The Golden Compass is the first book of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, a young adult fantasy trilogy that wrestles with issues of religion, individuality, and freedom. Known as Northern Lights in areas apart from North America, The Golden Compass was published in 1995. It has received several awards, including recognition as one of the top ten award winners of the prestigious Carnegie medal for children's fiction. It is considered a modern fantasy classic and has been praised for its ability to entrance both children and adults.
The Golden Compass is set in an alternate universe populated by witches, armored bears, and humans with daemons, intelligent creatures that are outward manifestations of their human’s soul. Though The Golden Compass’s universe shares some similarities with ours (its original setting, for example, is a version of Oxford University in England), it’s obvious that there are huge divergences. Apart from the fantastical creatures, humans in Lyra’s are obsessed with Dust, a new type of matter that seems attracted to thinking beings, particularly once they reach adulthood. The Magisterium, an extremely strict religious institution, aims to destroy Dust, while The Golden Compass's heroes attempt to preserve and understand it.
The Golden Compass introduces Lyra Belacqua, one of the two central characters of His Dark Materials. Lyra, a young girl, lives in Jordan College with her scholar uncle, Lord Asriel. When Lyra overhears a secret conversation about Lord Asriel’s discovery of Dust and even prevents his death, she unwittingly becomes involved in a grand conspiracy. She also learns that Lord Asriel is her real father. Lyra confronts even more danger, however, when her best friend, Roger, is kidnapped by a strange and mysterious group known as the “Gobblers”, who appear to be stealing children from all over Oxford. She journeys with a group of gyptians to the Far North, where she finds Roger imprisoned and subjected to cruel experiments by her mother, Mrs. Coulter, who aims to disconnect children from their daemons before they reach puberty. Lyra ultimately fails her quest. Roger is killed. However, the events of this novel prepare Lyra for future quests in The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. Additionally, throughout the novel, Lyra cements her hatred of the Magisterium, the hierarchical religion that financed and supported the Gobblers’ inhumane experimentation. She learns how to adventure independently and makes several allies, most notably Iorek Byrinson, the king of the armored bears.