Tapping Into Female PowerMay 10, 2011 No Comments
The Golden Compass may be marketed to children and young adults, but it’s a brilliant book that reveals the powers of a young women as she slowly taps into a wealth of intuitive knowledge that she had no idea she had.
I was immediately intrigued. Lyra is an orphan who has grown up at Jordan College. She goofs around with her best friend Roger and makes fun of the dull Scholars at the college. While she may seem to be a regular kid who is playful and curious about the world, readers know that she is much more from the mysterious opening of the novel.
Like Lyra, who is hiding in a wardrobe with her daemon (the characters’ animal souls in the book), we aren’t privileged to know exactly what is going on. Pullman shows us the true power of a first-person narrative as he takes us on a journey to the far north where Lyra must find herself.
Her journey to self-actualization, which extends beyond the first book in the Dark Materials trilogy, involves her gradually realizing her deep powers. While Lord Asriel may seem to be the most powerful character, it’s all simply based on intrigue. His power comes from his mystery whereas Lyra’s stems from her own self. Lord Asriel may have the equipment to take a photograph of the mysterious “Dust” (which ultimately leads him to an alternate and unknown universe), but Lyra has innate knowledge.
She may seem naive to this knowledge at first, but with every step she takes on her journey we can tell that she becomes stronger. We know that her purpose in the book is big. It’s as massive as Frodo’s purpose in The Lord of The Rings. He’s charged with carrying the powerful ring against all odds to the place where it must be destroyed. Just as we get the sense that Lyra is the chosen one in the book, we know Frodo must be the one to destroy the ring in Mount Doom.
The parallels run even deeper when you consider that both are charged with looking after powerful objects that only they can master. While the ring possesses Gollum, sinking him into madness in the books, Frodo maintains control over it like Lyra has control over the alethiometer (a window to the future in the book, like a crystal ball). Only she can read it. Like her daemon Pantalaimon, it becomes an essential part of her. To lose either would be to lose herself.
Lyra is a strong female character whose power arises from being able to control her own internal forces. A large part of her power, which gets stronger throughout the story, is her intelligence. Iorek Byrnison, her guide and good bear friend, tells her that humans can’t trick bears, but she manages to spot the weakness of the bear king, much to Iorek’s surprise. Her mystical power may come from the alethiometer, as she learns to read the cryptic symbols without the handbook, but she proves to readers that she’s worth admiring without the frills. She’s a mix of blind curiousity, bravery and spiritual powers, but she’s also just plain clever.
Pullman’s presentation of female power is important today considering that women in positions of power are sometimes ignored or taken out of the picture completely. Where we most often see strong male characters, Pullman shows us power in the witches (all female) and especially in his protagonist.
Although it may sometimes lead her in the wrong direction, she is also a powerful moral figure in the novel. Unlike our doubts about Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter, readers are always sure that Lyra is in fact good. She wants to go north to save all the stolen children from the “Gobblers” (working to steal children’s souls) and risks her life many times in this pursuit. By the end of the first book, our brave Lyra has been established as the moral centre, pitted between her mother and father.
As Lyra continues to grow stronger throughout the first book we realize that the collision of all her internal forces will separate her from all the other characters who also demonstrate strength. With the bears, we see brute strength. The witches are closely connected with the universe as a whole, knowing that other galaxies exist and having the power to separate from their demons to be in two places at once. Serafina Pekkala, the central witch, seems to have divined Lyra’s destiny. Her best friend Roger, John Faa, Lee Scoresby and the other Gyptians show Lyra unprecedented loyalty and devotion.
She may gain strength from all these independent forces in her life, but it’s ultimately up to her to discover the depths of her power and her own destiny if she’s going to prove herself as a heroine.
Lyra may not have yet realized her full potential in the first book, and she may not be able to fly and separate herself from her daemon like the witches, but she’s an extraordinary representation of the immense power gained from exploring yourself from different angles and, in her case, different dimensions.
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