A Golden Story

We used to read to our boys when they were young and as they became older we chose longer books and read these to both boys at once. The first three books of Harry Potter were favourites and then we started on Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, a trilogy with the first book, The Golden Compass. This series was the last to be read aloud, as the boys soon preferred reading on their own.

Golden Compass

To this day, those books stand in my memory and Harry Potter pales in comparison. By the time we got to the third book, The Amber Spyglass, I could not put it down. I never even finished the Harry Potter series once we stopped reading to the boys. Pullman creates a universe that is believable and fantastic at the same time. Adult readers can find complex themes such as organised religion and quantum physics, all within a great story.

Perhaps it’s because these books may make you think (and question the status quo) that the Halton Catholic District School Board has pulled the trilogy from its schools. These are the only children’s books that I would wholeheartedly endorse and recommend to pretty well everyone. They are a fantastic read, and our youngest son even sat down and read them again on his own. True praise indeed. I think I’ll go and re-read the last book, before I see the movie.

Photo by Angelo Su.

7 Responses to “A Golden Story”

  1. Chris

    I remember the series was one of the earliest English books I picked up as a kid. It was beyond the scope of my fellow elementary school classmates (score one for the public education system!), but I found it to be completely engrossing in scientific “detail”. In fact, I think there’s a book you can find in libraries/bookstores specifically addressing the quantum mechanics, etc. It’s this one, I think:


    Definitely one of those children’s series that can be enjoyed by adults.

  2. Rory

    I actually found them to be poorly written in that Pullman introduces quite a few story threads at the beginning of the series which are never picked up later on. I am a fan of fantasy fiction, yet this one left me cold. To each his own, I suppose.

    I would like to point out that you could have voiced your recommendation and praise of the series without taking a turn toward offending a significant number of people.

    Your line: “Perhaps it’s because these books may make you think (and question the status quo) that the Halton Catholic District School Board has pulled the trilogy from its schools” seems to suggest that Catholics are incapable of or afraid of thinking independently. That, sir, is offensive. Pullman’s books are a not-too-subtle attack on Christianity and particularly the Catholic Church. Therefore that school has every right to object to them in spite of your witticism that Catholics are institutionalized zombies of group think. Bad form, Harold. I’m disappointed.

  3. Harold

    Perhaps bad form, but I do not think that Catholics are “institutionalized zombies”. I do distrust institutionalized hierarchies of all kinds and I do believe in freedom of expression. Also, I strongly disagree with banning books unless they are clearly defined, by a court, as hate literature.

    I defer to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Canada is a signatory; specifically Article 13, “The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.”

  4. Rory

    A bit extreme, Harold, to label ALL hierarchies as worthy of distrust. A family such as yours is a hierarchy, and given that it is supported and promoted through legislation and culture it is institutionalized. Likewise the courts and the UN, that you have cited with favor and trust, are institutionalized hierarchies. I must assume, therefore, that your distrust is only for those institutions that you dislike or disagree with – a rather subjective standard.
    Freedom of expression is a two-way street. Mr. Pullman is more than welcomed to write what he wants. Likewise I (and an entire school community) am equally welcomed to not listen to what he has to say.
    Yet, with your professed mistrust of instutionalized hierarchies you would trust one in the form of a court system to tell you or me that something is hateful. Why relegate that to an institutionalized hierarchy?
    As for banning books … again a bit extreme to raise that. The school is a private, Catholic institution that takes its responsibilities seriously. They have every right, whether you or I agree or disagree, to remove a book from their shelves. They are not banning the books outright. Just as you and I are within our right to remove whatever book we wish from our own personal library for any reason. Does such removal constitute banning? Not in the least.
    The UN Convention that you cite (the UN as another institutionalized hierarchy that you earlier blanketed with disdain) disregards, to its detriment, the doctrine and practice of subsidiarity. Article 13 is a nice sentiment. I would prefer to exercise my obligation as a thoughtful parent rather than abrogate my responsibilities to the UN.

  5. Harold

    I still distrust hierarchies, some more than others, and understand that courts themselves can be flawed, as can families. I guess that’s why we have family services organisations, to have one hierarchy balance another.

    School boards do have the right to choose books for purchase, but taking books off the shelves is a bit reactionary. I doubt that the book was removed because it wasn’t being read by any students.

    The school may be private, but Catholic schools are the only religious schools to be publicly funded in Ontario. Any idea if they got a refund for these books that were purchased with public money 😉

    BTW, we may disagree, but I do appreciate all comments 🙂

  6. Robert Paterson

    So what would, happen if a regular Toronto school board banned Narnia for being Christian propaganda – after all in Toronto most families now do not share the Christian faith – would this make any more sense?


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