Sunday, November 25, 2012

Formatting, Formatting, Formatting (Or the Curious Case of "The Golden Compass" Style) [Week 12]

This week, we got to read another interesting book: Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass (Also known as Northern Lights). I suppose most people would look at the story being told and argue about the religious implications, but personally, it might be better to look at the format. After a quick excerpt from John Milton's Paradise Lost (an adult poem, but we'll get to that in a moment), Pullman writes:

"The Golden Compass forms the first part of a story in three volumes. The first volume is set in a universe like ours, but different in many ways. The second volume is set in the universe we know. The third volume will move between universes."

This admittedly makes me wonder if this is a children's novel. I suppose higher age children (middle schoolers) would be able to follow this format after being warned of it ahead of time, but would they really gather the nuances? I know adults who have issues following this type of format. While I admit that I don't have any trouble, especially with this easy read, I am trained to read. Literally. It's what I've been learning the past few years and I always step back after reading something and go, "Could I read this without my years of schooling?" (Though occasionally it's, "Why can't I read this after all my years of schooling?!"). This is a critical question to ask ourselves, especially those who want to teach eventually.

Do we really think middle schoolers will understand this book? It even starts with an very adult people by Milton. Granted it is only a short excerpt, but those who have read Paradise Lost know that this poem can be challenging language wise as well as in nuance and themes. This excerpt could be a foreshadowing of the difficult read ahead (as well as for the book's actually contextual importance, of course). Can we really expect younger adults to get the experience of a book with complex formats? Or appreciate them?

I really want to say "yes", since I know I used to be able too. However, I always wonder if that is par for the course. Especially after interacting with some of the younger generations lately. It seems almost half and half.


  1. You got me thinking about the seemingly difficult nature of introducing these parallel universes to a young kid, let's say middle school, and what they are able to comprehend. I really don't see this as being any more difficult to comprehend than something like "Gulliver's Travels," which was a little hard for me to follow in middle school when I read it and chocked full of conceits that I'm sure went way over my head. I actually think "The Golden Compass" would be easier as a "travel adventure" and a book that deals with modern day problems for kids today. When I was growing up, there didn't really seem to be modern books that connected with us in the ways that young adult books seem to these days. Even if people don't always agree with (and they never will) all the content, I think these kinds of introductions into other worlds is excellent for the mind. But, yeah, they may want to hold off on "Paradise Lost" until they've read some "Golden Compass."

  2. I have trouble remembering what I could comprehend in my middle school years...I don't recall reading anything so complex as this book has seemed after analyzing all of these topics. But then again...are we reading much further into it than intended? Did Milton intentionally put these themes in it for adults to read or are we interpreting it based on our own perceptions?

  3. I think Scott makes a good point about "Gulliver's Travels." While I didn't understand the social commentary when I first read it, "Gulliver's Travels" was still an enjoyable read for me when I was perhaps 13. Similarly, I am sure some of the implications of "The Golden Compass" won't occur to younger people, but the story is till gripping and fun, and the earlier children are introduced to complex ideas, the more advantage they will have later in life.

  4. The format "The Golden Compass" could be argued to be a daunting feat to grapple, especially for a younger readership. However, what of the "Harry Potter" series and other fantasy books for adolescents? Just as complicated and infused with symbolism. Then, why makes Pullmans's works so different? I would argue that as adults, we have gained more experience and are able to see the underlying themes children may not be able to. We must keep in mind that although these are books written FOR children, they are written BY adults.

  5. As a novel, this book definitely encompasses deeper themes of philosophy and politics, however, in this sense, I feel that Pullman's writes the Dark Material series for children specifically to be subversive to traditional didactic literature.

  6. I would argue very firmly in favor of the answer being yes. Part of it is because I would've loved this stuff out of this book if I had just encountered it at a younger age; however, once again we have an example of a novel aimed at a younger audience that gives its audience a lot of credit. Furthermore, what we have here is a novel that encourages people to question everything. I think that children, naturally curious sorts that they are, would really take to such a book. Besides, most of the kids I know leap right at challenges precisely because they hear they are challenging. So in short, I would fall pretty firmly on the side of letting kids read this.