Sunday, November 23, 2008

what I'm reading

With the computer once again unplugged, I find myself turning back to books. I'm currently reading the His Dark Materials trilogy, and have gotten halfway through The Golden Compass (a.k.a. Northern Lights in its original UK form). I've got the huge, three-in-one volume of Pullman's oeuvre, which is almost as hefty as the bundled version of CS Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia.

I watched the movie The Golden Compass during a long flight some time ago, and wasn't all that impressed with it. The book is, unsurprisingly, a lot better, especially if you're a linguaphile: the vocabulary of the alternate universe can often be figured out if you know your Greek, Latin, Germanic, and occasionally Arabic roots. A few of the important common words have stumped me, such as "anbaric"-- which I could tell referred to electricity, but which I didn't know was from the Arabic root that gives us the word "amber." Wikipedia has an article devoted to Pullman's terminology.

The weirdest convention of the story is the idea that all human beings are born paired with "daemons," animal manifestations that can change form during the human's childhood, but that eventually "settle" into a single form as the child grows up.

Daemons may be a physical representation of a person's soul, an idea espoused by some of the story's characters. But "representation" doesn't completely describe daemons, which seem more like empathetically connected Siamese twins, imbued with their own thoughts, able to roam a certain distance from their humans, and even to act against their humans' will.

I couldn't imagine living life with a daemon tied to me by some sort of astral cord. It'd be hard to have sex in front of a pair of sapient animal witnesses, for one thing, and if daemons existed in our world, we'd have to build all our cars to accommodate twice as many passengers. Daemons strike me as something of a drag, but Pullman has done a good job of exploring the concept in his story.

The story itself is interesting and compelling, but I'll write more about it later.


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