Lyra Belacqua is a 12-year-old girl who lives at Jordan College in Oxford along with her dæmon Pantalaimon. They are under the guardianship of the Master of the College, but Lyra longs for her explorer Uncle Asriel to come back so she can explore the North with him. She discovers that he is researching a phenomena called Dust, and wants to help, but he will not take her along. A friend of her uncle’s, a woman named Mrs. Coulter, offers to take Lyra in and not only teach her how to be a lady, but all the skills she needs to explore the North as well. The night before Lyra leaves with Mrs. Coulter, the Master gives Lyra an alethiometer: a device that can tell the truth, if Lyra learns how to read it. Using the alethiometer and her own wits, Lyra learns that Mrs. Coulter is head of the General Oblation Board, or “Gobblers,” which is a project secretly funded by the Church that kidnaps children and experiments on the connection between them and their dæmons. Lyra escapes and what follows is an extraordinary tale involving the frozen North, a camp full of kidnapped children, and a Texan aeronaut and his armored polar bear friend.
I must admit once more that I’ve never read the original novel on which this graphic novel is based. I was completely spell-bound from start to finish, and now am curious as to how this graphic novel holds up to the original.
One element I know holds true from the novel to the graphic novel is the portrayal of religion. In this world, the church has control of the world. Any perceived heresy is condemned and some truths are repressed. The act of the Master giving Lyra the alethiometer could be seen as a heretical one. Unlike the 2007 movie, the graphic novel does not shy away from these elements of the original novel, instead showing the readers and Lyra how sometimes authority (no matter the kind) isn’t always correct, and that sometimes one must find out the truth for themselves.
Clément Oubrerie’s illustrations are fantastic. Playing off the nature of the story, the colors are murky and brown-tinged, hard to see through, even at the brighter parts. Not to say that the art is poor or hard to understand; that’s not it at all. It’s as if the readers are trying to discern the truth right along with Lyra. Features of the human characters and backgrounds are sharp and lively, while the animals, dæmons, and more fantastical elements have more fluid features.
Overall I was impressed with this graphic novel adaptation. The fantasy and real-world elements coupled with the art made for a satisfying experience. I will now be checking out the print novel to compare notes.
Pullman, Philip (adapted by Stéphane Melchior-Durand and Clément Oubrerie). The Golden Compass: The Graphic Novel. 2017.