan hear the Master inquire about the special Tokay. The butler assures him that he has chosen Lord Asriel's favorite.
The Master then asks to be left alone. When the butler has gone, Lyra watches as the Master takes a folded paper from his pocket. He then removes the stopper from the decanter, unfolds the paper, and pours some white powder into the wine.
Lyra is horrified to find the Master planning to kill her uncle , and when he arrives, Lyra comes out of the wardrobe and tells him what she has seen, and stops him from drinking the wine.
The Scholars are on the way, and Lyra and Pan are back in the wardrobe only a moment before they enter the room.
From her hiding place, Lyra can hear what's being said, and is able to see most of what's going on. She learns of "Dust", the name given to elementary particles that are attracted to adults, but not so much to children, though no one has been able to explain why.
When Lord Asriel shows images of a beautiful city in a parallel universe that can be seen through the Northern Lights, Lyra is fascinated. She is a curious child, and always up for a new adventure. Now she is intent on traveling to the north and seeing this for herself.
Lord Asriel's purpose for this particular visit is to obtain funding for his research. He hopes to show sufficient evidence that other worlds exist, so that the Scholars will support his work.
They do give him the money he needs to continue, though the oppressive church would find such an idea heretical.
After Lord Asriel left, Lyra's life returns to normal. Almost. Children are beginning to disappear. When her best friend, Roger, goes missing, she is determined to find him, and/or learn what happened to him.
And so begins her journey to the north, her longest and most dangerous adventure of all.
The Golden Compass, book one of His Dark Materials, has faced controversy time after time, citing "anti-religious messages". Most of it comes from the Religious Right. They object to the way religion is portrayed, especially organized religion.
In The Golden Compass, the church is shown to be manipulative and controlling. The Religious Right
is often behind these would-be bannings. And isn't that, to some extent, controlling?
Catholics, in particular, take issue with Pullman's Dark Materials books. Read more about it here and here.
I enjoyed reading The Golden Compass, and look forward to reading the other books in the trilogy.